Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Marinelli Report: Week 2 - At Tennessee

There are plenty of indicators of success for any defense that runs any scheme.  Of course, the easiest one for us all to figure out is points scored against.  Sometimes, we complicate things, but let's never forget the object of the game for any defense is to not allow points.

But, let's dive a bit deeper.  The next few are about closing the door on your opponent during each game within the game.  Those are simple.

Takeaways and 3rd Down stops.

Below, please find the 12 offensive drives for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.  Note the lack of field position (mostly), the short drives, and the end which - with the exception of that one explosive play to Delanie Walker - ended with a takeaway, a punt, or another undesirable conclusion.

A couple numbers to consider on this business of Takeaways and 3rd Down Stops:

Takeaways:  Since 2011, the Cowboys have had multiple takeaways in 20 games.  They are 15-5.  The 5 losses in question include Denver 2013, Debacle in Detroit 2013, The Dez fingertip game against the Giants in 2012, the gutting loss in New England in 2011, and the Revis INT game in New York in 2011.  So, to put it rather simply, if the Cowboys get 2 takeaways in a game, they either win or have historic regret for gutting losses that stick in your memory.

3rd Downs:  Also since 2011, the Cowboys are 10-1 on the 11 occasions that they have limited their opponent to 25% or less on 3rd Downs.  On Sunday, the Titans went 2-10.  The one time they lost with this number?  Also, the Dez fingertip game of 2012 against the Giants.

It is pretty basic "get off the field" stuff for any defensive mind, but if you want to eliminate the offense from the game and just sit in a room and discuss how the defense can almost insure a victory or a tremendous chance at a victory - look no further than the "get off the field" numbers.  They are 26th in the NFL in getting off on 3rd Down from 2011-2013 and tied for 20th in Takeaways.

Now, it helps, I am sure, to get off the field and to take the ball away when you play a very poor QB.  Jake Locker has a chance to turn into something (he better hurry), but it certainly didn't look like it on Sunday when the Cowboys were able to pressure him into mistakes.  The record would show, however, that with the exception of Nick Foles in the Week 7 game last season in Philadelphia, the Cowboys haven't faced a QB1 who made more unforced errors than Locker.  He was, to be kind, quite poor.

But, I also don't want to take anything away from the Cowboys.  So far, their defense looks susceptible through the air, but is standing up quite nicely on the ground.  When that happens, you force unfavorable down/distance situations for your opponent.  And that is when you can force 20% on 3rd Downs.



As you will read below, I thought Sterling Moore was fantastic on Sunday.  With my subjective scoring system, I awarded him with 4 splash plays which is a huge number.  He earned it with 2 passes defended, a tackle for loss on a run he chased down from behind, and then forcing a fumble which might have been another takeaway with a little ball bouncing good fortune.

He has gone from a fringe roster guy at camp to a key member of the squad that now is trying to find a bigger role for him.  He is 24 years old but has already been fired from his NFL job 7 times.  This after being undrafted out of SMU back in 2011, making a play against Lee Evans that allowed the Patriots to play in the 2011 Super Bowl, and then actually contributing in that very game.

Surely, that day, he thought his days on the waiver wire were over.  They weren't.  And perhaps, still aren't.

Look at his transaction sheet to date, courtesy of

According to the records I have, he has never received even a $1 signing bonus.  Nothing.  He works week to week and knows that they can send him away at any point - and that has already happened 7 times.

His defeating of BW Webb and Terrance Mitchell for roster spots (2 recent draft picks) was a bit of a surprise out of camp, and he might have been on the hot seat again when Orlando Scandrick returns if he hasn't been so good on the field.  I am not sure who they will release to make room for Scandrick, but I now highly doubt it would be Moore.

He is not a perfect player by any means, but I absolutely love how he drives on the ball and challenges receptions.  I also love that he is the closest thing to Scandrick when it comes to a DB who finds the ball and aggressively attacks at all times.  We need more of that and less of conservative corners who sit back and play the odds (in scheme, of course).  Rod Marinelli wants corners who are attacking - see Chicago: Tillman, Jennings - and Moore is cut from that cloth, I think.  But, for whatever reason, the NFL keeps kicking him to the curb.  I openly cheer for guys like that.

Especially when they do things like this:

I will certainly concede that Dexter McCluster stumbles, but Moore is getting that ball.  Love it.

I know some are pitching the idea of Moore working in more at safety which is interesting.  Otherwise, the more interesting question is whether the Cowboys have the guts to get their 3 best corners on the field in nickel.  By almost any metric right now, that seems to not include Morris Claiborne.

DEFENSIVE PARTICIPATION: OK, 8 man Marinelli defensive rotation was on full display Sunday.  LDE was Crawford 28 snaps/Selvie 23, LDT Hayden 27, McClain 19, RDT Melton 26, Coleman 20, and RDE Mincey 36, Crawford 13.  That left 12 chances for Wilber to rush from DE in nickel.  LB was pretty much all R McClain and Carter with a hint of Hitchens (10) and he looked shaky in his small amount of work.  Carr, Claiborne, Moore, Wilcox, and Church played almost the entire game with a small amount of Jeff Heath added in (10). - Thanks, Pro Football Focus for the exact math.  


Run Plays13
Pass Plays36
Avg Starting PositionO21
3rd Down Conversions2-10, 20%
4th Down Conversions0-1, 0%
Yards Per Play6.4
Yards Per Pass Attempt6.9
Red Zone TDs - Drives0-1, 0%


First, a reminder of what a splash play is: 

What is a splash play? Well, for purposes of this blog I believe a splash play will include the following: A sack, a pressure that forces a bad throw, and big hit on the QB, and a batted ball that may lead to an interception opportunity. Again, you can see how this leads to subjectivity, but a subjective breakdown is better than no breakdown at all, I have decided. In addition, a splash play will include tackles for loss, a big hit for a short gain, or a stop which is an open field tackle where a player is pulled down on 3rd down short of the marker because of an exceptional effort from a defender. An interception is clearly a splash play, but so is a defended pass that required a great effort. A major hit in the secondary could be a splash play, but I believe that the outcome of the play will determine that. Sorry, defensive backs, but standing over a guy who just caught a 15 yard pass because you think you hit him hard will not generally pass the test on this blog. So, stop doing it. 
I am trying to be careful about handing out too many splash plays per game. I am trying to be picky, but too extreme in either direction. When I log a splash play, I will put time of the game on the chart so that if you want to review the same game and challenge my ruling, you are welcome to do so. Also, if multiple players deserve recognition on a single play, we will try to see that as well. 
Basically, we are trying to assign a value to making plays on the defense. We don't want to just see sacks and interceptions. We want to see broader definitions of splash plays to assign credit to those who help the Cowboys get off the field in important situations. These rankings will not deduct for negative plays at this point. There are simply too many occasions where we are guessing, and for now, I want to avoid that for this particular idea.  
A splash play is a play that makes a major difference in the game. And by keeping it all season long, we will see which defenders are play makers and which are simply warm bodies. We already have our thoughts on both categories, but let's see if we can dig a bit deeper and actually have numbers to back up our claims.

1-9:493/2/O28MoorePass Defended
1-8:072/5/D49R McClainRun Stuff
1-7:273/6/O50JJ WilcoxPass Defended
2-15:002/3/O27ClaibornePass Defended
2-12:241/10/O32MoorePass Defended
3-12:211/10/D28MooreTackle For Loss
3-11:502/11/D29CarrPass Defended
3-11:453/11/D29R McClainSack
3-2:041/10/O25MooreFumble Caused
4-14:261/10/D39MeltonPass Tipped
4-14:261/10/D39R McClainInterception

Here you can see the job Sterling Moore, Rolando McClain, and Henry Melton were able to do.  Those were likely your defensive 3 stars of the game (hockey is coming!) and are all big reasons why this defense is not a punchline 2 weeks in.


1. LB Rolando McClain        5.511. DT Nick Hayden1
2. CB Sterling Moore412. CB Morris Claiborne      1
3. LB Bruce Carter213. DE Kyle Wilber0.5
4. S JJ Wilcox2
5. DT Henry Melton2
6. S Barry Church2
7. DE Jeremy Mincey1.5
8. CB Brandon Carr1.5
9. LB Justin Durant1
10. DE Tyrone Crawford1
Team Totals                 25

Career Totals
2013 Totals
2011 Totals



During the Marinelli Report, we attempt to chart how the opposing quarterback fared against the DAL pass rush (unlike Decoding Linehan, when we chart drive progression). The key in the bottom end zone defines how many rushers came during a given throw. Each line entails where the ball was thrown from, trailing to the (general) point where it was caught.  Dotted lines are incomplete passes.

Week 2 Summary

A win is a win in the NFL, but few can deny Locker left his A game back in Week 1. This clearly wasn't known from the beginning, however, as Dallas blitzed during 44 percent (4-9) of Tennessee's first four possessions. From that point on, in-game adjustments took over as the Cowboys blitzed during a lowly 6 percent (2-29) of remaining snaps defended.

Seldom can a beautiful chart look so ugly.  Blame Jake Locker.  


This segment of the defensive study is simply to find out how well the Cowboys are doing at getting pressure on the opposing QB.  We have spent a good part of the offseason talking about Monte Kiffin's philosophy that, like so many of the great 4-3 schemes, is based on using blitz as a weapon, not a necessity.  If you use the blitz as an ambush weapon that is always threatened but only used at the perfect times, you can often get free runs at the QB.  If, on the other hand, you must use the blitz because your normal pressure is not getting it done, then the offense usually is waiting for you and prepared - so even 6 rushers don't accomplish much.

As you can see, not much was needed, and not much was attempted.  They must "get there with 4" and they desperately need more pass rush moving forward, but against Locker this will do.


3-7:563/3/O39Locker to Walker, +614
4-7:351/10/O46Locker to Hunter, +234
4-7:072/10/D31Locker to Hagan, +254


2-14:533/3/O27Church INT4
2 -0:532/10/O13Wilber, Melton Sack4
3-11:453/11/D29McClain Sack4
4-14:261/10/D39McClain INT4


Each week we calculate how opposing quarterbacks fare against the Dallas blitz. Consider this the raw data behind the passing chart.

Wk 1 - Colin Kaepernick: 4/8, 74 Yds, 1 TD, 1 SACK
Wk 2 - Jake Locker: 3/6, 22 Yds

2014 Total: 7/14, 96 Yds, 1 TD, 1 SACK


Each week we monitor how often the Cowboys will send pressure on passing plays.  Week 1 showed an aggressive defense trying to get the ball back to attempt to generate a rally.

Pass Rushers Against Tennessee - 38 pass rush/blitz situations:

Wk 1 - SF: 9/21 - Blitzed 33.3%
Wk 2 - Tenn: 6/38 - Blitzed 15.7%

2014 Total: 15/59 - Blitzed 25.4% 

2013 Totals:  140/673 - 20.8%
2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%

Week 2 - Pass Rushers

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 RushTotals
1st Down014 -
2 -
016 -
2nd Down08 -
2 -
1 -
11 -
3rd Down09 -
01 -
10 -
4th Down01 -
001 -
Totals032 -
4 -
2 -

And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 RushTotals
1st Down018 -
6 -
024 -
2nd Down1 -
12 -
3 -
2 - 11%18 -
3rd Down3 -
14 -
1 -
2 -
20 -
4th Down01 -
001 -
Totals4 -
45 -
10 -
4 -

SUMMARY:  You can only play who is on your schedule, and in the first 2 weeks the Cowboys defense has held up nicely against just about everyone but the opposing Tight End.  They are flying to the football as you knew they would - and, as many forget, they did for much of 2013 in September and October.  The true test of any football question is whether it is sustainable over the course of a season and we have no clue how that is going to work.

However, the best case scenarios are turning up early with the major questions of replacing Sean Lee (Rolando McClain is one of the biggest stories in the league right now), filling in for Orlando Scandrick (Moore), and replacing Jason Hatcher (Melton seems to be the same guy he was before the ACL).

Now, where are they going to find a consistent pass rush before the 2015 draft?  That was the biggest question of them all and why I personally would have cut Kyle Orton much sooner in an effort to keep DeMarcus Ware with that money.  It might not have worked, but their efforts to keep Ware were almost non-existent.  No, Ware is not what he was, but he would certainly be this team's best edge rusher in 2014 - with or without DeMarcus Lawrence.  But, that is water under the bridge and they are doing everything they can to generate rush without blitzing with just effort players.  Tyrone Crawford did push back Michael Oher on several occasions, but it doesn't appear he has any pass rush moves to speak of at this point.  Melton is getting inside pressure and Mincey never stops running, but we must assume that sooner or later, they will desperately need anything they can get from Lawrence, Anthony Spencer, and likely get Kyle Wilber out there more on the edge.  

That said, they are much better in the middle of the field and against the run.  And, it looks like Marinelli is mixing coverages and trying to get his corners to challenge all passes.  Teams will attack the safeties until Wilcox and Church chase them off of that, but you can live with that to a certain extent.

Overall, the laughing stock of the NFL is closing mouths so far.  It is important to remember the tests ahead and the idea that one injury can change everything.  But, again, so far so good.  

1 comment:

Ben said...

"Tyrone Crawford did push back Michael Oher on several occasions, but it doesn't appear he has any pass rush moves to speak of at this point" - he got a good pass rushing grade from PFF in week 2.