Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marinelli Report: Week 3 - At St Louis

There are two ways to win football games as a defense in the NFL.  You can either shut them down or you can make a few key plays.  Now, surely, the preferred method is to humiliate your opponent into surrender by tossing them from sideline to sideline for 3 solid hours and laugh as you load the bus and travel to the next village to plunder.

But, that is not necessarily an easy task - to assemble a defense that cannot be defeated.  Seattle has done it, but usually, the league must take the other route to defensive victory.  That route, where you hope you make just enough plays to get out of Dodge with a narrow victory despite damaging blows being landed on your face for much of the fight, was how the Cowboys defense left St Louis.

You cannot allow a team with a young, unheralded QB and a limited offense to possess the ball for 72 snaps and an absurd 6.2 yards per play.  The Rams rolled up 448 yards - which is a far cry from the four times the Cowboys gave up 500 yards in a game in 2013, but then again this wasn't the Lions, Broncos, Saints, or Chargers.  This was the Rams.  As Pac-Man Jones once famously said:

"They played the Rams, dude."

However, if you can make a play or two when it matters, and if your offense can answer the bell for a huge chunk of production, too - 340 yards + 119 in Rams' penalties - then you might have a chance to hop on the bus with your coveted win.

You also need players to step up and be counted, and if there was ever a reason to be concerned about whether someone can pull their weight when called upon, it might be 4th-Rounder Anthony Hitchens who certainly has potential, but was largely untested before Sunday.

Well, all Hitchens did is make 2 plays on the goal-line and then this play below on 4th and 1 in a huge spot in the game:

I will never understand certain aspects of offensive masterminding when it comes to 3rd or 4th and a yard or less.  If there is one thing that grinds my gears in these scenarios, it is an offense going backwards 7 or 8 yards before trying to get those precious 18 inches at the snap.  Worse?  Shotgun in 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1.  Worse than that?  Pulling guards which leave giant holes for LBs to come crashing through and to throw my RB for a loss.

Here, the Rams decide to pull their RG with the Center blocking down on Melton.  I get the idea, but what about Anthony Hitchens running right through that vacant spot in the middle of the line to blow up Zac Stacy?  It also helps to have Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain not allowing for push on the left side of the Rams line.  In fact, Mincey seems to toss 88-Kendricks right back into the path of Stacy.

Great job all around, but in particular, I love Hitchens having the aggressiveness to attack when he sees daylight.  If you hesitate for a moment, Stacy moves the chains, The Rams extend their lead to 7 or 11 late in the 3rd Quarter, and there is a good chance the Cowboys are 1-2.  Someone has to make a play and on this day it was Anthony Hitchens.  And....

Then, the Pick 6.  Surely, you know that 8 of the last 9 times the Cowboys have pulled off an interception and returned it for a Touchdown, they have won the game.  The lone loss in this scenario that goes back to 2009 was Sean Lee's Pick 6 last year in San Diego.  Get a free TD from the defense and they generally win.

First, it came from Bruce Carter, a guy I have been critical of in the past, but I am also linking to any chance this defense has in 2014.  Rod Marinelli must get Bruce Carter and Mo Claiborne back to what we thought they were to have any chance.  The Claiborne developments of the current news cycle are most disturbing, but through 3 games, I think Bruce Carter is back in reasonable form.

That doesn't mean he is perfect, by any stretch.  But, on Sunday, I thought he played pretty well overall and showed some real intestinal fortitude in the 2nd half when he was absolutely banged up from a shot to the head, it appeared.

But, he also made a fine play here and maybe earned the win.

4th Quarter.  The Cowboys have finally pulled ahead and this is the very first play of the Rams next drive with 6:06 to play.  Marinelli calls in a 6 man pressure with a Cover 1 behind it.  Scandrick is showing press coverage to the top, but that is his blitz position and Wilcox has his man behind him.  6 man pressure, but neither Carter or Hitchens are coming from the middle.

You can see Hitchens is on Stacy, with the FB staying in to get Scandrick.  That means Carter can float and play more of a robber/QB spy role by standing his ground and trying to get a feel for where the play is going in the frame above.

Now, Stacy is sneaking out and turns Hitchens around making the QB think this is going to be his read.  The red arrow shows Scandrick speeding past the FB 46-Harkey.

As you can see, amidst the pressure, Carter is almost Hidden from Davis, and he is just going to throw Stacy to daylight over the converging pass rush.  And that is where Carter sniffs it out and makes the play.  Fantastic job of lurking and then pouncing at the moment of truth.  How many times does this ball hit a LB in the hands and fall to the ground?

Not this time.

Those two plays and then Claiborne shuts the door with his pick later get a win in a game where the defense could not get to the QB and were allowing long shots down the field all day.

Honestly, as impressed as I was with Austin Davis, there is no doubt that a better QB could have found 500 yards easily.  Brandon Carr had his guy - Kenny Britt - get behind him a few times and Davis just missed on the throws.

The defense must be better than they were on Sunday in many regards, but they got away with it, largely because of the 2 plays above.

DEFENSIVE PARTICIPATION: - The biggest news is the return of Orlando Scandrick and the absences of Justin Durant and Rolando McClain for what we assume is merely a short spell.  Davon Coleman was also out with an injury.  The defensive rotation kept everyone at Nick Hayden's 51 snaps or below.  Mincey 50, Crawford 46, and Melton 40.  Terrell McClain had 39 and George Selvie 37.  Beyond that, Keith Smith played 2 snaps when Carter had to leave the game, but the back 7 was pretty predictable with Scandrick taking some Claiborne work and Sterling Moore after his great game in Tennessee played just 3 snaps.  Thanks, Pro Football Focus for the exact math.


Run Plays30
Pass Plays42
Avg Starting PositionO22
3rd Down Conversions8-13, 62%
4th Down Conversions1-2, 50%
Yards Per Play6.2
Yards Per Pass Attempt7.8
Red Zone TDs - Drives2-4, 50%

You cannot give up 6.2 yards a snap for 72 snaps and allow 8 3rd downs and a 4th down conversion and live to tell about it very much.  Lots of troubling production allowed.


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.

1-6:522/1/D1Lawrence/HitchensRun Stuff
2-10:562/3/D49CarterRun Stuff
2-8:282/8/D42Wilcox/CarterRun Defended
2-0:423/1/D44MeltonFumble Recovered
3-7:333/3/D17Scandrick3rd Down Stop
3-7:114/1/D15HitchensTackle For Loss
4-6:061/10/O21Carter (2)Interception/TD
4-3:531/10/D40CarrPass Defended
4-2:501/4/D4HitchensPass Defended

Bruce Carter and Anthony Hitchens had busy days.  They were attacked plenty and no doubt woke up on Monday quite sore.  But, they also played and competed very hard and were productive at time.  That is all you can ask sometimes.


1. LB Rolando McClain        5.511. DT Nick Hayden1
1. LB Bruce Carter5.511. DE Tyrone Crawford      1
3. CB Sterling Moore411. LB Justin Durant1
4. DT Henry Melton311. CB Orlando Scandrick1
5. S JJ Wilcox2.515. DE Kyle Wilber0.5
5. CB Brandon Carr2.515. LB Cam Lawrence0.5
5. LB Anthony Hitchens2.5
8. S Barry Church 2
8. Morris Claiborne2
10. DE Jeremy Mincey1.5
Team Totals                 36

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 4 Summary

Though it's displayed in the Blitz Report near the bottom, the passing chart further indicates Dallas' current preference to remain in coverage rather than blitz.

* - Edit: The Carter interception was actually a 6 man pressure.  E-Bob.


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.


2-15:003/13/O49Davis to Quick, +514
3-2:351/10/O18Davis to Britt, +384


4-6:061/10/O21Carter INT 6
4 -1:111/10/O26Claiborne 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
Wk 3 - Austin Davis: 4/7, 42 Yds, 1 INT

2014 Total: 11/21, 138 Yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 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 St. Louis - 42 pass rush/blitz situations:

Wk 1 - SF: 9/21 - Blitzed 33.3%
Wk 2 - Tenn: 6/38 - Blitzed 15.7%
Wk 3 - STL: 7/42 - Blitzed 16.6%

2014 Total: 22/101 - Blitzed 21.7% 

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

The scheme and the personnel call for limited blitzing and playing coverage to protect the soft personnel.  Marinelli has to be very selective how he employs the blitz and did a very fine job at times on Sunday.

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 RushTotals
1st Down015 -
2 -
1 -
18 -
2nd Down010 -
2 -
1 -
13 -
3rd Down010 -
01 -
11 -
4th Down00 000
Totals035 - 
4 -
3 -

And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 RushTotals
1st Down033 -
8 -
042 -
2nd Down1 -
22 -
5 -
3 - 9%31 -
3rd Down3 -
24 -
1 -
3 -
31 -
4th Down01 -
001 -
Totals4 -
80 -
14 -
7 -

SUMMARY:  Well, it is certainly difficult to summarize the defense in such fragmented fashion.  They clearly cannot generate enough pressure up front with a pass rush, but they are trying to remain optimistic that a healthy Melton and the returns of Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence will help.  I will also point out that George Selvie is losing plenty of time to Tyrone Crawford, which might not be a bad thing, but Selvie was your best pass rusher and Crawford seems to get close but never quite gets there in time.  Is there a way to get both out there?  Maybe in nickel, but so far it doesn't happen too much.

Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is the developing story of Claiborne who apparently walked out of the team facility with his belongings after being told on Tuesday that his role is being flipped with Scandrick.  Many of us have projected this move for sometime, but his response was not expected.  Cornerbacks, above almost all others, need to have a fighting mentality and a determination to shake off a bad experience and compete even harder.  His walking out posture is most disturbing and you wonder if he can rally from where he currently is.  

You can have all of the tools in the world, but if you don't have the internal battle the tools won't help you.  Scandrick has made a career because he is a relentless fighter who takes everything personally, and it drives him to win the next battle.  Tapping out is quite disturbing and perhaps telling of a bigger issue that we don't know about.   

That said, as a defense, I think you treat it as if he is unavailable.  He must be deactivated for Sunday and that sends a message in the room of accountability and playing for each other.  I think this is a pretty big team-building moment that has arrived on the door step.  But, give me Scandrick and Sterling Moore right now who both will fight until they can't fight any longer.  

That is all well and good, but now the Saints roll in to expose any weaknesses.  The last time these two teams met was the low-point in 2013. when New Orleans rolled up 625 yards and likely could have had even more if they were interested in doing so before they called off the dogs. 

A Sunday night without a pass rush will be lethal.  But, do you dare blitz Brees and expose men in coverage against a team that hopes you do just that?

No comments: