Late in the week, we finally get a chance to "look at the tape" as Jason Garrett likes to say and examine some plays that we cannot fully digest on TV. I can't promise that every week we will be able to do this, but honestly, this is my favorite exercise of the week because only here can you fully appreciate how advanced and complex the NFL game can be sometimes.
Here, we are not looking to call anyone out, and we surely want to leave open the possibility of our eyes deceiving us and more than anything, I want to admit that I don't have the benefit of the coaches telling me what coverage they were in. So, sometimes, this diagnosis will be "pretty sure" rather than "100% sure" even though I am trying to get it right. I will make calls and try to hunt down the right answer, but I will just admit right here that we will try our best to be accurate but invariably, I will see something wrong.
But, let's pick 3 plays that are interesting but not played out by this point of the week and have some fun talking Xs and Os. Feel free to tweet me @SportsSturm when a game shows you a play that you would like broken down and I will attempt to include it in this post.
Some overall film thoughts: I really think the Cowboys offensive line was better than I anticipated. We must consider that it is just one game, but DeMarco Murray had lots of space on Sunday with some pictures that just showed you he had plenty of real estate. Here are a few:
Look at that above - hat on a hat. Lots of green for 29 to pick his lane and go.
Again, as his right foot plants, he can see nothing but space here. Nobody in front of him and tons of space on this zone right.
And that fateful 2nd and 1. As you can see, Justin Smith is sneaking in on Tony, but there is plenty of space right if DeMarco gets the ball. GIVE IT TO HIM! They don't. But, I believe this picture erases doubt about 29 getting in or at least the 1st down at the 1 if he follows 70 and 68 in.
Optimism is all over on this offensive line for me. I have other concerns, but it appears they can be pretty good if they all stay healthy.
OK, Here are 3 plays to examine:
6:44 - 1Q - 1/10/27 - Vernon Davis Touchdown
This one seems like a massive coverage bust of some sort. Let's try to figure it out.
I will start by saying when nobody can figure out what coverage you are in, it ends up looking like a mess. But, we have 42-Church as our single-high safety, and it looks like 24-Claiborne and 39-Carr are in man coverage on the edges, with a zone underneath to handle Vernon Davis and the RBs against the 12 personnel of the 49ers. You often run zone here so Kaepernick isn't compelled to start his "runs like a deer" routine. The red arrows signify the routes that are about to be run by the 49ers.
The frame below is where confusion sets in. If they are running a Cover 3-slide, then Carr should release Crabtree to Church once Davis heads his way. But, Carr sticks on Crabtree the whole play. So, is he running the wrong coverage? I don't think so, but I at least want to leave that possibility open here.
But, the frame below also shows confusion between 27-Wilcox and 52-Durant on who has the FB in the flat and who has one of the best receiving Tight Ends of this generation in 85-Davis. Look at Wilcox who seems completely flat footed and sure that he has the FB in front of him as Davis heads to the sideline right behind him. Durant is also looking at the FB and we have a big problem when Carr doesn't peel off.
So, since nobody can identify what coverage they are in, let's just look at the issues here below. Davis is breaking open as Mincey almost gets the sack. Wilcox and Durant are now facing the QB and are ready to crash in if a scramble develops. But, what if he throws it? You can see Church is in CF and can already tell what is happening as he spots Davis.
But, Church can't get there in time. Wilcox still has no idea what is happening (he is still on the FB) and Davis is thinking he did something right as he can fair catch his first TD of the year.
Here it is in motion. Yuck. We will leave it at 95% likely JJ busted here because he thought the play was out of danger in his sector.
7:46 - 2Q - 2/11/33 - Bruce Carter sacks Kaepernick
This one is shown here to demonstrate fine technique on how Bruce Carter made a play that might not have been there had he rushed it.
Frame 1 above shows play-action with a pulling Left Guard to the right tackle. Linebackers follow guard movement to key plays, and the pulling guard can really help sell play-action. However, 77-Iupati knows he is actually handling the edge for pass rush.
But, here comes Sterling Moore off the edge on a blitz, so Frank Gore will pick him up below.
However, you can see Iupati above see that nobody else is coming, so below he helps Gore make sure they clean up 26-Moore.
And once his head turns away from Carter, Carter is a blur to the QB. He timed it perfectly. If he rushes at the snap, Iupati cleans him up. But, he waited, and got a free run at the QB.
And below you can see he didn't miss. Well done.
6:45 - 3Q - 1/10/28 - Justin Smith sacks Romo
You can find a hundred different variations of DL games and stunts as they try to cause the offensive line assignment issues, but this one is basic, yet rarely executed this well.
The beauty of this stunt is that you can't show it very much. It is merely a change up. But, if you run your front 4 pass rush one way for most the game and pull this out, it can confound the OL that has assumed there are no issues to consider like this one.
Watch the left side of the screen and see the DE and DT both slant inside their man. 59-Skuta is taking Doug Free inside and Ray McDonald is pushing Zach Martin into Travis Frederick. This is the design of the "Pirate" stunt that then allows the other DT 94-Smith to come all the way around the corner and blow by Free who is cleary off-guard.
It works best when there is nobody in the backfield with Romo to clean up a free man, so this is 5 on 4. Free sees no issues to his right, so he keeps with his man, and Smith is able to get to Romo (with some help from Romo stumbling into him) with almost no resistance at all. Again, we don't see this much and the Cowboys will be ready next time, but this is just a great call at a great moment to defeat the Cowboys protection without having to "beat" anyone 1 on 1.
So, don't say we have never covered the "Pirate" stunt here. Below, somebody on the internet drew it up for you.
OK, that is all we have for this week. On to the Titans.