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.
This week, almost all of you agreed that we need to look at this first play, the Pick 6 for the Rams and Janoris Jenkins. We will also, below, study the huge 44 yard run that DeMarco Murray and the offense broke off, as well as the "winning TD" to Terrance Williams.
Be advised that the long TD to Dez Bryant was already looked at on Tuesday, and the 4th and 1 stop by Hitchens and the Bruce Carter Pick 6 were handled on Wednesday. I really enjoy breaking plays down to see what we can learn.
Play #1 - 2Q/6:13 - 3/8/D20 - Romo Interception by Jenkins, Touchdown Rams
This is not good. And at the moment, it made you wonder if it was the beginning of the end. Not just Week 3, but maybe 2014, and if you squint, maybe the end of Tony Romo as we once knew him.
As we look back, any reactions we had at the moment may have been hasty, but this is not the type of QB play that you can survive very often. Let's take a closer look.
It is pretty basic Rams man to man coverage behind a 6-man pressure package on 3rd and long with a single high safety to address any major issues. That type of typical response to 3rd and long (a big blitz) is why you want to stay out of it as an offense. The Cowboys want 4 men in routes and that leaves only 6 in protection against 6 rushers. If your front can sort out the rush, then everything is fine, but once the Rams start twisting and disguising their rush, that is where QBs get tattooed waiting for their receivers to get past the sticks on 3rd and long.
But, sometimes you cannot stay out of 3rd and long and you have to deal with it. To my delight, it appears in 2014, the Cowboys have finally decided to employ a tactic that has been used against them for the last several years. Say hello to the widespread introduction to rub routes! That is the new fun name for pick plays, but there is no better way to beat man-to-man coverages underneath than the criss-crossing routes that make it impossible to stay with your man through traffic. For whatever reason, the Cowboys were a few season behind on this, but perhaps Scott Linehan thought that was an issue (I am not sure I should credit every new advancement of this offense to Linehan, but I am simply noticing a lot of new ideas under his administration - and I like it).
Anyway, check out this play and let's talk about it further:
First, what did happen; if you are the Rams and it is time to discuss what the Cowboys like to do on 3rd and 8, the back shoulder fade to Dez Bryant has to be #1 on the list of things to look for (or #2 after the hook to Witten at the sticks). You will see that Janoris Jenkins is the only cover man not up on his man, but rather playing "off and soft" about 10 yards down field. Of course, he is sitting on the route, Romo turns his body to give another cue, and the second that Romo gets to the top of his drop, Jenkins plants his foot and drives on the pass. The back shoulder fade appears to be telegraphed and the ball location is not to the outside of Bryant, but rather slightly inside. This is all problematic.
But, there is a bigger problem. on the inside route combination of Witten and Beasley, we see that Cole Beasley is all alone by himself in the middle of the field as Witten has occupied his man and Cole could walk to a 1st down. In fact, if Romo sees him, I estimate the gain is somewhere in the 30 yard range. Once all 3 Linebackers vacate the middle and rush, this has to be where Romo is looking. Of course, it is fair to point out that if all 3 are not coming on the blitz, then they are looking to drop right into the passing lane of crossers and that is where LB interceptions happen. So, the edge throw doesn't have that to consider.
Protection-wise, you can see above that the front 6 have done well in squaring things away. I cannot stress enough how impressive DeMarco Murray is at finding and eliminating the blitzers. I really think he is nearly elite-level in this department, and it doesn't get discussed enough.
Romo needs to do better on this route, but as he said in the press conference, credit Jenkins for risking the house to jump this route. Later in the game, he would try it again and it would cost him a Touchdown, but this is the life of a risk-taking corner. It better fit the scheme or a team will not stand for that very long.
Play #2 - 3Q/5:34 - 1/10/D30 - Murray left end for 44 yards
If you follow this series, I would remind you that last week play #2 was also a pitch left to Murray that looks a lot like this play. You should check that out and see how the plays are nearly identical with just one major alteration. The fake that holds the linebackers last week was FB Tyler Clutts on a FB dive in the middle. This time, it is a jet sweep to Dez Bryant crossing the formation to the offensive right.
Above, I arrowed Dez and below I identified the Rams who are held by this fake jet sweep. In order to get the offensive linemen that step to out-leverage their men for a pitch left, you have to buy them a half count after the snap. And you do that with a fake. Clutts would not work every week because defenses look at that play and remind their players that Tyler Clutts never actually gets the ball. Don't fall for that! Well, Dez racing across the formation cannot be ignored. So, you can bet the Rams were paying that plenty of attention.
The Cowboys look so sharp tactically this year. This time, Tyron Smith AND Ron Leary are pulling because the Rams are running their 4-3 with the 1 tech on the play-side. That means Leary and Smith only have the DE #97 on their side. Frederick has a much easier time walling off #90, with Martin joining him and eventually taking over on the combo block so Frederick can go look for more victims.
If Witten can get to that DE with a down block (#97) and Harris then takes the man on Witten (#52), then the Rams are in trouble.
Notice Harris above at the moment of the pitch. Also, notice how many Rams are still looking at Dez. Now, see big 77 and 65 getting out in front of DeMarco.
Above, they both clean up DBs and Murray will slightly cut back and he is off to the races. So much so that Travis Frederick surveys the field in front of him and can't find anyone to destroy.
Check the video below to see a few things: 1) what a great job Leary does. It looks easy, but when that play is happening and you are asking a big guy like Leary to get around the corner and clean up a dive-bombing safety, it is not easy. In fact, #25 just about ends this play at the turn and Leary does well to both get a piece and to not derail the Murray train. And 2) it is just fun to watch Frederick run in front of Murray and see that even though Frederick was a very slow runner on draft day with a 5.56 40, it appears he is surviving in the NFL.
As I wrote in that draft write up 18 months back: On pulling plays, I actually like him in space (by center standards) and this is something the Badgers did plenty with their running game. He can handle himself well and is not the roadblock that you would expect with that 40 time.
Again, a variation of a play that worked in Tennessee looks to be a real solid change-up of the simple zone stretch plays. The options are endless once you demonstrate you can run the ball. This is all very exciting.
Play #3 - 4Q/6:21 - 3/2/O12 - Romo pass short middle to Williams, 12 yard Touchdown
Again, I don't think you want to "man up" against the Cowboys this season. But, here, the Rams tried it and it was one of the easiest TDs you will see.
Let's look at what they want Romo to see in pre snap. Notice in Frame #1 that the Rams are showing him the single-high safety. They do this because they want him to see Dez is in man at the top of the screen and then at the snap, the safety will head right for Dez and they will have a chance at another INT.
Here, a few split seconds later, it almost looks like a different play. Romo is still yelling for the snap, but now they are in a Cover 2 setup.
But, here is the cool part. The Cowboys are always expecting Cover 2 with man under. And Dez was never going to be the primary here. Also, notice that the Cowboys are doing what many teams do now with a "Beast" like Dez. They are employing the 3x1 conflict for the defense. If you want to double Bryant, then understand that you will be shorthanded on the other side with the 3 threats away from Dez. Detroit does this with Megatron all the time and we saw the 49ers do it with Vernon Davis in Week 1. If you want to key on their main weapon, then numbers say you can't have much on the other side.
Now, above, look at the concept I really love. Once you see Cover 2, then you take Bryant and Witten right at the safeties to occupy them completely. Any opponent is keying on 82/88 on 3rd down or in the red zone. Let's use that against them. So, take 82 right at the safety on his side, leaving Williams and Beasley with their corners and that is where we run them at each other and see who loses their man.
Above, it is clear. Beasley's out made Williams' man step around and there is your easy opening.
Behold. A throw you could make. And there is nobody anywhere close to Williams.
This is why they call the concepts, "man-beaters."
I can't stress how this is going to trouble teams going forward. You must make Dez your focus, but not to the detriment of all of the other openings he creates.
Again, this is why you wanted Linehan. Because he thought all of this through with Megatron. If these simple concepts were brought to Dallas and applied to Dez Bryant, what could be done with the entire offense?
It seems that we are getting a better idea of what that means with each passing week.