For the first time in quite a while, the Cowboys were unable to follow their blueprint for success in 2014. They have been very strong with their recipe of a dominating ground game that then used strong situational football to protect the defense by keeping them off the field.
Opponents know this is the recipe, but have a hard time figuring out ways around it. Of course, we have detailed that Washington won 3rd Down often enough to throw a wrench in this plan, but they also needed some generous ball security by the Cowboys to put "time of possession" squarely in favor of the Redskins at about a 58%/42% margin. If, on a play-by-play basis, the Cowboys defense is actually a fraction worse than they were in 2013 (6.07 yards allowed per play in '13, 6.11 per play in '14), then the number of snaps conceded and time of possession is a real component to this all.
With that in mind, with the exception of the Rams game, no team kept the Cowboys defense on the field for so many snaps (although this game was affected by 8 overtime plays), and even with the overtime, the time of possession % for Dallas was lower than any game this year.
That is not completely on the offense, at all, because as we noted in the "Morning After" piece, the Redskins started converting 3rd Downs (and 1 4th Down) in the 2nd half that they controlled almost completely. The game will be long remembered for the Tony Romo injuries, but you can believe in Rod Marinelli-led meetings for the defensive squad this week, there will be plenty of time and focus dedicated to situational football and doing what put this team in the position it currently holds - getting off the field.
There was a stretch in the 2nd half were it seemed that Colt McCoy and that offense were converting every opportunity and it served to really frustrate everyone. The Cowboys never deviated from their plans - only blitzing 22% (8 of 35) which is their season rate and the exact rate that they used against Russell Wilson and Eli Manning in the 2 previous weeks.
I thought the massive key was the 3rd and goal play where McCoy and the Redskins seemed to harken back to a pivotal moment in 2013 where Robert Griffin and Sean Lee shared a memorable moment.
First, let's look at Colt versus the Cowboys on 3rd and Goal from the 7.
Like so many, I have been smitten with a lot of Rolando McClain's work this season. He diagnoses, seeks, and destroys at a very impressive and high level. However, this is not his finest work. The Cowboys are in nickel, so the key for the Redskins will be to get as many of the Cowboys DL to rush up field on their 3rd Down pass rush, then, since they have 5 targets in route with an empty backfield, the hope is to get man-coverage and then just have to beat the middle linebacker and safety to the goal-line. This is a great idea that is used so often, because the extra defenders are usually in the end zone and can't get to the goal-line before the QB does if he gets any blocking at all. If you look above, you see 32-Orlando Scandrick as the only Cowboy with a real chance, but his angle is not conducive to making that stop. 52-Durant also smells out pretty quickly, but he has blockers to deal with. That leaves McClain in the middle. Let's switch to the end zone view.
86-Jordan Reed is the player who is to occupy Rolando McClain on this play. If McClain believes it is a pass, then he will be too occupied to react. But, he must if Dallas is going to have a chance here. 69-Henry Melton is the only DL to not take himself too far upfield and it appears he was held on the play. But, when McClain puts up almost no resistance until the McCoy is already in his lap, the play is doomed. He has to at least make McCoy change direction and that might give other Dallas players a chance. Instead, McCoy takes the quickest straight line route to the end zone and it is a gigantic Touchdown.
Maybe I am asking too much of McClain here. Let's see how Sean Lee did last year in the exact same situation. I broke down this play from Week 6 of 2013 on this blog entry here.
Some subtle differences. Washington is 2 yards further back, with a RB 29-Helu as Sean Lee's assignment. But, again, a clear called QB draw where it is a race to the goal-line. The Redskins have the Cowboys caught here, too. But, Lee takes on everyone and makes the stop.
This view is insane to behold. Lee smells it out the second he notices the center coming at him and not only makes Griffin change direction, but also hauls off and makes the tackle on his own.
It is only 1 play and both players are remarkable. But, it does show that sometimes recognition and diagnosis can be an amazing substitute for speed. Lee saw what was happening way quicker and was able to do something about it. On this particular play during a season of impressive accomplishments, McClain looked unaware of what was happening in front of him until it was too late. Subtle, but costly.
One other point that is worth making is that the Cowboys were able to find 3 sacks on Monday, including one that might have saved the game if a few things happened differently that were out of the defense's control.
Here it is - 2:16 left in the 4th Quarter and Washington has a 3rd and 10 from the Cowboys 37. You have to figure that even a few yards puts them in FG range, so if the Cowboys can, they need a negative yardage play. Do they blitz? No way. They unleash the ghost of DeMarcus Ware for a classic bull rush/shed move against Trent Williams. Williams has played 532 snaps this season and had not allowed a sack - until this one.
Mincey has not been able to get home, but he has really impressed with his motor this year and has been an unsung hero after his arrival barely got a headline. The sack knocked the Redskins out of field goal range and the game was saved.
The hope is that DeMarcus Lawrence provides more of this type of things, but for this move to happen at this moment in the game is fantastic work. It is a shame it hasn't been discussed much, but for it to have been properly recognized, we would have needed the offense to come through. Such is football.
DEFENSIVE PARTICIPATION: The big story here is that Justin Durant tore his bicep and is now lost for the season - putting the 3rd Defensive starter on the Injured Reserve list (with Lee and Claiborne). What this means is that there will not be a game this season where the opening day trio of Linebackers - Justin Durant, Bruce Carter, and Rolando McClain will actually play the entire game together. The trio started the SF, NO, and Wash games together, but in each case one of them left with an injury. The other 5 games had at least one of them missing, as will the remainder of the season.
In steps Anthony Hitchens with Kyle Wilber standing by. Depth matters for sure as Lee and Devonte Holloman were gone in the preseason and now Durant is gone, too. Attrition at linebacker alone demonstrates that this is a marathon, not a sprint and you better assume that you will need your 7th choice LB at some point.
Thankfully, the DL is going in the other direction with players actually being added who all seem to have intriguing upside. Terrell McClain and Anthony Spencer in October, with Lawrence and maybe even Josh Brent in November. Weird year.
WEEK 8 VS WASHINGTON - DEFENSIVE NUMBERS
Again, situational numbers are not so great. Washington went 6 of 11 on 3rd/4th down situations in the 2nd half and was able to get TDs on both trips inside the red zone.
A reminder of what a splash play is by clicking on the link:
SPLASHES VS WASHINGTON WEEK 8
16 splashes against the Redskins, with a remarkable 3 sacks in 1 game!
2014 SEASON TOTALS
The cream is rising to the top in the seasonal rankings. Henry Melton is climbing quickly as is Orlando Scandrick.
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 8 Summary
Just as you might suspect from Colt McCoy. Lots and lots of horizontal passes to set up a few deep kill shots to DeSean Jackson.
This segment of the defensive study is simply to find out how well the Cowboys are doing at getting pressure on the opposing QB.
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS ALLOWED (+20 Yards)
SACKS AND INTERCEPTIONS
PERFORMANCE AGAINST THE BLITZ
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
Wk 4 - Drew Brees: 6/8, 68 Yds, 1 TD
Wk 5 - Ryan Fitzpatrick: 6/11, 41 Yds, 2 FD
Wk 6 - Russell Wilson: 2/6, 25 Yds, 1 FD
Wk 7 - Eli Manning: 7/8, 75 Yds, 4 FD
Wk 8 - Colt McCoy: 5/7, 66 Yds, 2 FD
2014 Total: 37/61, 60 Cmp%, 413 Yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 9 FD
Each week we monitor how often the Cowboys send pressure on passing plays.
As you saw above, Eli was not troubled much by the Cowboys blitz. They still can't figure out how to get to the QB. Close doesn't count for too much.
Wk 1 - SF: 9/21 - Blitzed 33%
Wk 2 - at TEN: 6/38 - Blitzed 15%
Wk 3 - STL: 7/42 - Blitzed 16%
Wk 4 - NO: 8/46 - Blitzed 17%
Wk 5 - HOU: 11/26 - Blitzed 42%
Wk 6 - at SEA: 7/31 - Blitzed 22%
Wk 7 - NYG: 8/35 - Blitzed 22%
Wk 8 - WAS: 8/35 - Blitzed 22%
2014 Total: 56/239 - Blitzed 23%
2013 Totals: 140/673 - 20.8%
2012 Totals: 134/551 - 24.3%
And, here are the full season numbers to date:
SUMMARY AND LOOK AHEAD: When looking at a football game, you cannot grade an offense or defense purely on win or loss. Each play must be studied and graded on its own and understand that in a win there can be a lot of bad and in a loss there can be a lot of good.
Personally, I saw that on Monday night. I thought the broken tackles were an issue that needs to be discussed and Barry Church and the linebackers were victimized on that quite a bit.
However, I thought we saw the best performances of the season from Henry Melton, JJ Wilcox, and maybe even Justin Durant and Tyrone Crawford. I hesitate to say that about Crawford because he is routinely amongst the best defenders every game. I am starting to think they really have a star in big Tyrone who is doing everything that Jason Hatcher might have done last season.
The defense only gave up 20 points and the game was in overtime. That has to be enough to win the way this team is built. At the same time, one more situational stop of any kind and they might have survived a game in which QB1 is lost for the majority of the 2nd half.
It basically comes down to what we said above. A snap here and there is the difference between victory and defeat and this is how the league works. Stop that QB draw and maybe you win the game. Consider it the opposite of what happened against Houston or Seattle and figure that these things have a way of evening themselves out.
Halfway through the schedule and the defense has settled in to being what everyone hoped - about a league-average defense. With the offense they have built, that should generally be good enough. But, with Romo's status iffy, the defense might be asked to win a crucial game or two in November.