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.
OK, let's get started with 3 things to look at from the Saints-Cowboys, then on to the Texans....
1) - Tyrone Crawford is starting to pop more off the film. His perfect position is a DE in a 3-4, so the Cowboys have been trying to figure out his best fit in the 4-3. The good news is that he can do a lot of things well and you could try him at any spot across the front and be ok. The bad news is that at DE his pass rush moves are so/so and at the 1-tech (where he played a bit on Sunday), he doesn't have the ideal anchor.
But, 3-tech? He looks like a natural fit. He seems to have that size/quickness combo to have potential that has already shown itself on the NFL field. He is in year #3, so this is where we need to see his big step forward, and partly because of Henry Melton's injury work load, we are seeing it at the 3-tech where I was told by a member of the Cowboys' brain-trust, "His best spot is 3...By far."
Anyway, I tell you all of that to show you this. He had 3 splash plays this week and is close to adding sacks to his ledger. Here is a move against Saints Right Guard 73-Jahri Evans. I assume everyone is aware of who he is, but for those who aren't, he is 1st team All-Pro (not Pro Bowl where there are many guards, All-Pro, where there are two) in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2nd team All-Pro in 2013. In other words, yeah, he is good.
Focus on 98, the DT to the top of the screen push 73 back with the power move, then then when Evans finally pushes back, he pulls around him right to Brees' feet. So close to an inside sack.
Also, above, see Justin Durant run with Marques Colston down the middle of the field in some semblance of the the Tampa 2. Let's not try that very often.
Here it is from the rear. Look at 98's bull rush. That is Jahri Evans on roller-skates back to Brees. Awesome work, 98.
2) - 1Q - 1:04 - 1/10/D41 - Murray Right Guard +17 Yards, FD and
2Q - 4:09 - 1/10/O15 - Murray Right End for +15 yards and Touchdown
I am not going to lie. This is what I love about football. It is a sport that resembles chess as well as any sport with its games within games and the ability with the stops between plays for each team to counter what the other is doing. It is beautiful sometimes. Here, Cowboys run the same play twice in the 1st half, each time for impressive results.
And, since I can talk with Jason Witten on the radio each week, I think you will really enjoy his explanation of what happened. What the video and then proceed...
1Q - 1:04 - 1/10/D41 - Murray Right Guard +17 Yards, FD
With my poorly drawn arrows, let's examine this play. So Murray's first movement is a shuffle step towards Romo, as Tony is not going to move. The mesh point is on the hash, and Murray will step that way to give the defense the impression that he is running across Romo to the defense's right or middle. Of course, that step is just to give his lead blockers (LG 65-Leary and TE 82-Witten) a chance to get across and do their jobs.
One more thing about the above photo is to look at the DE opposite Doug Free. He is set up wide and to the outside. The play reads his position and from that, the Cowboys decide whether the play goes inside Free in the B-gap or outside Free and around right tackle. If the DE is more on the inside or even straight on from Free, then Free has to adjust and turn the player to the inside further like what happens the 2nd time they run this play.
At the time of this frame above, you see that Free helped his guy to the outside (the player has contain) and then Martin and Frederick block to the offense-left, with Leary coming around looking for 53 and then Witten is supposed to get 50.
If they both get their men (which they clearly did) then it is Murray versus a safety or two. This is perfect. Watch the videos below. You can even see the safety 31-Byrd whiff on the tackle (almost looks like he bailed out, i.e. business decision) and 26-Vaccaro takes him on from the opposite side.
And, now the end zone view. Look at those 2 LBs thinking they have free runs at Murray - only to see pulling Cowboys at the last second emerge to block their path. The Cowboys don't pull blockers much anymore, but it still has a place at the table.
2Q - 4:09 - 1/10/O15 - Murray Right End for +15 yards and Touchdown
So, something works, what do we do? Right back to it. 10 offensive snaps later, the Cowboys have the ball back in the red zone after the interception that Carter and Durant combined on. Then, the rare successful screen to Dunbar brings us to this snap.
As Witten told us on the video, the Saints have a different look. It is a 3-3 stack. We look at the DE across from Free again (red arrow). This time he is not as wide. That means the LB behind him has contain to the outside and that he is looking to get inside Free. So, everyone must notice this (65 and 82) and must change their course accordingly.
3-3 stack. Now, you can see why they call it that. Free has his guy in his clutches and if Leary reads it, he might go around Free and get the OLB, then Witten will go behind him and get the MLB. Murray shuffles to Romo to let them set their courses.
Leary sees the play to the inside and actually doesn't get anyone. He takes a bad angle on the OLB, and by the time he decided on the MLB, he pretty much didn't get either. But, Witten goes all the way around the play and gets Leary's guy 93-Galette. This is why people rave about Jason Witten's ability to figure things out on the fly and then to carry out his assignment.
Again, by this frame, it is down to Murray versus Byrd again.
And, once again, Jarius Byrd - who is a very impressive safety and well regarded across the league - takes a poor angle and would not have brought DeMarco down in 2-hand touch. Not great by the Saints safety, but Murray punishes DBs and it takes a cumulative toll. He also can make them miss.
Pretty great, though. 2 tries at the same play, both times they get explosive runs out of it, and they ran it two different ways.
That is the sign of a team that is on a roll.
3) - 2Q - 5:04 - 2/2/O28 - Brees to Meachem, INTERCEPTED by Durant
So much of defense is working as a cohesive unit to generate plays. Rally to the ball, play with energy, and know your role!
Let's highlight the play that Bruce Carter made to get this Durant interception. There may not have been a bigger play on Sunday. The game is 10-0 right here, and if the Saints score on this drive it is a tight game at the half. Instead, it was a rout.
Above, the Cowboys are in straight Cover-2 (but out of nickel). The Saints are in 11 personnel and they are set up 2 x 2. That means that 32-Scandrick will basically be the LB opposite 54-Carter.
So, as you see above, the Saints have a Slant-Flat concept, and the idea is to try to sell Carter on the idea of going to Graham in the flat, but in reality, Brees just wants Meachem on a deep slant behind Carter and in front of the safety.
This frame is all you need to see above. Brees is on the right side and he is watching Graham to move defenders with his eyes. Carter is watching him. But, Carter knows this route combination and knows Meachem is behind him. He takes a step to Graham when the light bulb goes off in his head about what is happening. You can see that below as he recovers and Brees tries to fit it in the window.
Then, because Durant is aware, this is picked off on the tip drill.
But, this is Bruce Carter making a great play as he lays out like Superman. Brees knows he can't do this. Also, notice the Cowboys running the pirate stunt to try to bring pressure - that is the Right DT circling all the way around the LDE as the DE and DT on the left slide slant right. Bishop almost gets there, but the play happens too fast.
Rush 4 and drop 7 is what they want to do most of the time. Like Tampa Bay or Chicago, then you get your drops and force the QB to either throw into tight windows or take little chunks underneath before your LBs rally hard to the ball.
The ability for this defense to continue its progress will be predicated on finding opportunities like this one and getting that ball.
OK, keep your comments and questions coming. On to Houston in Week 5.