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, at the risk of throwing this entire format off its axis, I decided to do many more than 3 plays, but perhaps with fewer words per play. I believe I have selected 13 plays below all under the exact same theme - which is, "How Did the Cowboys do in their challenge of dealing with JJ Watt?"
Watt is widely thought of as the best defensive lineman in all of football and in 3 NFL seasons, he was 2nd-team All Pro in his rookie season of 2011, 1st team All-Pro in 2012 and 2013. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 - nearly unanimously - before his 2013 finished 6th which I am sure had a little stain on it since they went 2-14.
He is a match-up nightmare, and his 2014 was supposed to be his best season yet because the Texans decided to make it unfair when they drafted Jadeveon Clowney #1 overall this spring. Clowney should take tons of the attention off of Watt when healthy, but since Clowney was hurt in Week 1, that went off the script a bit.
However, in watching Watt destroy Washington by himself in Week 1 and nearly do the same to Buffalo in Week 4 (9 QB hits in 1 game!), it seemed to be fair to call this the key of the Week 5 matchup in Arlington and the best test for whether the Cowboys offensive line is really ready for prime time. They have stood up well to San Francisco already, but here comes Watt. How would they do?
Well, the stats say he hit Romo one time, hurried him twice, and he had 4 tackles. Also, the Cowboys won, so, that might be all we need to know. But, let's look at a dozen or so snaps to see what actually happened. Watt, of course, is #99 and often best identified by his massive arm brace.
First snap of the game, and you see an inside zone play to Murray where Ron Leary is on his own against JJ Watt. Watt does what he does best which is an inside swim move right around Leary to make the Cowboys first run of the day a no-gainer. Leary is a strong kid, but the strength/quickness combo of Watt is what makes him special and the Cowboys did not try that very many more times.
Very next play and the Cowboys want to pass on 2nd and 10. You can see here that in pass protection the idea is to counter the Texans desire to make him an outside DE by having Leary help out Tyron Smith. Then, Murray turns the opposite direction of Frederick in a 3x3 protection scheme, meaning that since Watt is the only player rushing from that side that the Cowboys will have 3 players on Watt. Also, Romo was helping all day by getting the ball out quickly.
2nd possession, the Texans are trying to bring 5 here, which means that the Cowboys are 5 on 5 because they are empty. I have always said that if I am playing against Dallas and they are going to go empty, I am blitzing every time. 5 n 5 means that Watt is 1 on 1 against Leary. Romo is looking right the whole way (throwing away from the ball batting machine) and getting it out. Leary looks like he is having trouble dropping anchor and at the last second, Watt sets up Leary outside and actually beats him inside but his dive to Romo's feet is in vain.
6 plays later, here is Watt lined up outside Leary again, but they are going to try an inside stunt where Watt will circle around and try to beat Travis Frederick. Romo holds the ball longer here to buy his receivers some time and there are 6 Texans rushing. But, look at Romo's pocket and watch 72 casually pick up Watt and seal him off before 99 can get north. The Cowboys have a real good center and one who has worked against Watt for years, going back to their time at Wisconsin.
Here is one way to deal with Watt - run the other way. He still is a threat with the backside tackle (as we will see later), but even when he beats Tyron off the snap here, he is still not likely to affect the play. Just watch his explosion off the snap to beat a wonderfully capable left tackle. This is silly and it perhaps alerts us to Tyron needing a little work at being the first out of his stance at the snap. Several times, Watt was way ahead of him, and although he clearly beat Smith to the inside here it did not ruin this play. DeMarco's fumble did that.
This is a pretty weird play from Houston's standpoint. I am almost positive that Houston did not mean to just rush 2 here - the best hint is all of the guys dropping into coverage running into each other - but because they did not look organized, that left Smith and Leary to take turns pushing Watt back and forth and far from Romo. Rushing 2 versus 6 means Romo has all day. Easy 1st Down. I don't Romeo wants to talk about this play.
5 plays later, the Texans bring 4 and Tyron is again beat badly by Watt. I am not sure how we would all be acting about Doug Free if his first 5 weeks had this Tyron performance, but I am absolutely guilty of cutting Tyron enormous amounts of slack for what has not been a great start to his 2014 - by his standards. It seems every week he has a few moments where he doesn't look himself, and Watt should not beat you with this simple inside-outside move. Then, we see young 21-Randle's best effort which almost gets Romo killed. Romo bails for self preservation and they actually end up with a 4-yard gain here. But, Tyron doesn't look himself at moments like this.
This one is hard to see, but the other angle of this play is useless. This is late 2nd Quarter and Watt has moved over to Zack Martin. He beats him to the inside and Tyler Clutts is supposed to chip a bit better. Luckily, Watt gets tripped up and falls before he gets to Romo, leaving a clean look for Romo to his Williams for 28 yards. The trend here is on 1-on-1s, Watt is not getting blocked much. This is why Clowney is such an addition.
Here, Tyron looks much better. Shuffle steps out to Watt, waits on his move and is comfortably on balance for what he knows is a quick drop and throw. Watt senses it as well and looks to get in a passing lane as he almost concedes to Smith on this play early in the 3rd Quarter. Much better.
Here is how you deal with JJ Watt when he lines up at DE outside your tackle. You ask Tyron to beat his first move and then get it out before he can put those giant mitts in the air to knock it down. Romo's throw is obviously wide of his target, so, you wonder how much 99 affects the throw without even touching it. Is Romo trying to get the ball outside Watt and then sails it out of bounds? Just don't leave your LT on an island too long without help.
You have already seen this play 100 times, but this is Watt destroying Tyron again - some would say he was offside, but I don't think it was anything more than the man jumping the snap like DeMarcus Ware used to. That said, you can see the issue with a silent count. The particularly astute defender can time your snap very easily if you are not changing it up. Let's just all be happy that this was not the end of Romo's season here, because lesser crimes have had harsher punishments in the NFL. Watt from the blindside with a full sprint? Mercy. The fact that this ended up being a touchdown is mind-boggling.
Remember earlier when we talked about Watt running down plays from the backside? This is why you don't ask your Tight End - yes, even one renowned for his blocking - to take on the Defensive Player of the Year very often without help. Witten knows everyone is blocking right, so he has to beat Watt to where Smith is standing at the snap or this play is destroyed. But, Watt is so good at what he does that he uses this anxious intent from Witten against him. He let's Witten win to the inside and pushes him past and then has the athleticism to run down DeMarco Murray before Murray gets to the hole. This is crazy and something very few players can do against the zone to the opposite side at almost 300 pounds. Absurd.
Now, here is one to love. The Cowboys are saying our strength is the zone stretch. Let's run it right at Watt, because when that happens, we can get a G-T combo block and run him right out of the lane. Look at Martin and Doug Free getting Watt going in the wrong direction. On the combo block, all you need from the guard is just a shove to start the stone rolling, and then he moves on to the LB, 57-Tuggle. Wow, Jesse Tuggle's son is in the league? I missed that. Anyway, Free seals Watt out easily and Murray outruns 94-Pickett who beats Frederick to the inside and almost runs down this play. Timing is everything on the zone stretch.
So, some good and some not so good as the coach might say. But, anytime you avoid catastrophe both on the scoreboard and in the training room you take your Win and tell JJ Watt goodbye for 4 years. Let someone else figure out Watt and Clowney together.
On to Seattle. Hope you enjoyed this departure from the format.