Thursday, November 20, 2014

Xs and Os - Tyrone Crawford

Sometimes, having statistics to prove your points is a very valuable tool in this business, but I would argue that there are occasions you just have to watch the games to fully understand.
That is a problem, of course, because we like to compare one player to another who plays elsewhere in the league.  And, the realities that you can never follow players on other teams as closely as you follow your own team suggests that there will never be apples to apples discussions.  Usually, then we all just google stats to see who is better.
Well, what if I told you that the most impressive player on the Cowboys defense this season for me has 0 sacks, is 11th in tackles, and really doesn't have much statistically to verify what my eyes see every week?
Because that is exactly what I want to do today.
My premise is that Tyrone Crawford has been unbelievable this year, and I think you can make the case that he has been the defensive MVP through 10 weeks.  But, I don't have much to verify it with traditional stats - other than a handful of tackles for losses.
Now, I will say that he does lead the team in "Splash Plays" which is a stat I created in 2011 to track the contributions of individual players beyond sacks and interceptions and tackles.  Splash plays include sacks, pressures that lead to poor passes, batted balls, tackles for loss, run stuffs, and holding penalties drawn (as well as a number of other defensive accomplishments that apply to linebackers and defensive backs).  And when you add all of those numbers up Tyrone Crawford has a 1-splash lead over Rolando McClain for the team lead.  So, I guess, with my created stats, he does have statistics on his side, but I know it is certainly not recognized or kept league-wide.
Splash Plays Through Week 10
Crawford is a very interesting story in that he was an important 3rd round pick in 2012 as a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense.  The Cowboys loved the versatility and very high motor that he had as a defensive linemen who might be able to do all sorts of things, despite not really having a whole lot of moves or technique as a pass rusher.  He played 200 plays or so in 2012, with really nothing remarkable happening on any one of them for his ledger.
Then, to start 2013, he opened training camp with a season-ending Achilles injury that represented a real crossroads for the man's career.  Combine that with the scheme change to the Kiffin 4-3 Under, and who knew what to expect next?
I am happy to report a few things happened next: 1) it appeared that he returned in 2014 with absurd gains in strength, while regaining his quickness that made him such an interesting prospect in the first place.  2) the Cowboys decided to push him to the 3-technique despite Henry Melton's arrival.
It helped that Melton was not at full speed when the season started.  This gave Crawford a chance to show promise in September, but as Melton has returned to health, Crawford has actually looked more impressive as he has settled into the position.  He leads the team in QB hits, is 2nd in QB hurries, but still sits at 0 official sacks.  But, on a game by game basis, I think he has been there best player and absolutely the most impactful based on what was expected from him (a rotational contributor) to what he is (indispensable interior destroyer).
But, now the burden goes to me to give you 10 plays from this season to demonstrate his excellence.  Let's go to the eye-ball test on #98 for your Cowboys, Tyrone Crawford:
Here is one of the best plays of the season against the Saints.  The forklift move on Jahri Evans - Yes, one of the best guards in the league - where he gets under his pads, and rides him right back before tossing him to the side and pouncing on Brees.  Drew gets rid of it, but Crawford won that play big.
Crawford here against Houston RG 79-Brandon Brooks and momentarily is off balance.  But he drops anchor, contorts his body, and gets Arian Foster for a loss.  Can your tackle stand up to the run?  Can he penetrate and stop a play to the edge?
This might be my favorite of them all.  Just watch Crawford here.  Full double team and he is getting pushed hard.  But, he stays alive, stays relentless and ends up chasing Russell Wilson into a bail-out throw.  You will never see anyone play harder or cover more ground from a DT spot than this.
Inside give to Percy Harvin.  Crawford is not getting blocked here as he jumps the snap count so quickly that nobody gets a hand on him. Then, he corrals Harvin and hangs on by a hand until help arrives.  Harvin is slippery, but Crawford was not letting him out of his grasp.
Big strong 77-John Jerry wants to ride Crawford out to the right but Crawford shows his absurd strength/quickness combo to beat him to the hole and make the tackle of Andre Williams all by himself.  This is pro-bowl stuff right here as he stops a decent gain in its tracks.
Defensive tackles are not supposed to be this agile.  Look at how he moves - like a defensive end, but he still overpowers a guard who gets to high and then sheds to track down Eli.  He even got his hand on this pass.   Very nice work.
Giants try another inside run on the Cowboys, but Justin Pugh is not strong enough to deal with Crawford here.  He rams his way through traffic and makes the tackle himself.
On zone plays, you want back-side pursuit, but usually tackles are not doing this.  That is big Trent Williams who just wants to ride Crawford out of the play, but relentless effort comes up with the ball carrier yet again.  This is common place for Crawford, but you don't see this much from most DTs when you watch film.
This play is made available by the Redskins not all running the same play, but it is fun to see the Redskins RG 66-Chris Chester try to stay in front of Crawford.  Guards cannot deal with 98 one on one.  Every week he destroys another one.
Here is Arizona's RG, 74-Paul Fanaika and Crawford's same move which is power to set up quickness to the inside.  Again, the sacks aren't there, but as a DT, he is very tough to slow down and I am confident they are coming and coming soon.
Here, I said 10 plays, but here is a bonus, #11 is a pressure that might have helped seal the Seahawks win.  Notice that on passing downs, they don't go with Melton or Crawford.  They go with both rushing from inside, because one is going to get 1-on-1 and he will win.  Here, giant James Carpenter gets shoved back by Crawford and Wilson throws a duck as his pocket collapses.
Tyrone Crawford is a very well kept secret in the NFL right now.  Others are getting way more regard and I doubt he can be fully appreciated unless you are breaking down the Cowboys games every week.  But, for those of us who are, the defense has found a real piece of the puzzle here.
Rolando McClain and Orlando Scandrick have been great.  Henry Melton is coming on and JJ Wilcox has shown great progress.  But, Tyrone Crawford?  Easily, the biggest surprise and key contributor that they needed to make this defense work.

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