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 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.
Play #1 - 2Q/4:34 - 1/10/D20 - Weeden to Witten on seam, +18 yards, FD
This is a pretty good example of how offensive personnel groupings can determine defensive coverage ideas. The Cowboys begin this drive with 3 Tight Ends and Lance Dunbar. The Cardinals see that running on the field and are thinking that because of the personnel and the fact that the Cowboys are 70% run on drive starters (the 1st play of every drive this year), they are leaving their base personnel 3-4 on the field with DBs on the 2 outside men, a single high safety and a DB on Dez in the slot down low. That leaves the tight ends accounted for completely by linebackers, including 94-Sam Acho to deal with Jason Witten in the middle up top.
This is how complex offenses can be to deal with. They run on the field and you are bracing for power run. Then, they break the huddle and you see Shotgun-Empty with the QB standing out there all alone. The Cowboys personnel package here would be called S13, which to my knowledge, they have not run all season.
I think this is a weapon in their arsenal that we should see more, because it causes a huge classic conflict. If the Cardinals react to this grouping with dime (6 DBs) to account for everyone, then you line up and power run the ball with 8 "bigs" (OL + TE) versus 5 "big" defenders. But, if they leave LBs on the field, then you spread them out and make them cover Witten, Escobar, and Hanna. Honestly, it all makes too much sense.
Dunbar and Bryant to the bottom with the 3 TEs all to the top. Bryant will run the deep out and actually, he will be open, too. But, Weeden made the easy read and proper throw on this occasion.
Above is the ball arriving at Witten. You can see Acho is not in any position to deal with this. Also, Hanna has taken his man into the other middle linebacker to occupy them both.
Very simple pitch and catch here and there are a number of variations off of this. I think in a game that was very frustrating from an offensive standpoint, the Cowboys unveiled on this play something we need to be aware of moving forward. Please, Scott Linehan, do more of this. In fact, the pre snap motion from 13 personnel packed in tight for a power run to this spread formation would be awesome to see.
The end zone view shows how easy a throw this is for your QB, as well as how difficult Calias Campbell can be on 1-on-1 pass rushes for even Tyron Smith. That is the rare bird who is not impressed with Tyron's natural size. He has just as big a size advantage at 6'8, 300.
Play #2 - 4Q/11:43 - 3/13/A24 - Palmer sacked by Melton/Spencer, -5.
This is the type of play that makes you smile. You get a sack at the most important part of the game. The idea is to not only generate the occasional big play by the defense, but to do it when everything is on the line. Well, here, at 14-10, with the Cardinals facing 3rd and long from their own end of the field, the Cowboys needed this badly.
Get the ball back for the offense with a stop and then the defense can feel good about doing their part.
So, here it is. Rod Marinelli believes in 3rd and long being the time to have a 7-man, fly-to-the-ball zone defense. That means that we are going with a 4-man rush against a 6-man protection. But, instead of 4 rushing straight up the field, we are going to "sugar" a double A-Gap blitz, but then we are dropping out of there at the snap and then calling for a DT stunt where 98-Tyrone Crawford is going to cause the diversion and his goal is to free up 69-Henry Melton coming around the corner.
The Cardinals are doing the math in their heads and see 6-on-6 at pre-snap, but once 55-McClain and 32-Scandrick drop out of there, the RB 39-Hughes knows he can release into the flat.
So above, Crawford wants to get the Center to go with him and put all of the challenge on 74-Paul Fanaika to see what is happening and to slide over and get Melton when he circles around. But, because this stunt is not run much all day, he is not prepared for it and is just thinking Crawford is putting an inside move on him. Crawford does something pretty awesome here that I am not sure I have seen this year. An inside stunt that totally clears out the guard-center-guard trio and leaves Melton to run free right down main street.
Would you look at that? This is why statistics are not practical on defense. Most of the time when you see a big defensive play, you can see someone other than the credited party doing something great to make it all possible. This is Tyrone Crawford's play, but his name is not even on the stat sheet for this. Melton is untouched.
Now, the defensive ends meet you at the QB.
Here is the video where you can see the zone behind the stunt and see that the Cowboys are merely protecting the sticks way back at the 37-yard line. Palmer doesn't have much to work with except underneath.
Now, look at this play at live speed to see the awesome DT stunt. Crawford is so powerful and then all 4 meet at the QB on the biggest play at the biggest moment for the defense. It ended up not mattering, but even in a defeat, you can appreciate the defense stepping up big here.
Play #3 - 4Q/9:41 - 4/1/A34 - Murray up middle for no gain - Turnover on Downs
Well, if the above play wasn't the play of the game, then this one certainly was. 4th and 1 with power versus power. The Cowboys are in 23 personnel and they are running left to behind big Tyron with a pulling guard 70-Martin and FB 44-Clutts leading the way.
They need 1 yard and they are going to believe in their power. Trouble is, a pulling guard in short yardage never seems to work. Things are too compacted and happen too quickly. Pulling linemen has worked quite a bit this season, but I personally cannot stand it. The Rams tried it against the Cowboys back in Week 3 and it was blown up. Now, the Cowboys try it against the Cardinals with similar results.
Here is the idea. I believe the above frame demonstrates the basic idea here for the run. Frederick and Bernadeau are blocking to their right, trying to drive people to the left of your screen. Martin will then come around and read Tyron versus 93-Campbell. If Tyron also has to go right, then they go around him. Martin and Clutts read that block and make their decision. Because Campbell is inside Smith, they will try to get around him. That leaves Witten to try to keep his edge to the left and the lead blocker will have to clean up the circled LB 50-Foote at the point of attack.
Here, a fraction after the snap, we see how this is going to be an issue already. Bernadeau is being shoved back into the path of Martin by 92-Williams. You can't lose this fast on short yardage. That leaves too much space for 93-Campbell and 50-Foote is headed up the field with a head of steam.
I would love a penny for DeMarco Murray's thoughts at this moment - as he is about to take the ball and all he sees is red and his men all losing the leverage battles to their inside. Also, if he has any plan to bounce it outside, the Cardinals have outside contain more than handled to squash that plan.
As you can see, this is a sound defeat. It is difficult to assign real blame because I am not sure anyone won their block. Clutts had nobody to target because all he could get to was the back of his own guys. Witten and Escobar are unable to contain their side, Smith has his hands full with Campbell, and Bernadeau is absolutely out-matched as he is dropped to his knees, twisted down, and impedes Martin completely.
As you look at this play, it would be be an interesting exercise to discuss what they should have done in this situation. Spider Y 2 Banana comes to mind, but it seemed like with the Cardinals having such power up front, running right into the teeth of Campbell and Williams is very brave - and perhaps, crazy. Would you be more advised to go the other direction and avoid 92 and 93, but not utilize Tyron?
Either way, next time it is a 4th and 1, we will all hide our eyes and wonder what the Cowboys plan will be. Dan Bailey from 52-yards now seemed like the safest idea.
Oh well, live and learn and get ready for the Jaguars.