Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Marinelli Report - Week 12 - Eagles


Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli paces the sidelines during the second half of the New Orleans Saints game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, September 28, 2014. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
Sometimes you kick, Sometimes you get kicked - INXS
Surely, it was the most disappointing defensive effort that the Rod Marinelli-led Cowboys have given up in 2014.  The team is dissolving into the 2013 Kiffin group right before our eyes!  Or are they?
- We must be careful about over-reacting.  464 yards is not great to ever concede.  But, there were 6 occasions in 2013 where that number was exceeded.  4 times they allowed 500 yards and twice they allowed 600 yards.
- The Eagles run more plays at a higher rate for more yards week in and week out than almost everyone.  464 is brutal, but when you allow 75 plays, the 6.18 yards per snap is certainly not good by any stretch, but again, we have seen much, much worse in the last 14 months around here.
- 33 points against is the season high.  Anyone who watched the game was shocked it wasn't 40+ and it could have been with a bit better red zone work from the Eagles.  That said, the Cowboys have allowed 30+ twice now, a mark that they gave up 7 times last season.
The point is that Thursday was very, very bad.  But, nothing like 2013.  Yet.
These numbers are not to put lipstick on a pig, but rather to make the case that your worst fears may not be well-founded this year.  Before we consider them a lost cause that is morphing quickly into the 2013 Cowboys defense again, let's allow them a chance to prove that they have some answers for Chicago this time.
With the very capable Bears, Eagles, and Colts on the horizon, they will have every opportunity to collapse and fade back into the Monte Kiffin disaster of late-2013, but let's at least wait for that to happen before we declare this one day anything more than just a unacceptable day along the trail.
What is most bothersome about the day was the way they defended the run (actually, you might argue that they didn't defend the run).  This was by far the least impressive ground defense that we have seen from the Cowboys in 2014 and in the last decade we can put it next to 2 other bothersome late season days that most of us could never shake from our memory.  Here, thanks to the awesome profootballreference.com Game Finder, are the 3 games in the last 10 years where the Cowboys have been run over for more than 250 yards on the ground:
Those two games both stand out.  The last ever home game at Texas Stadium where the Ravens broke two gigantic runs late to set the table for 44-6 the next week and the 2008 season going up in smoke.  Then, the 2012 finale where a hobbled Robert Griffin and Alfred Morris made the beaten up Cowboys defense yield and leave in humiliation (incidentally, that was the game where I was endorsing the dismissal of Garrett).
This one was equally disappointing, of course, if not a bit worse.  This was a chance to take over the division lead and basically hold all of the cards heading into December.  Instead, the game was over early and there was almost nothing positive to cling to.  And, much like that cold night in Washington 2 years ago, it was completely off that zone read that seems to really test teams that might have issues with good old fashioned "assignment football".
That is what has to be bothersome for anyone who wants the Cowboys to do well.  It is one thing to be beaten physically - and there was some of that for sure.  But, it is far more disappointing to just have assignment busts that allow for huge plays where nobody on the offense does anything remarkable.  They just seize a moment where your guy was not in his spot doing his job.  Now, I want to be clear about one point before we look at a few examples: This is what Chip Kelly wants to do.  He is trying to confuse you stress your mental capacity to solve problems at the instant of indecision and basically allow you to beat yourself.  That is not an accident and the Eagles scheme feasts on your confusion.  But, my premise is that of any team should be disciplined and prepared to handle that test, it has to be the Eagles biggest rival who has to play them twice a season.  In other words, if you are the Cowboys and Kelly has 28 games of NFL action to decipher and prepare for, you should not looked confused when you see the occasional unbalanced line.
And yet....
1st drive of the game, 4th play of the game.  The most basic zone left ever that McCoy sees the backside unaccounted for and therefore takes the untouched run right down the field.
I don't want to say this is high school stuff, because honestly, they teach this stuff before that.  If you have outside contain - as JJ Wilcox and Anthony Hitchens surely do - you cannot crash inside to the far hashmark against a guy who cuts back as often as McCoy and the Eagles have.  The closest guy to even touching McCoy is McClain from the middle linebacker spot and you can see that footrace is not going to finish very close.
Stay disciplined, stay in your gap, and do your job.  I bet that is said in every meeting, but if one guy busts his assignment, it gets the game going in the wrong direction fast.  The Cowboys never recovered.
That one step McCoy takes left is a trick every zone team does to move every defender in that direction.  He knew he was going right the whole time, he is just setting the bait for you.  And then, his speed will do the rest.  Nothing tricky here at all.  Just discipline is required from your contain guys on the backside.
Above, zone read chaos for the first of many, many occasions on the Eagles 2nd drive.  This time, contain is fine with 59 (maybe too far upfield), but the DE and DT get washed inside and you have the proverbial hole you could drive a truck through.  Again, McCoy is untouched because the DE sliced inside (Spencer or Selvie - I wish we had All-22s by now, but we don't).  Once the DE takes himself out of the play, the OL has a free run at the linebackers and this play is toast.
Now, same drive, same zone read, but Sanchez keeps and throws the cross (that he has done in the Carolina and Green Bay games repeatedly since getting the job) to Matthews (every time) and the Cowboys are caught because they are determined to not let McCoy gash them again.  Now, their aggressiveness is being used against them.  Classic Chip Kelly counter stuff that makes you look silly.
This one really hurt. This is right after the Cowboys touchdown to cut it to 14-7 and the play before is the Tyrone Crawford sack and fumble. 2nd and forever, force a punt and go tie this game up, right?Here is your $50m corner releasing Jeremy Maclin to nobody in particular because his eyes see Darren Sproles into the flat in front of him. Brandon Carr has to know that a 5-yard pass to Sproles is not fun - because he is tough to get down - but Maclin for 58-yards is so bad on 2nd and 20. You can't release him down the sideline (where there is no safety help) that early. Sanchez couldn't believe his eyes and made an easy throw. Then, the safety angle by Barry Church makes it even worse.Again, do your job, let Sproles get the ball and then 11 fly to the ball. But, bust your coverage and they run free all the way down the field.
Just assignments being broken and you make the job too easy on your opponent. It is tough to know what coverages work and what coverages don't when you bust on your assignments this much.
DEFENSIVE PARTICIPATION:  No real participation issues to note in this game.  The Cowboys played plenty of snaps and had everyone available.  It sure looked like Rolando McClain was not himself on Thursday, but I have no strong theories on that particular play, but expected more out of almost everyone.  The defensive line just looked pedestrian in this game and the safeties were a mess.  I think this must be chalked up to simply being shell-shocked early and never recovering.  They haven't been near this bad all season.  But, we can't blame injuries as everyone was there.   All snap counts from ProFootballFocus.com.
Red Zone defense was quite impressive.  And everything else was not.  Unfortunately, any time you are defending your red zone 5 times, you are having a rough day all around.
A reminder of what a splash play is by clicking on the link:
 As you might imagine, the lowest number of splash plays in any one game this season by a pretty healthy margin.
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 13 Summary
This week, we tracked the entirety of the Eagles offense since it all seemed to work without fail.
This segment of the defensive study is simply to find out how well the Cowboys are doing at getting pressure on the opposing QB.
The Cowboys barely blitzed all day.  They were clearly too freaked out to risk any other big plays at their own hands.


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
Wk 9 - Carson Palmer: 5/7, 42 Yds, 2 FD
Wk 10 - Blake Bortles: 4/6, 47 Yds, 2 FD, 3 Sack
Wk 12 - Eli Manning: 6/6, 75 Yds, 5 FD
Wk 13 - Mark Sanchez: 2/2, 16 Yds
2014 Total: 54/82, 65 Cmp%, 593 Yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 18 FD, 3 Sack - 90.1 QB Rating
Each week we monitor how often the Cowboys send pressure on passing plays.
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%
Wk 9 - AZ: 7/36 - Blitzed 19%
Wk 10 - JAX: 9/45 - Blitzed 20%
Wk 12 - NYG: 7/42 - Blitzed 16%
Wk 13 - PHI: 3/31 - Blitzed 9%
2014 Total: 82/393 - Blitzed 20% 
2013 Totals:  140/673 - 20.8%
2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%
And, here are the full season numbers to date:
This is one of those games where you would love to say "burn the film" and not even study the results.  One problem:  you have to play them again in a week.  So, you better just face the pain and understand that it must get fixed.
What is interesting now is that the Bears use a lot of similar concepts in different ways with the way they look for coverage busts through the air that the Eagles do with the zone read.  The Bears have a fantastic ability to scheme your secondary into knots when they are on their game.  Of course, that is a rather inconsistent quandary in Chicago, as well, but the last time the Cowboys visited the Bears, Chicago put out a drive chart that was amazing:
Your eyes do not deceive you:  The Bears scored on every possession last year in this very game - until they took a knee.
So, combine the 2013 disaster at Soldier Field with last Thursday's mess against the Eagles and there is a fair amount of dread when it comes to the state of the Cowboys defense.
Their response this week will define their entire season and will depend on all 11 guys looking in the mirror and doing their own individual job.  Marinelli and his men have a real chance to prove that they are not going to go quietly into the night when almost everyone expects that they will.

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