Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Marinelli Report - Week 13 - Chicago

There are dozens of problems with using the sack statistic to measure the pressure a defense is putting on a Quarterback.  It simply is not enough information about 60 plays to report that a team had 1 or 2 sacks.  We have no idea what happened on the other 58 plays, but 2 sacks is the story that gets told.
Then, we have QB pressures, a stat that has certainly not been standardized because it is a wonderfully subjective number that might be a pressure in Chicago, but the same play not a pressure in Detroit.  We also have QB hits (a bit more cut and dried), QB hurries (a very slight variation of pressures), and tracking of the blitzes to see how many rushers are needed to apply pressure.  And, of course, "applying pressure" may not lead to much, either, if the pass is still delivered.
So, as we analyze the Cowboys in the last two weeks, we see 76 opposing pass attempts and the 1 sack from Tyrone Crawford against Mark Sanchez.  According to Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys logged 3 hits on Sanchez and 8 hurries.  Then, against Jay Cutler in 46 pass attempts, PFF tells us that Cutler was sacked 0 times, hit 3 times, and hurried 6 other occasions.  I recorded only 2 as notable - Mincey's hurry that caused Cutler to just abort the play with a throw away and Crawford being flagged for a Roughing the Passer that might have been a bit touchy.
But, we do know that the one stat we can believe in and that can be compared from game to game and year to year without subjectivity (at least in the last 30 years) is sacks.  And in that particular statistic - as you know - the 2014 Dallas Cowboys are not often needing a calculator to add up their totals.
They have 19 this season through 13 games - a total that projects to 23 - and as you can see below, that is the type of sack totals that would be a sharp decline since the height of the Cowboys' pass rush powers with Wade Phillips' crew in 2008.  That group had DeMarcus Ware (20 sacks) and Jay Ratliff (7.5) in their primes, Greg Ellis (8) at the end of his Dallas run, and even Bradie James (8) chipping in a huge total from inside linebacker.
59 was an insane total and one of the 5 best sack seasons by any franchise in any season in the last 15 years.  The idea that total would be the new normal was not realistic.  But, the substantial regression down to being 31st in sack rates in 2013 is disconcerting.  And 2014 is, as you can see, continuing in the wrong direction:
Now, as I said above, the 2014 total of 23 is merely a projection.  They are actually at 19 sacks.  Oddly, that total is 29th in the league, not last.  Believe it or not, the Falcons, Bengals, and Raiders actually have fewer than 19 sacks.  It should be noted, league-wide sack rates are down this year, but not abnormally down relative to the last 5 seasons.  If you are interested in the trends in the league, this report from Football Perspective is quite illuminating.  Rule changes have certainly made it easier for QBs to avoid sacks and the smart ones are really good at doing just that.
I always have believed that raw sack totals do not tell us much.  What we should look at it is how many "pass rushes" does it take to get a sack.  If a team is playing 2 opponents, one that passes 20 times and the other that passes 40, we cannot weight a 2 sack day equally.
So, the chart below tells us how many pass attempts the defense has faced each year per sack.  It is similar to the chart above, but perhaps more clearly demonstrates how hard it is for this year's crew to get a sack.
The league, in general, gets to the QB once every 16 pass attempts (give or take a fraction each season).  The league leaders - Buffalo - get home once every 10.3 attempts. This season, the Cowboys defense needs over 24 pass attempts to record a sack.  Not good at all.
We can see that much of what they hoped for from a pass rush standpoint has not worked out.  2nd Round rookie DeMarcus Lawrence has not really be available due to health, but even when he was it was not noteworthy.  George Selvie appears to have returned to the rotational piece he has always been after his flashes of something more in 2013.  Anthony Spencer has not generated much as a rusher, either.  The three players who have provided as much as the Cowboys have has been Tyrone Crawford and Henry Melton from inside and Jeremy Mincey on the edge.  But, those moments have been far too rare.
In reality, you can see that the Cowboys have decided to shift their chess pieces on the board into a more densely populated secondary as much as possible.  With 11 defenders, they want to rush 4, drop 7.  Rush 4 and even then, rush them with some level of contain so that the QB cannot leave the pocket, and then have 7 in coverage to keep the unmolested receivers from running free.
It can be frustrating to watch and some weeks a QB can pick it apart with ease if he shows patience - see Cutler last week late when the 8-15 yard dump offs in the middle of the field were always there - but, it might be the Cowboys best chance to compete.  Blitzing is not the answer, and only once all year have the Cowboys sent more than 9 blitzes in a game (vs Houston).
The only true answer if the Cowboys wish to continue to build a defense that resembles Seattle (another team not racking up huge sacks, by the way, but a considerably better sack-per-attempt rate of 1 every 18.6 attempts) is to find some defensive ends who can beat their men on edge pass rushes.  You can count on one hand the number of times a Cowboys DE has beaten a tackle to the QB, something DeMarcus Ware treated us to a dozen times a season. That can come from young Lawrence, we hope, in 2015, but it might also need to come from this team beginning to draft stockpile defensive linemen to compliment their fine stash of young, talented offensive linemen.
DEFENSIVE PARTICIPATION:  The stories in this regard are the continuing rise of Anthony Hitchens as a dependable partner to Rolando McClain in all situations at linebacker, and the continued phasing out of Bruce Carter.  Carter registered 24 snaps, while Hitchens had 55 and McClain 61.  Meanwhile, up front, the Cowboys are dressing 3 1-techniques as they added Josh Brent to the mix with Nick Hayden and Terrell McClain.  I am hard pressed to think of any worse use of the game day roster than having 3 run-stopping 1-techniques active, given that none of them are candidates to help on passing downs, but I know the Cowboys have been eager to see Brent back on the field.  And, in fairness to him, he might be an upgrade over what they have, but that wouldn't take too much.  Brent looked (quite) large on Thursday, sat in his gap, pushed a few linemen back, and appeared quite winded.  He has quickness in tight spaces at times (at least he did in 2012), but the current version looked like more of a speed bump in his first action.  That said, as bad as Philadelphia cleared out the DTs on Thanksgiving to get right on top of the Linebackers repeatedly, I am anxious to see Brent stand in against Kelce and Mathis to give McClain a chance to stay on LeSean McCoy.  We shall see.   All snap counts from
Win on 3rd downs, including a few nice stops short of the sticks and a very timely takeaway when Spencer stripped Forte, aided the evening quite well.
A reminder of what a splash play is by clicking on the link:
Another really strong effort from Orlando Scandrick that should be again pointed out.  He has really developed into a key member of this team.
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 14 Summary
 Cutler put up some very nice numbers late, but I felt that they were mostly garbage time against soft coverages.  Nobody likes to surrender huge chunks in the 4th Quarter, but up 4 touchdowns, you likely should drop into more conservative coverages to keep the clock moving as much as possible.
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
Wk 14 - Jay Cutler: 6/9, 98 Yds, 3 FD, 1 TD
2014 Total: 60/91, 65 Cmp%, 691 Yds, 3 TD, 1 INT, 21 FD, 3 Sack - 90 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%
Wk 14 - CHI: 9/51 - Blitzed 17%
2014 Total: 91/444 - Blitzed 20% 
2013 Totals:  140/673 - 20.8%
2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%
And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Well, here we are again. Cowboys against the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday evening. Surely, most indigestion about this rematch revolves around Rod Marinelli's group and the way they looked largely out of place and confused in the first meeting.
Tactically, we really don't know how well their ideas and game plan were working because Chip Kelly accomplished his main objective - get the defense to bust their coverages because they are confused. No game plan would ever tell JJ Wilcox to lose contain or Brandon Carr to release Jeremy Maclin to nobody in particular, but that is what happened. Kelly is a master at this which is particularly frustrating, if his guys never are forced to "line up and beat you." You will have some players take the wrong guy during the course of a game, but you cannot let it happen repeatedly or at the wrong moment.
So, now, when the first meeting offered us the theme of "short week, short preparation time", this one should remove all excuses. The Cowboys defense has 10 days to prepare, to examine, to look in the mirror. Meanwhile, the Eagles have to pick themselves up after a very emotional grind against Seattle and will certainly like to put that humiliation behind them.
Both teams meeting with everything on the line and both properly tuned up with motivation to respond to adversity. But, from a Cowboys standpoint, so much depends on keeping the Eagles offense from getting a swagger back. They will not fear Dallas at all, but there is a vibe around the Eagles offense after their demoralizing losses to Green Bay and Seattle, that suggest that if they don't have success early the crowd might get extremely restless. From there, the implosion might not need much assistance. They are waiting with great anticipation for the return of Nick Foles (imagine!), and from that standpoint, the Cowboys defense just needs to be in their spots. Simply, do your job and trust the game plan.
The question will be, is that too much to ask?

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