Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Decoding Linehan - Wildcard - Lions

The answer you were looking for is "Zero" times.
Never. He has never done that.
The question to couple with that answer is the following: "How many times has Jason Garrett gone for a 4th down and 5+ in his coaching career when he did not have to do so?" That means, we shall eliminate the time he did it with :02 left in the half against Tampa in 2012 (as that was the end of the half) and the other 3 times he has tried it (New Orleans 2012, Washington 2013, and Detroit 2013) and the game was down to its final play late in the game that the Cowboys were losing and had no choice but to go for it. We call those "100% 4th down" attempts, meaning, because of the game situation, it is a 100% requirement that you go for it.
But, this one was not. This was an "elective" 4th down. In fact, with the situation as it was, Detroit 20, Dallas 17 - with 6:00 to go in the 4th Quarter - and at the Detroit 42 yard line that the percentages say to punt it and down it inside the 10. The Cowboys had all of their timeouts and maybe, just maybe, something good will happen deep in Detroit territory to set the offense up again
Garrett said in the postgame that at the Masters you do not "lay-up", you go for it. That is one of the more unlikely things for Garrett to say, because he surely is not the type of guy to roll the dice. But, for the very first time in his career, 4th and 5+, elective situation, he did it.
And was rewarded handsomely for it. It is a piece of evidence for the suggestion that this might be the Cowboys year.
Here it is:
4Q/6:00 - 4/6/Det42 - Romo to Witten for 21 yards, FD

There is a little more to this play, but just know that the reason I was suggesting that Witten would have a big day against Detroit is they stubbornly sit in 2-man all day. 2-Deep safeties, man under (from trail positions) and you will not be able to go over the top on them. They have the personnel to do this very well as teams don't score many points against them and they are able to stop or slow your run game down with 6. But, in particular, that means that while your pass plays are not going to be huge (before the catch), you will get opportunities underneath that your men will have a chance to make plays after the catch. And we saw pretty much every single target of the Cowboys make a play after the catch at some point on Sunday afternoon.
But, here is the game. You need one play. In fact, in the screenplay of this situation, I can see Garrett, Linehan, and Romo talking during the timeout of this scenario, and one of them asks Tony to pick the play. What one play are you positive can get this ball past the markers? It is a 1-man route. Everyone else is a decoy to occupy the other defensive backs. He wants 82-Witten on a 1-on-1 situation where he simply has to "get open" on one of his option routes. Play the leverage of his man and react accordingly. Both Romo and Witten would later say that the safety was jumping the outside route and they improv'd back to the inside, but it sure looks from the smoothness that Witten was going to cut that way all along. Romo just has to wait, which requires his line to stand tall for just long enough. The tackles are in an excellent spot. Leary is dealing 1-on-1 with Suh and is having a difficult time dealing with him, but Romo waits and completes the throw. It looked easy, but under the circumstances, it was imperative.
That was not the only situation where they had real important situations where we can only wonder what happens if they don't convert. They also had vital 3rd and longs that had to be cashed in. 3rd and 12 right before half when they were down 14-0 and the blitz was beating down the Cowboys QB:
2Q/1:50 - 3/12/D24 - Romo to Williams, 76 yard Touchdown

Here, the Lions are pretty confident because their pressure has worked in the entire 1st half.  They are showing that 2-Shell at the snap, but then the safety gets right on Dez on the bottom of the screen at snap and the other is looking hard at Witten on the seam pass (a Cover 2 beater).  But, Romo talked about the idea that he had finally figured out what the Lions were doing here and if they were going to keep blitzing, he was going to be able to punish them.  Here is what that looks like.  All you need is one man cover to trip or miss a tackle and the game turned on a dime.
If they don't convert that and have to punt back to the Lions, down 14-0, and the Lions will also get the ball to start the 2nd half, is there any way the Cowboys win?  I contend to you this was a play that had to move the chains.
Then, in the 2nd half, they were down 20-7.  And they needed to do it again.
3Q/5:58 - 3/10/50 - Romo short left to Bryant for 43 yards and FD
One thing I enjoy about this project is how we can see plays from earlier in the season that they use again at the right time for similar results.  The Cowboys - like everyone - have a large playbook with certain favorites they love to bring back.  In this case, if you have 2 safeties deep, the Cowboys are going back to what has worked to beat you underneath.  This is a simple Witten/Dez cross in front of Romo on 3rd and they want Witten to help pick off Bryant's guy.  And then, behind them, we have Gavin Escobar (lined up outside Witten on the same side) running a deeper slant.   This looks like S02, but it is really S12 (that is Dunbar at the top of the screen).
Here is the play from Week 7 against the Giants when they actually did go to Escobar.
It looked like Dez was open there, too.  The point is that if they are going to man up against this personnel grouping, a linebacker is going to be on the inside guys (most likely) and that is when you get them short trying to deal with Dez.  Big broken tackle and 43 yards later, the Cowboys are about to cut the lead to 20-14.
Offensive Participation:
Jermey Parnell has been fantastic.  What If I told you that the Cowboys would have to go with a backup right tackle for 6 starts this season?  How many sacks would he be responsible for would you predict?  0 is the answer.  What about his run blocking?  He might actually be better there.  I appreciate Doug Free's 2013 and 2014, but the Parnell performance as the one place on this offense that has been really affected by injury has been very impressive (even though it hardly is mentioned anywhere).  As far as I am concerned, you can consider that a place where either guy (perhaps the one with the lesser contract requirement) could be your RT in 2015 as both are free agents.
The key to the game is those 3 giant conversions above as well as Romo's 3rd Down touchdown to Williams to win the game.  The Cowboys were not balanced and they had to adjust on the fly.  I have had many people ask why the Cowboys were not prepared with a game plan from the opening kickoff.  This is where we need to not by myopic about how this works.  The late Joe Avezzano used to answer questions like this with a simple answer: The other team pays their players, too.  They are game planning, too.  They are good, too.  Sometimes, you have to figure things out on the fly because they made a nice move.  The Cowboys did, but it wasn't easy.
PASSING CHART - John Daigle has designed this passing chart each week.  Each color represents the possession number listed in the key. The numbers are separated by the half. If you were to start from the bottom and work your way up, you would be tracking that possession from beginning to end. The dotted-lines are incompletions. Large gaps between throws are mostly YAC or carries.
Wild Card Summary
DRIVE STARTERS - The first play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. How committed is he to the run or pass when the team comes off the sideline? We track it each week here.
* This statistic doesn't count the 1-play kneel down drives.
Wow, percentage-wise, Sunday was the most shotgun of the season.  The Lions were a formidable challenge to say the least.
TOTALS BY PERSONNEL GROUPS (Before you study the data below, I would recommend that if the numbers for the groupings are unfamiliar, that you spend some time reading a more expanded definition of the Personnel Groupings here.)
 As you can see, it was a game that was not about "12" personnel (2 TEs).  This game was about the Cowboys going from 12 to 11 after the 4th drive.  Look at the 32 total (11 under center, 21 in shotgun) of 11 personnel.  (3 WRs).  Impressive day, especially running out of 11.  9 snaps out of S02 for -2 yards!?!  Yikes.  Looks like Detroit had an answer.
* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.
Wk 1: 1/5, 9 Yds, 3 INT, 1 FD
Wk 2: 4/5, 39 Yds, 1 Sack, 2 FD
Wk 3: 3/3, 88 Yds, 1 TD, 2 FD
Wk 4: 6/8, 76 Yds, 1 TD, 4 FD
Wk 5: 2/4, 38 Yds, 1 Sack, 2 FD
Wk 6: 1/4, 47 Yds, 1 Sack, 1 FD
Wk 7: 3/5, 55 Yds, 1 Sack, 2 TD, 1 FD
Wk 8: 5/6, 92 Yds, 1 TD, 2 FD
Wk 9: 1/1, 1 Yd
Wk 10: 2/3, 21 Yds, 1 FD
Wk 12: 4/4, 86 Yds, 4 FD
Wk 13: 2/3, 11 Yds, 1 FD
Wk 14: 5/6, 85 Yds, 4 FD, 1 Sack
Wk 15: 0/1, 1 Sack
Wk 16: 1/1, 11 Yds, 1 FD
Wk 17: 3/5, 55 Yds, 1 TD, 2 FD, 1 INT
WC: 1/1, -1 Yds, 1 Sack
2014 Total: 44/65 (67 percent), 713 Yds, 6 TD, 4 INT, 28 FD, 7 sacks - QB Rating: 109.3
BLITZING Romo - Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 37 Passes against Detroit
And here are the full season numbers.
That was quite a test for this offense.  Green Bay is not as good a defense man for man, but they do swarm and pressure a ton.  They leave their corners in man coverage and challenge you to challenge them because, especially at home, they are going to bring pressure to Romo.  I am positive that they will also assume that Romo is dinged up from the hits he took against Detroit.  Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews will cause some pass protection stress.  But, the real question is how well will the Cowboys ground and pound work.  It should be quite adaptable to the weather and the Packers normally don't have teams test them on the ground because they are ahead, not because they are overly stout.
But, let's give a nod to Scott Linehan, Tony Romo, and Jason Garrett.  This was the ultimate test of coaching this past week and they passed it.  They had to adjust on the fly to some tactical tricks that they don't prefer to use.  But, they were in a situation down 14 and then 13 in late in the 3rd Quarter where they needed solutions and they needed them immediately.
They figured it out and then their QB and offense executed the plays and also protected the ball perfectly.  The combination of excellent personnel and efficient execution of this offense has been the calling card in 2014, which is why I started calling them a "Super Bowl caliber offense" over a month ago and have seen no reason to adjust my sights.
It can all go belly-up with one bad slip up, but if the defense can continue to find takeaways (keeping in mind that Green Bay has the fewest turnovers of any offense in the NFL) and the offense just maintains its level of attack, this team can continue to win games at this most invigorating time of the year.
Romo's next challenge is back in his homeland in the bitter cold of Green Bay.  But, the team that has the most-cold weather-ideal offense is the Dallas Cowboys.  Let's see if they are capable of performing to their paper in that environment.

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