One of the most interesting components of the Cowboys wild-card win over the Lions has to be the role of the blitz in each direction. Yesterday, we touched on the offense being abused by Detroit blitzes that caused confusion on several instances, luring Tony Romo, Zach Martin, Jermey Parnell and others into misdiagnoses and then sacks that were only backed off by the big touchdown to Terrance Williams before the half. It was a case of Detroit being chased out of second-half blitzes. In retrospect, many are wondering, why? Why would Detroit have so much success in the first half bringing pressure, only to allow the Cowboys much more comfort in passing the ball in the second half, where they scored on nearly every drive?
That is for the Lions to sort out now that they are 3 days into their offseason. But, the Cowboys had a similar situation Sunday. They cranked up a rare six-man blitz on the Lions' opening drive. It was second-and-10 from the Detroit 49 when Rod Marinelli brought all 4 of his DL and two linebackers -- Rolando McClain and Kyle Wilber -- on the rush. McClain was not far from Matthew Stafford as Stafford climbed the pocket to buy time and fired a strike to Golden Tate, who had Barry Church rolling into man coverage against the speedy receiver. Tate had no problem losing Church -- who actually got turned all the way around -- and a 51-yard touchdown pass followed. In 652 pass plays this season, the Cowboys have only "big blitzed" (6+ rushers) 18 times. That may explain why they hate to do it. They hardly blitzed the rest of the day.
For Marinelli, that just isn't what they do. It isn't what they believe in. He has made his money in this league with a philosophy, and even though there is nothing wrong with throwing a changeup to keep the hitter honest, if you live on your fastball, you want to die with it, too.
So what do they believe in? They believe in 4 rushers destroying you with energy and depth. It is all predicated on gaining traction and speed as the game goes along by wearing you down. We always saw the effects of a deep defensive line in New York or Seattle, where they kept subbing in big edge rushers and in the fourth quarter, the sacks would come. How did they do that?
They did that with numbers. And the demand that when it is your turn to play, you are not pacing yourself. You are burying that RPM needle and going as hard as you can go.
I love looking at this chart and then seeing the results on the field. Here is a comparison between the 4 "rush-men" of 2014 versus 2011. Now, I want to tell you that in 2011, they were running a 3-4 and had a different philosophy altogether under Rob Ryan, but they still rushed four most of the time and played essentially a 4-3 on over half the downs. This is to demonstrate the two approaches. In 2011, they had 3 premier players up front and would play them all 50 snaps or more (essentially they were playing unless they asked for a break) and the 2014 approach which uses specialization more, but also a philosophy of rotating your players to gain a fatigue advantage over the protectors in front of them.
|1||Mincey 45||Spencer 61|
|2||Crawford 43||Ware 57|
|3||Hayden 37||Ratliff 50|
|4||Selvie 32||Hatcher 35|
|5||Lawrence 31||Coleman 26|
|6||Spencer 30||Spears 25|
|7||Melton 27||Lissemore 15|
|8||T McClain 25||Butler 15|
|Total||66 per game||66 per game|
Isn't that interesting? According to ProFootballFocus, it is still 66 snaps a game (this includes penalties and "no plays"), but look at the distribution of snaps. Can you run a mile in the same pace as a quarter mile? Can you run 200 meters at the same pace as 100? Of course not. If Spencer is playing 60 snaps, can he bust his tail at the same rate as 30? No. A player knows to pace himself to last 4 quarters. Unless he is being coached to not pace himself. That is the Marinelli way.
Let's see if we can see it. Here we go with the ultimate test for a philosophy: Up four points with 2 minutes left in a playoff game. Defense goes on the field and must generate a stop. This is why you ration snaps and build a rotation. The Lions OL has been out there all day. You have players who have only played 25 snaps. If there is an advantage to that, it must show itself now.
Spencer destroys the RT and came close to knocking Stafford out with injury while knocking the ball loose. Lawrence has his moment to forget, but look at the energy when you need it most - especially given how many Cowboys' fans complained that DeMarcus Ware used to have nothing left in the tank at the end of games.
2 plays later, here is Tyrone Crawford getting a good push to bat down a ball. Also look at Selvie get close.
And here is the pay of the season for young DeMarcus. Awesome moment against first-round tackle Riley Reiff.
Nicely done. Mission accomplished. It is a difficult magic trick to do - lose all of the blue chip talent from this roster over the last few years up front and yet to generate a late-season pass rush in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.
DEFENSIVE PARTICIPATION: We covered most of the snap count/playing time issues above, but we would be crazy not to mention the LB issues right now with depth and injuries. I was told by more than a few people that Anthony Hitchens might not be active in the Lions game, but then the Cowboys decided to go for it. They already knew that they were going to have to play Kyle Wilber a bunch because of Hitchens situation, but then Rolando McClain couldn't go much after the 1st Quarter. That meant Carter, Hitchens, and Wilber would all have to play a ton. That is particularly interesting because at times, this year, all 3 of those guys were reserves. Do you realize that the Cowboys were fine in a playoff game with so many reserves playing major roles? All snap counts from ProFootballFocus.com.
WILD CARD vs LIONS - DEFENSIVE NUMBERS
I think the key here is the starting field position. This was a very odd game with very odd special teams moments, but when you are dealing with high octane players, starting them inside their 20 yard line all day is a recipe for great success. 3 takeaways is nice, too.
A reminder of what a splash play is by clicking on the link:
SPLASHES VS LIONS - WILD CARD
If you are going to have one of your highest splash play games in the playoffs, you will have to be pleased with your defense. It started poorly, but from Drive #3 through the end of the game, the Cowboys did themselves proud on defense.
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.
Wild Card Summary
This segment of the defensive study is simply to find out how well the Cowboys are doing at getting pressure on the opposing QB.
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS ALLOWED (+20 Yards)
SACKS AND INTERCEPTIONS
PERFORMANCE AGAINST THE BLITZ
Each week we calculate how opposing quarterbacks fare against the Dallas blitz. Consider this the raw data behind the passing chart.
Matthew Stafford: 3/3, 100 Cmp%, 73 Yds, 1 TD, 1 FD
2014 Total: 69/103, 66 Cmp%, 759 Yds, 3 TD, 1 INT, 24 FD, 8 Sack – 94.2 QB Rating
Stafford burned them 3 times and they stopped blitzing.
Each week we monitor how often the Cowboys send pressure on passing plays.
And here are the full season numbers to date:
SUMMARY AND LOOK AHEAD:
The Cowboys have been taking the ball away all year long. We don't know how they did this trick - given that Dallas has never been a top-ranked takeaway team in this era - but, they have done it well.
But, now, it will be power vs power again. The next 3 teams that they might play in an effort to secure a Lombardi Trophy are the 3 least likely to turn the ball over teams in the NFL. Green Bay, Seattle, and New England will test the Cowboys ability to go get the ball. I believe they will need at least 2 in each game to win and it starts with playing a team that has a QB who has not thrown a home interception in 471 pass attempts since December 2, 2012.
Here are the remaining 8 teams based on turnovers:
|1. Green Bay, 13||1. Dallas, 31|
|1. New England, 13||2. Green Bay, 27|
|3. Seattle, 14||3. Indianapolis, 26|
|4. Denver, 20||4. Carolina, 26|
|5. Baltimore, 20||5. New England, 25|
|6. Carolina, 23||5. Denver, 25|
|7. Dallas, 24||7. Seattle, 23|
|8. Indianapolis, 31||8. Baltimore, 22|
So, how do you stop Rodgers and Eddie Lacy? Fly to the ball. Relentless pursuit and energy. Don't do what you don't do (blitz), but believe in your plan that you will battle and scrap and claw and perhaps have more in the tank in the 4th Quarter than your opponent.
The Cowboys are nearly a touchdown underdog in this game, but they have been underdogs in all of 2014. Imagine the point spread against them in August to be in this game at this location on this date.
Opportunity knocks rarely for this moment. But, it is here. What is Rod Marinelli's plan to take down the Packers?
Do what they do.