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.
I realize that this week is the end of the road, and therefore the mourning process of a great season snuffed out is handled differently by everyone. Some are already tired of discussing Sunday and others are certainly tired of hearing about certain plays.
Today is to serve a more historical purpose as well. Usually, Xs and Os is about learning and investigating a few talking points. This one, however, is to also create a bit of a historical record to reference when we talk about these plays in the future. Next summer, when the details get fuzzy about what specifically happened, I wanted something for you to come back to that was written why the facts were still fresh. All week I have picked a few plays here and there, but these are the biggest 3 and the last 3 "big plays" of the game in my opinion.
They are: the kickoff return fumble (maybe the biggest play of the game), the Rodgers TD to finally put Green Bay ahead in the 4th Quarter after trailing all day, and 4th and 2.
Let's get started.
Play #1 - 3Q/4:04 - Bailey kickoff to Cobb, fumble, recovered by Quarless.
Pretty standard kickoff and return in a game that just went to 21-13 as the Cowboys win probability was back up to a solid-as-a-rock 78% at this point. If they would have been able to fall on this moment in time, it likely goes about 90% as more points and more time off the clock makes it 24-13 or 28-13 with a quarter to play. Not impossible for Green Bay, but not bloody likely.
Here are the 5 principle figures in our story. CJ Spillman is the L2, James Hanna the L1, and Tyler Patmon is the R5. It should also be noted that Lance Dunbar (who gets held on the play and it is called) is the R4. You might want to watch the chaos several times. 81-Quarless somehow goes all the way over to Patmon and then ends up with the ball after clearly holding Patmon at least twice.
The exercise here, of course, is to figure out how the Cowboys did not get that ball. We have the play from about 5 angles and still have no idea how Hanna and Patmon can have the ball between them and it gets away.
This frame in particular:
At this moment, Quarrels has Patmon around the waist and is behind him and is still going to come up with the ball at the bottom of the pile. We have no idea how this happens, but such is the way the NFL still determines fumble recoveries in scrums.
Play #2 - 4Q/9:15 - 1/10/14 - Rodgers rolls left, to Rodgers for Touchdown
We talked yesterday in the Marinelli Report that on Green Bay's last two big drives - both ending in touchdowns - they went with no RBs in the game. It was nothing but empty backfields and Cobb as a decoy next to Rodgers. Cobb underneath may not be Darren Sproles, but he isn't far off, so the stress that this causes is immense to the LBs trying to lasso him as the ball keeps marching down the field. Above are the approximate routes the receivers will run, and the Cowboys are now going to zone it up with 7 guys and hope for pressure from the rush.
The Cowboys are dropping into that Seattle Cover 3, with the corners funneling everything inside, 4 defenders across the 5 yard line, and JJ Wilcox patrolling CF with his best Earl Thomas impersonation. This is the moment in the play where the ball has to get out of there under normal circumstances as the pocket is getting smaller and smaller.
Jeff Heath (playing the role of Kam Chancellor, has joined the linebackers to play the outside in this 4-3, and 81-Quarless will run an out. This also draws 26-Moore to step up. Whether that is Aaron Rodgers plan (with his eyes and body) to open a window behind them is open to debate. Rodgers would later say that 89-Rodgers (also a Cal Bear) was his 5th read on the play.
Now, the frame where the ball leaves Rodgers hand. To me, this is not his best decision on 1st and 10. I imagine the coaches up there trust his judgement, but there is a very small window to make this throw as Wilcox and Moore converge and just miss the ball. A throw to Quarless to the sideline would almost certainly set up 1st and goal. Because it is 1st and 10, we would call that an unnecessary risk, but I am sure Aaron Rodgers is not very concerned with what we think.
And the end zone view below that shows the multiple reads and the tight window.
Barely squeaked it in there. That is the margin for error in this league. Notice DeMarcus Lawrence gets a hand on Rodgers, but the LT pushes him on by.
Play #3 - 4Q/4:34 - 4/2/33 - Romo to Bryant, Reversed to Incompletion
Everything that could be said about this play has been said. In fact, here is what I said on Monday:
The pass was perfect. The catch was absurd. The play was one for the ages. And yet, upon further review, it did not stand as the officials determined the ball hit the ground before it was completely secured. I disagreed with the rule for Calvin Johnson years ago and I disagreed with the ruling yesterday. It was a catch for me as his reach for the goal-line seemed like a football move if there ever was one. At worst, it should have been 1st and goal from the 1 and the likelihood of a touchdown and a Cowboys lead seemed pretty automatic.
And then, my critique of alternate ideas about this play on Wednesday in the Decoding Linehan piece:
That is why on 4th and 2, that fateful play where Romo goes to Bryant, I understand the logic of taking a chance with your best receiver on 1-on-1 coverage. But, man, you have to know that a fade or go route on a day like Sunday where no downfield completions of 20+ yards in the air were happening for either QB, that the percentages argued that you move the chains with something short. Now, Green Bay knew that, too. And they were taking away Jason Witten, but Cole Beasley underneath is uncovered when his corner blitzes against a Cover 0 where if Beasley catches it, he may go all the way.
It is a matter of probabilities. If no passes have been completed downfield by either team all day, on 4th and 2, that is taking a real chance. It is a shot from deep behind the 3-point line when a lay-up may be available. I am not saying they can’t complete it (they did!), but we just need to know the best chances of extending the game might be elsewhere.
Regardless, Romo did what he did and made the play look easy:
It is an interesting conversation about throwing it to Dez. You do it because he is in man to man with no safety help and he has destroyed that all season long.
But, Green Bay would never leave him in man unless it was 4th down. They really didn't all day long. They assume on this one play that you wouldn't dare. In fact, they might be willing to bait you into doing it. Why would Dom Capers do one thing all day and then change his mind on the most important play?
They blitzed 29-Hayward leaving Beasley open at the sticks, but as many of you have pointed out, we cannot just assume that this is automatic. For all we know, Julius Peppers deflects it. It looks like an easy conversion to me, and the right one, but we are all just guessing. The Packers are not going to let Jason Witten catch it. They have 2 guys on him and are blitzing. They are trying to make Romo do something he doesn't want to do, and he refuses to give in.
It is a shame to see the best moment of 2 competitors careers to not count. A real shame.
So, why would Romo risk it all on a pass to Dez Bryant? Because he has done it over and over this year and Dez has never let him down.
Week 7 versus the Giants - Does this play look familiar? No safety help? Touchdown. Reach for the goal-line even. It looks like a replay.
Week 8 versus Washington. No help. Dez dives for the goal-line.
Week 15 at Philadelphia. No safety there in time. Dead.
So there you go. You can see that Dez is either double-teamed or he is in your end zone. Xs and Os for another season - in the books. Hope you enjoyed these.