This is Part 3 of a 5 part series analyzing the pass protection of the Dallas Cowboys. I do this every season (in the summer months that allow for projects that may not fully interest giant masses), but this year I thought it was particularly interesting for 2 major reasons. 1) - because some are calling the Cowboys the very best offensive line in the NFL going into the 2015 season. If that is true, let's see what the best OL in the industry does well/poorly. and 2) - it is my premise that DeMarco Murray was a very good RB in terms of blitz pick-ups and that this will be sorely missed if it is not adequately addressed. I did receive a fair amount of opposition on this premise, and therefore thought it would be far more useful to actually research this carefully than get involved in a battle of anecdotal moments to either confirm or deny our claims.
Part 1 can be read here and handles Weeks 1-4. Part 2 can be read here and reviewed Weeks 5-8. This is Part 3 and will be Weeks 9-12. Next week will be Weeks 13-16 and then the final part will be the playoffs.
Also, as we do this, we can see that there are trends that emerge. Here is one. In 2014, the Cowboys took 47.5% of their snaps out of shotgun (52.5% from under center). Yet, through 3 parts of this study, the Cowboys have sustained 25 sacks - with 21 of them (84%) from out of shotgun. This, of course, is an amazingly high percentage, even when you do account for shotgun generally revealing your intentions to pass. This, of course, tips the defense off and invites more exotic pass rush concepts from the defense, but also should have you in a sound spot for pass protection.
So, when is this team in shotgun? Well, quite a bit in '14 - but less than in any other season under Jason Garrett. They were under center on 1st and 2nd down a ton, but then, the shotgun rolls out exclusively on 3rd downs (almost any distance) and also in the 2-minute offense and of course, when the team is behind and trying to rally. This is why it is important for us to understand that a "3rd Down back" is actually a guy who will fill all of these roles. 3rd downs, 2 minute drills, and rally-time offense; basically, the most crucial points of every game, right? That is why we stress how important it is to realize that job is as important or more important than the actual "starting" RB in today's NFL. And, why it is really enjoyable for that guy to be the same player - like last year when Murray did both. Well, we believe those days are gone for now. Murray could handle both, but it doesn't appear anyone on this roster can. So, the 1st and 2nd down back under center will not be the 3rd down back from shotgun. Fewer eggs in one basket, but, also a real tip off to the opponent on what to expect, if you aren't careful with tendencies.
Let's look at Games 9-12 - Arizona, Jacksonville, at New York G, and Philadelphia.
First a disclaimer: The analysis below is not meant to be exhaustive for each play. There is context that could require massive write-ups on each sack, but in the interest of time, let’s do this short and sweet. I will try to identify the bust on each sack, but sometimes, it will be a guess as we do not know specific assignments. We are trying to get this right, but invariably, some of you will see the same play and reach a different conclusion. Cool?
|#18||ARZ||2/1:41||2/10/16||3||92 - Rucker||72 - Frederick|
This one is interesting as Weeden gets sacked here in the most depressing way possible - a 3 man rush that get home despite having 5 to block 3. This happens because Frostee Rucker is on top of Travis Frederick, but Frederick is turning him into Mac Bernadeau for help. Bernadeau has his hands full with Calias Campbell so he is not providing help to 72. But, you can tell from Frederick's body language that he feels that 73 was late. But, if 73 leaves, doesn't Campbell have a free path to the QB? I assume Bernadeau is to chip 93 onto Tyron so 77 has leverage, but this one is tricky for sure. I assume it goes on Frederick, but I would love a full explanation on what happened here. You can see Martin trying to get over to help on 93, but there is no way that is more than "clean-up" duty. Tough to blame 72 solely, but also hard to hang much on 73 here as that is a lot to ask of him against the very impressive Campbell.
|#19||JAC||4/8:46||3/10/11||4||99 - Marks||65 - Leary|
Watch the Jacksonville defensive tackles here. This is a nice job on a stunt. All 59-Ryan Davis is trying to do is to cause chaos and to start on Leary, but then to cause the diversion on Frederick as 99-Sen'Derrick Marks races around the mess and gets a path to Romo. This only works because it is 3rd and 10 and they know Romo has to wait for his routes to get to the sticks. It also helps that Tyron is having trouble on the edge, so Romo steps up in the pocket and right into the mess. Leary has to be more aware of what is happening and switch to Marks for this protection to work. He does not and this is one of several occasions where communication has to be better on the interior. They were good this year, but there is room for improvement when switching is involved.
|#20||NYG||2/7:13||2/8/22||4||98 - Moore||68 - Free|
Yes, I do admit that Leary is in trouble here with 91-Ayers and that Frederick was a bit late on his assistance with that mess, but the real issue is that Free gets bull-rushed by DaMontre Moore right into the backfield and then Moore has the athleticism to stay after Romo and close down that play on his own. That is very impressive stuff there from the Aggie that slid in the draft. Romo certainly could have thrown the ball away, but we didn't see him exercise that option much in 2014. He is trying to hold the ball and to make a play. Sometimes it works and other times, he ends up eating it.
|#21||NYG||2/0:18||3/3/44||4||94 - Kiwanuka||68 - Free|
This is pure chaos, above. The Giants are rushing 4 and they will run a tackle-end stunt on each side to try to catch the Cowboys in switching issues. The Cowboys know this is near the end of the half and Romo is trying to make one more play to get into field goal range. Again, Free looks like the victim here as the switch from 98-Moore to 94-Kiwanuka causes everything to collapse. If you watch the rest of the line, I think the other 4 are in good spots, G-C-G look comfortable, and Tyron is pushing his man past the QB (barely). If Free has a bit more of an anchor, this play may have a chance. It is a tough ask, but when he struggles, the feeding frenzy begins and the ball comes loose.
|#22||PHIL||2/6:14||3/2/24||4||55 - Graham||72 - Frederick|
This one looks really, really easy. And what a killer at a crucial time of the game. Anytime every single person on the screen stays in their stance on the play and one guy snaps the ball, we must assume Travis Frederick forgot the snap count. It happens, but man, on 3rd down in a spot where the team is trying to get back in this thing, that one hurts. You can see the issues with not being on the same page as the Eagles can't believe their good fortune.
|#23||PHIL||3/10:24||3/2/23||6||50 - Matthews||9 - Romo,77 - Smith|
I remember this day sitting there wondering if Romo was getting skittish in the pocket and bailing to the ground too early when he heard footsteps. Part (or most) of that opinion might have been pinned to this play on 3rd and short where he doesn't find anyone open and time is running out. Tyron does a nice job of switching as Fletcher Cox stayed in the short zone and they ran Casey Matthews around him to cross Tyron up, but the big tackle used his reach pretty well. Still, partly because Romo bailed to the ground and Matthews got their first, I think 9 and 77 should share this one. It looks like everyone else had it blocked up pretty well.
|#24||PHIL||3/7:13||1/10/35||4||55 - Graham||65 - Leary|
There weren't a ton of times in 2014 where an offensive lineman was just beaten like a rented mule. This one, however, would be the exception as Ron Leary is trying to take on the under-rated Brandon Graham (who is now paid exceptionally) in space and Leary gets inside-outed on this play and ends up on all-fours as Graham has Romo all to himself. Not pretty and another case of Leary showing his limitations when he doesn't get help in pass protection. He is solid, but certainly there is room to improve.
|#25||PHIL||3/4:38||2/2/42||4||91 - Cox||65 - Leary|
Whoa. Here it happened again as this is not Ron's best day at the office. Now, the exceptional Fletcher Cox is able to isolate as a 3 technique on Leary as the edge man (58-Cole) takes Tyron wide to open the gulf and now Cox can put one move on Leary - a little swim to the outside and he is gone. Leary can't move his feet and stay on balance and this one is just another brick in the wall of a tough day for the OL altogether. 4 man rushes got to Romo 3 different times on this forgettable Thanksgiving Day.
So through the 12th game, here is the dubious leaderboard. Doug Free has busted on a team high 5.5 sacks (despite missing 3 of the 12 games), Ron Leary is responsible for 4 (missed the Arizona game), Tyron Smith 3.5, Tony Romo 3, DeMarco Murray 2.5, Travis Frederick 2, Zack Martin 1.5, Lance Dunbar, James Hanna, and the OC all get 1 each to total the 25 allowed to date.
Like I said, I am not promising I am seeing these all correctly, but that is what I came up with. How about you?
We will finish the regular season next week.