Thursday, June 25, 2015

2014 Pass Protection Register - Playoffs

http://cowboysblog.dallasnews.com/2015/06/bob-sturms-2014-cowboys-sack-registry-part-5-playoffs.html/

Detroit Lions middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) during the first half of a playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium  in Arlington, on Sunday, January 4, 2015. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)
Detroit Lions middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) during the first half of a playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, on Sunday, January 4, 2015. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)
We have spent the full month of June examining the merits of the Cowboys offensive line and pass protection performance from 2014.  Back in our first part, we talked about how the Cowboys line appears to be as good as anyone in football, but how much of that is looking at their muscular running game, while not completely seeing the performance of the pass protection?
Here is a passage from part 1:
They allowed 30 regular season sacks. 20 teams allowed more sacks, and a few teams – Jacksonville (71) and Washington (58) allowed way, way more. But, 30 teams attempted more passes than the Cowboys. Only Seattle threw fewer passes. Therefore, we look at sack rate. What percentage of passes are sacks? 5.9% in Dallas. The league average was right there at 6.3%, where the Cowboys finished 16th. 11 teams had a sack percentage of lower than 5%, so you could easily argue that the Cowboys would need to drop 5-10 sacks off their tally to be considered a top team in pass protection.

That isn’t to say they are lousy. But, it is to say they are average in pass-pro.

They are 21st in most sacks allowed. They are 31st in most pass attempts. They are 16th in sack percentage. They allow a sack once every 16.9 pass attempts. Peyton Manning, that magician in Denver, gets sacked once every 36.7 pass attempts and Joe Flacco is once every 30 attempts.
But, that was from the regular season.  How about the playoffs?
In the playoffs, the Cowboys were sacked once every 6 pass plays.  They allowed 10 sacks in only 60 passes.  That 16.7% sack rate is far, far beyond the 5.9% of the regular season.  From one sack every 17 passes in the regular season to one sack every 6 passes?  What gives?
Yes, the competition is better and yes, your QB is generally holding the ball more.  But, league wide, we see that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Andrew Luck's sack rates actually all went down in the playoffs.  Whereas Romo's nearly tripled.
This is where it gets tricky.  Because if you just look at these 10 sacks, you will get a picture of Romo holding the ball excessively and making poor decisions in the pocket.  But, if you watch the full games against Detroit and Green Bay, you will see that he made plenty of "winning plays" because of these same ideals and strategies.
The Cowboys put a ton on their QB in the playoffs - they ran the ball ok, but not great - in those two post-season dates.  So, they turned to Tony Romo to take them to the promised land, and he almost did.  But, in doing so, he tried to keep some plays alive that clearly in a normal game in Week 6, he would not be asking as much of his OL and of himself.  And let's also not forget it produced magical moments like this one:
To make an omelette, sometimes we have to break a few eggs.  Anyway, let's look at those staggering 10 sacks from 2 games in January:
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? 
Sack #1 (Playoffs)
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P1DET1/0:462/6/37452 - Tapp72 - Frederick/78- Parnell
This particular sack demonstrates how complicated this idea of assigning blame can be.  First, we must study the play and go back to that wildcard round against the Lions to recall that the Detroit plan was to counter the Cowboys 2nd down love for playing with 5 targets and an empty backfield in a personnel grouping of S02 (0 RB, 2 TE, 3 WR).  That means a 5-man protection and this way Dallas had been spreading out its opponent, getting defenses to declare coverages, and then Romo would pick things apart.  Well, the Lions were not playing that.  The Lions decided to attack this hard.  Especially testing the right side of the line with Parnell and Martin both making their playoff debuts.  First, they cheat 94-Ziggy Ansah wide as if he is covering 89-Escobar - which he is certainly not.  Then both inside LBs bluff the double A-Gap blitz on each shoulder of Frederick to line up as if 6 men are coming and will rush against 5.  So, Escobar is the hot route, but as you can see, Romo is looking there and seeing the LBs drop off into zones on a zone blitz.  Now, Jermey Parnell misses the snap count here and it looks like most of the line is not ready when Frederick snaps the ball.  Remember he did this on Thanksgiving as well - snaps the ball on the wrong count - and the entire line looked surprised.  But, Parnell (furthest away) looks the most confused and stands there as his man flies by.  Tyron blocks down to double Suh, but Ansah is untouched on the other side.  Hypothetically, that would be Romo's man, but seriously?  Romo is supposed to make Ansah miss?  This play is a disaster, so we could split it several ways.  Let's give half to Frederick, half to Parnell.  And I admit this scoring is shaky.
Sack #2
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P2DET2/14:542/10/47632 - IhedigboCoaches
Lions again decide to attack 2nd down, with the Cowboys trying to sell some play-action. Detroit lines up an overload fire zone blitz, again attacking the right side of the Cowboys line to get at the rookie RG and the backup RT.  Again, watch the Cowboys double team Suh with 72/70 and when Martin vacates his spot, 2 Lions run right through that gap.  Then watch the RB/FB sort through all of the players crashing through.  Detroit is basically sending 6 guys which is really aggressive for this point of a game and this down and distance.  Because of that, Dallas looks completely shocked that this is happening.  Again, if you want specific blame here, it is going to be tough.  It was a great ambush where the Lions coaches stuck it to the Cowboys coaches with a wrinkle.  They risked the house and sent everyone and the Cowboys had to quickly learn that they are attacking 2nd Downs hard.
Sack #3
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P3DET2/6:122/6/46659 - Whitehead65-Leary / 77 - Smith
This play above is where frustration was really high.  We saw back in October that the way teams were defending the Cowboys play-action was by ignoring it.  Nobody was buying the play-fake which is interesting, given how well the Cowboys ran the ball all year.  This is roughly the last time in the game the Cowboys would use 2 TEs.  Because everytime they did it, the Lions sent LBs at Romo.  Here, you can see the 1st LB move Leary out of the way (too easily), so that the trail LB has a free sprinting run at Romo in the blink of an eye.  This all happens in 1.8 seconds, nobody "busted" their block badly, and again, you would say this is the Lions' coaches telling the Cowboys' staff that we are going to do this all day.  The Cowboys responded later by switching to 11 personnel and allowing Romo to burn them, but it took more than a half to get there.  I am scoring this one against Leary and Smith, as Leary cannot allow a LB to move him out of his gap that easily and Smith in general would have to pick up the inside blitzer and leave the edge guy for Romo (although that guy doesn't even look like he planned on rushing).  If Tyron blocks down and Leary stands his ground, this has more than 1.8 seconds for sure.
Sack #4
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P4DET3/13:533/1/10494 - Ansah9 - Romo
Detroit had a really good defense last season.  Here is another case of it.  It is 3rd and 1.  The Cowboys don't see that as a running down, but the Lions are just rushing 4 and playing man-under where Witten and Dez are not going to get free in time.  Meanwhile, the 70/72 double team against Suh is not working for long and Parnell has his hands full on Ansah again.  Romo has the ball for 4.5 seconds and is trying to make a play, but you cannot ask much more of the line and would likely put this on your QB/passing game for not using the protection more efficiently and the coaching staff for the play-call.  I can't ask Parnell on an island to block his guy much longer and Suh is double-teamed every play for a reason.  He is unblock-able.  In this case, Romo takes the sack, but we are about to see that he is willing to take those in the playoffs.
Sack #5
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P5DET4/14:002/10/18590 - Suh9 - Romo/70 - Martin
This is an amazing game vs Detroit.  Romo turned full gun-slinger to try to pull off a playoff win and he eventually did it.  But, in doing so, he had to throw caution to the wind on several occasions.  Here is a crazy 6.5 seconds in the pocket.  Given that the airhorn at training camp blows at 3.2, we know that 6.5 is suicide.  The protection is pretty great, save for Martin trying to deal with Suh again.  Even that goes ok for 3 seconds, but eventually Suh throws him aside and takes the play over as Romo tries to keep things alive.  Tony has to get rid of the ball, and we might need to give Martin some help.  Watch Parnell here.  Pretty impressive from him.
Sack #6
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P6DET4/13:123/16/24490 - Suh9 - Romo
It is 3rd and 16.  You are in field goal range but down 20-14.  Romo wants a touchdown so he is not interested in a dump-off to Beasley for 8 yards.  But, in turning that down for a bigger play, he spends another 6 seconds asking Ron Leary to occupy Suh because the Lions are lining up here and basically isolating Suh versus Leary.  6 seconds is "you are on your own" territory in the NFL, and Romo is willing to roll the dice here to make a play.  It doesn't work out and they take their 6th sack of the day.  The idea that they won a game where they conceded 6 sacks is something that happens about once a decade.
Sack #7
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P7GB1/13:383/6/27556 - Peppers65 - Leary
Ok, now you can see the trends.  The Packers want to occupy Frederick with a guy on his nose and line up a pass rusher on the outside shoulder of Leary to get him isolated (also take Tyron wide).  Now, Green Bay has what they want, Julius Peppers versus Leary in space.  Romo tries to step up, but Peppers gets the ball and the sack.  Pretty cut and dried.
Sack #8
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P8GB3/0:091/10/48553 - Perry65 - Leary, 77 - Smith
This looks a bit like P3 against Detroit, with a play-action to the right side of the line, the defense doesn't buy it, and then Romo gets collapsed upon in a moment.  Tyron is beat on the edge by the disappointing Nick Perry and look at Leary getting fork-lifted back by the strong Mike Daniels.  It looks like Leary is hoping for more help from Frederick, but Daniels is on him too fast.  DeMarco looks awfully free and clear, but there isn't much time.
Sack #9
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P9GB4/15:002/18/40453 - Perry/76 - Daniels65 - Leary/9 - Romo
This one is another case where we see that a 4-man rush in the playoffs gave the Cowboys a lot of issues.  Partially because that left 7 in coverage to keep Romo from having tasty options, but partially because it was time to expose some guys who don't pass protect well.  And when we talk about that, we see that again, Ron Leary is just not on the highest of levels.  In the playoffs, teams attacked him and found success.  Now, Mike Daniels is a real nice player, but Green Bay is loving that match-up.  If Romo holds the ball for any time, Daniels is going to overwhelm his guy.  Which he does.  4.4 seconds and 2nd down, so we need Romo to ask less of his guys, but again, it is the 4th Quarter of a playoff game so he isn't worried about much right here but figuring out a way to get a win.
Sack #10
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P10GB4/6:262/7/37495 - Jones/96 - Neal9 - Romo/72 - Frederick
Just 2 plays before that famous 4th and 2, here is Romo trying to keep a play alive for 7.2 seconds.  Interesting to see on all of these 2nd half sacks, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers are either in coverage or not really involved.  This is 76-Daniels again collapsing the pocket (this time against Frederick who has to drop anchor better) and Datone Jones working around Parnell.  Romo is trying to win the biggest game of his career here, so he isn't throwing this ball away.  Eventually, you can see that he is doomed, and Lance Dunbar looks disappointed he didn't get a throw coming across the field.   Again, Romo is holding the ball too long, but again, he doesn't mind.
=====
So, now, of those 10, here they are all together.  You can see that Romo is down on many as he was definitely ramping up his aggressiveness in the playoffs (by design), Leary is on 4 of those (prompting me to wave the La'el Collins banner), and the rest of the sacks are spread evenly, it seems.
You can also see a lot of normal 4-5 man pressures which caused the OL some issues when you asked them to hold up an extra second.  This is a very good group, but you do see how they have room to improve in pass protection.
SackOppQ/TimeD/D/YdRushSackFault
#P1DET1/0:462/6/37452 - Tapp72 - Frederick/78- Parnell
#P2DET2/14:542/10/47632 - IhedigboCoaches
#P3DET2/6:122/6/46659 - Whitehead65-Leary / 77 - Smith
#P4DET3/13:533/1/10494 - Ansah9 - Romo
#P5DET4/14:002/10/18590 - Suh9 - Romo/70 - Martin
#P6DET4/13:123/16/24490 - Suh9 - Romo
#P7GB1/13:383/6/27556 - Peppers65 - Leary
#P8GB3/0:091/10/48553 - Perry65 - Leary, 77 - Smith
#P9GB4/15:002/18/40453 - Perry/76 - Daniels65 - Leary/9 - Romo
#P10GB4/6:262/7/37495 - Jones/96 - Neal9 - Romo/72 - Frederick
Catch up on the whole project below:
I hope you enjoyed this June project and also hope it gives us an idea of each individual's contribution to a very important component of winning football.  As they say, on to the next one.

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