Thursday, June 18, 2015

2014 Pass Protection Register - Weeks 13-16

For the last 4 weeks, I have taken a day each week to review the pass protection of the Cowboys offensive line from 2014.  This all goes back to a discussion about the overall quality of the Cowboys offensive line and the distinction of whether they are the best line in the NFL or whether they are a promising OL that still has significant room for improvement.  By the way, that is not an insult, rather, it should be incredibly exciting that a 12-4 team has tremendous upside to improve.
The Cowboys OL is very good.  But, to be great, they will need to pass protect better than they did in 2014.  Because for all of the great things they accomplished, Tony Romo was sacked 40 times in 18 games, including 10 times in the 2 playoff contests.  For a team that did not throw near the league average, that is too many.  And for a team that had a QB who elusively escaped many more sacks, that is way too many if we are going to discuss the best OL in the league.
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.
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.
This may not be the most air-tight way to evaluate your offensive line, but given the nature of football, there isn’t a perfect way, short of sitting down with each sack and trying to figure out what the issues are.
So, I did.  I appreciate the fact that has their own scoring system for charging sacks.  In case you are not a subscriber, their final standings were different than mine.  They apparently only offered blame for 21 of the 30 sacks.  I am not sure their methodology, but as a customer, I really appreciate their contribution to football research and am very happy they exist.
That said, I am uncomfortable with so many NFL media types citing their stats without doing the work themselves when it comes to the teams we cover.  I am not going to check the math on all 32 teams, but I am going to do my own study for the team I am employed to cover.  With the resources we all have in the media, it seems a bit sloppy to allow PFF to replace our own elbow grease.  It should only enhance it, or serve as a reference point to cross-examine findings.  But, I personally think we should be doing our own grading on the team we follow.
Below, I will have a chart that lists the differences between PFF and my summary, if you care to see it.
Now, on to the final regular season chapter.  Games 13-16; at Chicago, at Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and at Washington.
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 #26
#26CHI1/11:233/2/36497 - Young29 - Murray
First drive of the night game in Chicago and the Cowboys face a 3rd and 2 right on the edge of field goal range against the Bears.  They want to find something big here on a Play-action look, but that will depend on DeMarco Murray holding up Willie Young on the edge for more than a second.  For this to work, Murray needs to at least chop Young's legs, but Young is too athletic for that feeble attempt.  On the other side, Tyron and Ron Leary really make a meal of their double team effort and Leary should probably get some blame here, but if I had to choose the bust on this drive-killing sack, it goes to Murray and maybe whoever thought Murray on Young was a good idea.  Young is best known for Tyron Smith's most humiliating snap back in 2011 that we talked about back here in December and is probably too much for any Running Back.
Sack #27
#27PHIL2/5:553/1/47598 - Barwin84 - Hanna
Again, just like the play in Chicago, this is a 3rd and short where the Cowboys know the box is loaded, so a run play may be tough-sledding.  Instead, they want a play-action fake and hopefully some biting safeties.  Unfortunately, the coverage is pretty sound and Romo wants to buy time.  That proves to be a decision that allows Conner Barwin to get home against James Hanna who is part of a slide-left pass protection look.  Barwin does what aggressive defenders do on play-action - they keep coming.  You often see linebackers stop in their tracks and even retreat when the QB keeps the ball in a moment that surely has them yelling an expletive, but Barwin doesn't care if it is run or pass, he is still charging  forward and Hanna can't deal with him.  Then Romo tries to duck under the move but stumbles to the ground.  2 more examples of 3rd and short, play-action ideas that certainly did not turn out too well.
Sack #28
#28PHIL3/12:332/11/42472 - Thornton70 - Martin, 77 - Smith
OK, this one might be subjective.  And, I admit this angle is a bit deceiving.  If you watch the TV copy, the play starts going very badly as Zach Martin is beaten almost immediately by 91-Fletcher Cox.  Romo sees that and tries to take evasive action.  Trouble is, Tyron Smith is being pushed back by 58-Trent Cole right into the path of Romo.  Because of those two players losing, Ron Leary's guy, 72-Cedric Thornton actually picks up the sack as a bit of a freebie.  So, despite Leary being the usual suspect in pass protection, on this play, he is not guilty of doing anything wrong.  He has his guy perfect and only once Romo falls does Thornton do anything and gets credit for a sack that 91 and 58 produced.  So, I am going to split the blame between 70 and 77 on this one, despite neither of their men actually getting the credit.  In the film room, I believe they did get the blame.
Sack #29
#29PHIL3/6:593/19/18375 - Curry9 - Romo
Do you know how close this play was to ruining the entire 2014 season?  This play was a 3rd and 19 from the Dallas 18.  The Eagles had been down 21-0, but had closed it to 21-17 and this play turned into a fumble that the gave the Eagles a 24-21 lead.  Romo redeemed himself wonderfully after this moment, but had the team not saved themselves, this play would have lived in infamy as another December catastrophe.  What we have here is a 3-man Eagles rush on 3rd and 19.  3rd and 19 should generally be a draw play and punt.  If you are going to try to throw on 3rd and 19, you cannot hold the ball for 8 seconds - because even a 3-man rush will eventually get home.  The OL has no idea where you are dancing around and what crazy Brett Favre idea you have in your head.  Not only was Romo sacked here, but the ball came loose.  This goes on the QB for a decision he will readily admit he shouldn't have made.  Sometimes you just have to throw it away.
Sack #30
#30IND3/13:403/14/23597 - Jones65 - Leary/9 - Romo
Here is another 3rd and long and another moment where at this point of the game - with a 28-0 lead over the Colts, I would not advise this idea of Romo risking life and limb to try to move the chains when you are already in Field Goal range.  You can ask why he didn't dump it to Lance Dunbar and just take 10 yards once 25 releases into the flat where he was wide open, but the timing was off.  What did happen here is that the Colts hit the left side with a Tackle/End stunt with Ron Leary and Tyron Smith both ending up looking guilty.    You can see Leary trip Smith a bit, but I think splitting the blame here might be too harsh on Tyron.  92-Bjoern Werner's spin move on Leary collapses everything and then Romo spins right into 97-Arthur Jones.  So, half of the blame to Leary and half to Romo is my ruling, but again, this one has plenty of grey area.
Here they all are in living color:
#1SF1/8:152/1/2494 - J Smith77 - T Smith/Romo
#2SF3/6:452/10/28494 - J Smith68 - Free/70-Martin
#3SF3/3:142/12/39455 - Brooks77 - T Smith
#4TENN1/11:433/14/50499 - Casey68 - Free
#5TENN1/6:511/10/42592 - Pitoitua68 - Free
#6TENN1/2:182/11/12699 - Casey65 - Leary
#7TENN3/10:153/7/23431 - Pollard29 - Murray
#8NO4/8:563/6/24532 - Vacarro68 - Free
#9HOU1/7:192/5/28456 - Cushing29 - Murray/9-Romo
#10SEA3/11:292/6/43594 - J Smith84 - Hanna
#11NYG1/14:282/5/25590 - J Pierre Paul9  - Romo
#12NYG2/1:211/10/27490 - J Pierre Paul77 - Smith
#13WAS1/13:123/5/41531 - Meriweather9 - Romo/77-Smith
#14WAS1/6:093/8/42756 - Riley25 - Dunbar
#15WAS2/0:233/3/44591 - Kerrigan70 - Martin
#16WAS3/7:593/11/36852 - RobinsonCoaches
#17WAS4/1:252/1/12531 - Meriweather29 - Murray
#18ARZ2/1:412/10/16392 - Rucker72 - Frederick
#19JAC4/8:463/10/11499 - Marks65 - Leary
#20NYG2/7:132/8/22498 - Moore68 - Free
#21NYG2/0:183/3/44494 - Kiwanuka68 - Free
#22PHIL2/6:143/2/24455 - Graham72 - Frederick
#23PHIL3/10:243/2/23650 - Matthews9 - Romo, 77-Smith
#24PHIL3/7:131/10/35455 - Graham65 - Leary
#25PHIL3/4:382/2/42491 - Cox65 - Leary
#26CHI1/11:233/2/36497 - Young29 - Murray
#27PHIL2/5:553/1/47598 - Barwin84 - Hanna
#28PHIL3/12:332/11/42472 - Thornton70 - Martin, 77-Smith
#29PHIL3/6:593/19/18375 - Curry9 - Romo
#30IND3/13:403/14/23597 - Jones65 - Leary/9-Romo
So, here are the team totals from both my findings and ProFootballFocus.  If you wish to check my math, all 30 sacks have a video breakdown in this series.  Like I said, I don't fully understand why they only have blame on 21 of the 30 sacks, but perhaps they will have thoughts if they ever read this.  I would be happy to reprint their explanation.  As I have said, I think they are great for all of us.
PlayerMy TotalsPFF Total
RT Doug Free5.53
LG Ron Leary4.53
QB Tony Romo4.56
LT Tyron Smith42
RB DeMarco Murray3.53
TE James Hanna22
C Travis Frederick21
RG Zack Martin20
RB Lance Dunbar11
There are certainly quite a few discrepancies there for sure.  But, I suppose that demonstrates the subjectivity of film study.
Next week, we will finish this series with the playoffs.  That will keep us busy.

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