It has been almost 2 weeks or so since we did Part 3 of the 2014 Pass Rush breakdown, during which time my sunburn developed a bit and the NFL has ruled on Greg Hardy's future. That ruling which reduced his original 10-game suspension down to 4, drastically changed any potential impact he may offer the Cowboys as a potential destroyer at DE/DT in what could be his only year in Dallas, 2015. If he chooses to appeal that suspension down even further (which we thought was a forgone conclusion but he has taken no action as of yet) some believe he might get it all the way down to 2 games. Regardless, the idea that, by October 11th when the Cowboys host the Patriots in Arlington, Hardy will suddenly give the Cowboys a player who knows what attracting constant double-teams and making his mates match-ups much easier looks like. And that is what any pass rush is made from.
The Cowboys have overhauled their defensive line before our very eyes in a way that is causing some to compare it to the over-haul of the Offensive Line. I am not sure that is fair to the can't-miss quality of Tyron Smith out of college, with Zach Martin and Travis Frederick also both guys who had floors of "solid NFL starter, but this group on the defensive front has improved so much over the last 12 months that it almost boggles the mind.
Think about what showed up on the DL to the 2014 camp: Henry Melton coming off ACL surgery was going to step in for Jason Hatcher. 30-year old journeyman Jeremy Mincey signed a 2 year, $3m deal with $700k guaranteed to replace DeMarcus Ware. George Selvie was hoping to duplicate a reasonable 2013 on minimal money and next to him was another guy the Cowboys rescued off the couch, the anchor inside, Nick Hayden. That was your starting DL 12 months ago, today. Where/Who was Tyrone Crawford? Well, he was coming off his own significant achilles injury that took his entire 2013, and he entered camp 12 months ago trying to figure out if he was a DE or a DT in a Marinelli 4-3, because when he last played the Cowboys were a Rob Ryan 3-4.
Well, it isn't November 1st against Seattle yet, but can you imagine that crew above being transformed into this on a 3rd down and 8 for Russell Wilson late in the 3rd Quarter?
DE - D Lawrence, DT - T Crawford, DT - G Hardy, DE - R Gregory
Get there with 4. All 4 not only can, but should be able to get home against 1-on-1 blocking, so if Seattle wants to leave 5 in to block 4, the Cowboys should be on their way to eat.
Long way to get to Nov 1. But, that should make you salivate. Of course, goal number 1 is navigating through July without injury. I don't want to freak anyone out, but the defensive line hasn't made it through July without a devastating "gone for 10 weeks or more" injury to a key DL man in quite a while. Jay Ratliff and Tyrone Crawford both had major injuries hit in 2013 and then in 2014 was the broken foot to DeMarcus Lawrence that knocked out 10 weeks of his rookie campaign. So, get through July with no news from camp other than "all present and accounted for" and you should be happy.
Regardless, let's wrap up the 2014 regular season with a look at the final 4 games of the season - At Chicago, At Philadelphia, H to Indianapolis, and At Washington. This looked murderous when the season started, but it turned out to be a month the Cowboys plowed right through with ease.
The defense yielded another 9 sacks in the final 4 games which put them at 18 sacks in the final half of the season. We pointed out how poor the pass rush was in 2014 (28 for the season), but if you just use the final 8 weeks they were actually right at league average and were quite productive with 18 sacks in 8 games putting them on a 36 sack pace for a full year. Is it all adding DeMarcus Lawrence? No, it is also Tyrone Crawford fully breaking out and the Cowboys finding some scheme ideas that they kept going to, but you could see a drastic uptick from the paltry 10 sacks in the 1st half of the year to a proper 18 in the 2nd.
So here is the production from December, sack-by-sack, below:
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 nuts and bolts on each sack, but sometimes, it will be a guess as we do not know specific calls. We are trying to get this right, but invariably, some of you will see the same play and reach a different conclusion. Cool?
This is a pretty interesting 5-man pressure on a 3rd down against Mark Sanchez and the Eagles. 55-McClain and 98-Crawford are both inside the edge rushers (92-Mincey and 99-Selvie) and the goal for 55/98 is to occupy the offensive tackles. This Tackle-End game then allows the end to come back inside and underneath and challenge the guards to pick them up. As you can see, McClain knocks the RT so sideways that 55 almost gets the sack himself. Then, Mincey basically powers by the LG with such ease that he does get the sack. I think this is interesting because in the middle the whole time is 96-Hayden occupying the center. So, it isn't really a T-E stunt, because we know Ro McClain isn't a Tackle. But, on that play, he was the 5th man and you can see what a mess it made the Eagles into.
1st play of a vital drive for the Eagles early in the 4th Quarter of this game, and on 1st and 10 they try their normal play-action fake on an outside zone to McCoy left (with the TE coming across to pick up the unblocked DE. Sanchez didn't see his primary open and panicked, meanwhile you can see what Tyrone Crawford does in 1-on-1 against all-world Eagles' Center 62-Kelce. He walks him right back into the QB and collapses the play. Crawford was not the most productive DT in football last year, but he destroyed the Philadelphia interior on a regular basis. They know how good he is now. This is all #98.
The statisticians gave this to Tyrone Crawford, too. I think Mincey deserves at least half for his fine work against 71-Jason Peters who many tout as an equal to Tyron Smith. But, inside, here is that T-T game where Crawford is trying to take out the Center and the Guard and then Melton comes around behind them. Again, if Sanchez has to stand in the pocket and find his 2nd read, it is clear he isn't very good. Then his eyes drop down and the Cowboys get home again. This is why you wanted the ball in his hands in the 4th Quarter.
Hey, it is the very same rush on the very next play. And on 3rd and long, this play is over before it started and it all goes to Mincey against Jason Peters. Hopefully, if this study has helped anything, it is to demonstrate to the fans of this team what a player and front-office find Jeremy Mincey has truly been. He is a guy who helped win some games last year and beat some elite tackles for sacks without help and should not be marginalized this season as a key part of the rush. He is just a quality pass rusher in this league who is never going to be elite, but if he is your #2 off the edge? Look out.
Look for the Fire Zone blitz. How do we see that? Edge blitzer from one side (32-Scandrick) and opposite side DE drops into zone (99-Selvie). See? 5 coming, 6 dropping into a 3-3 zone behind it. This is a Cowboys favorite, and on this odd 4th and 3 where the Colts have already pulled Andrew Luck, it was doomed. Scandrick - a very solid blitzer his whole career - gets credit for the sack here and the ball finds big Selvie. Another fun thing on this play is to see 90-Lawrence running around like the athlete he is. That man has some twitch to his athleticism that will be fun to watch develop.
I like how the Cowboys poured it on last year against Jacksonville or Indianapolis late in the games when both teams were clearing the benches. The idea that you play vanilla against a beaten team is great in high school, but this is the NFL and today's reserves are tomorrow's starters. Get them ready. Here is a 5 man pressure again that is a fire zone from the right with Cam Lawrence and Kyle Wilber both coming and dropping is Selvie again who is playing some man against that tight end off the RT. Hasselbeck pulls the ball back down and that is enough time for my favorite reserve pass rusher these days, Wilber, to destroy the poor RB and get a sack off the blind-side.
Tyrone Crawford, ladies and gentlemen. Just watch 98 on the 3-technique against Washington LG 77-Shawn Lauvao who switches him inside the the center 78-Kory Lichtensteiger and Crawford splits that plan and runs down Robert Griffin with great ease and ruins another play for an opponent. Crawford is going to break out this year and then everyone will know his name. But, by studying 2014, you already know how good he is.
Sort of a 5-man pressure, even though Bruce Carter doesn't really rush. But, he does occupy the LG, 77, again. Although, I don't think he was supposed to do that, as you can tell 29-Helu looks annoyed that he fell for that trap. Helu was ready for Carter, but when the LG moved over, that left Helu, a tiny RB, against the huge 97-T McClain, while reserve 68-Tom Compton was trying (poorly) to play LT which Mincey just destroys. Washington was just a really poor team in this meeting all the way around.
The final sack of the regular season brought on another easy touchdown as 97-Terrell McClain is engaged in another T-T stunt where the first guy in is just the diversion, but since they can't stop him, he runs all the way in for a sack/fumble. 79-Kenneth Boatright was close and on the scene, and then Anthony Spencer makes his final significant play as a Cowboy with a look-what-i-found touchdown.
So there you have it. One final look next week at the playoff sacks and then we can put this project to bed and look forward to new sacks. Here are the 28 sacks from 2014 in a handy chart for you to browse:
|#3||TENN||3/11:45||3/12/29||4||55 - McClain|
|#4||NO||4/7:45||4/9/41||NA||58 - J Crawford|
|#5||NO||4/2:13||1/10/48||4||69 - Melton|
28 sacks in all. 9 sacks from bringing more than 4 rushers. 3 from "big blitzes" all year (bringing more than 5).
8 sacks on 1st down, 7 on 2nd down, 11 on 3rd down, and 2 on 4th down.
As you could see, plenty of Henry Melton early, but down the stretch, it was all Mincey and Crawford.
Next week, we wrap it up with Detroit and Green Bay in the playoffs.