Let's spend a little time talking about blitzing. And to do that best, we must start at the start.
The Dallas Cowboys (at least as currently coached) do not believe in blitzing. They don't like doing it. They don't want to do it. They don't ever want to rely on it. They don't believe in it.
Once upon a time, that was different. But, since I have been carefully tracking their blitzes, you can tell that with Rod Marinelli in charge, they have tried to make it less and less a part of their attack.
In fact, here is a handy graphic to demonstrate this point:
|Season||Blitzes||Blitz Rate||QBRate v Blitz||NFL Blitz Rate|
|2012||134 - 551||24%||106.5 - 29th||31%|
|2013||140 - 673||20%||117.4 - 32nd||28%|
|2014||109 - 527||20%||101.6 - 26th||32%|
Some defenses thrive on it, and it works for them. We should not assume it doesn't work because it wins divisions and Super Bowls. But, the Cowboys are part of a growing list of teams that would rather leave the rolling of the dice to the Ryan family, and stay in the inviting waters of rushing 4 and dropping 7 into zones. In fact, in 2014 the Cowboys were an amazing 12% the league average, which means that they would have had to blitz 60 more times to simply become a league average blitz team based on the 527 passes against. If the opponent would have thrown as many times as they did in 2013, they would have needed 106 more blitzes! So, by NFL standards, they don't blitz.
But, as you can see above, it is best that way. Over the last 3 seasons, they have been one of the worst defensive teams in football when they do blitz. What is the best way to keep teams from bringing pressure? Burn their hands. And in the last 3 years, the Cowboys have never held the opposition under a 100 passer ranking and have never finished in the Top 25 teams for a season. Yuck.
The chart below shows how the Cowboys bring pressure:
On 1st down, they are over 80% in 4-man-or-less rushes. On 2nd down, they actually, blitz the most (22%) and on 3rd down, where teams do blitz, the Cowboys don't, just at 15%.
They want to "get there with 4" and are actually twice as likely to rush just 3 as they are to bring a "big blitz" - defined as 6 or more rushers. During the entire season, the Cowboys rushed 6+ on just 17 occasions in 16 games. They do not do it.
So, this goes back to the essays in Part 1 and Part 2 of this study which I recommend you read if you have missed them. The additions of DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Greg Hardy should work wonders for this premise. They should be able to get there with 4 more often and get more sacks. And when they do - now that they appear to have the horses to do so - the coverage situations will only improve.
But, remember, blitzing is not the answer for the Cowboys to get pressure. They end up cooked in the back when they try that.
Now, let's look at Part 3 of the season - basically, November, and break down the sacks they did get. After 10 sacks in the first 8 weeks, the defense broke out with 9 sacks in the next 4 games. Here they are:
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 the final game where Henry Melton was a dominating presence, but through 9 weeks, I will be the first to confess that I thought they found a guy who would be here for a long, long time. Here he lines up at the 3-technique outside of LG 62-Ted Larsen. He fakes to the B-Gap and hops inside to the A-Gap with such speed and precision that Larsen barely touches him and the Carson Palmer has no chance. Just a brilliant job on this sack by the former Longhorn RB.
This is a cool tackle "game" where the inside tackles - 69 Melton and 98 Crawford - are the two nickel rushers who work together. This is preceded with the two nickel backs - 55-McClain and 32-Scandrick - "sugaring" the double A-Gap blitz. This requires a fair amount of timing their bluff, and then bailing into their zones at the proper time. Get this wrong and this could be a major problem. Watch Crawford make sure he gets the RG, C, and LG, to allow Melton to come around the corner with nobody on him. Sack credit is never fair, and in this case, Crawford did 95% of the work for no credit and Melton gets the sack for his teammate's effort.
Ok, the Cowboys blitzed 6+ on only 17 occasions in 2014. Well, here is one of them. And this one looks like a overload zone blitz when 93-Spencer drops into a shallow zone. But, usually, when the Cowboys run that, they don't bring a man off the weak side (42-Church). So, I might need to ask for help on identifying what exactly this is in the Marinelli playbook. Regardless, Jeremy Mincey whips Aggie LT 76-Luke Joeckel around the edge and beats Church to the QB for a wonderful show of Mincey's edge ability. Heading into 2015, Mincey will be overlooked by fans, but don't sleep on his pass rush.
Here is a zone overload blitz from the left. See the RDE Mincey bail out into the zone on the right. But, then see them bring numbers from the left and the idea there is to only rush 5 (with a 3-3 zone behind them), but bring them all from the same side to out-number the right side of the OL. You can see 69-Melton and 93-Spencer run a stunt and occupy the RT and RG and this allows 39-Brandon Carr to crash in and pick up the only sack of his 7-year career. Why would they expect Carr to rush? Carr rushed 3 times all year (according to profootballfocus), so count it a rarity to see him head to the QB, but a man who was drafted in 2008 gets his only sack in his only game in England and no doubt campaigned to be turned loose again in the future.
Not sure what Blake Bortles is doing here. It is 1st and 10, and it seems like he had time. But, then his eyes drop, his C can't hold off Jack Crawford any longer after the RG leaves and the sack happens as Bortles runs into it. Crawford is still in the mix for this team, although now he is buried with the influx of new DEs, Nevertheless, he shows here he can line up at DT and if he can show a special teams value, might still be able to make the team.
Here, Rod Marinelli smells blood, Jacksonville wants to get out of Wembley Stadium, and Blake Bortles has about had it. Rod calls in another 6 man pressure and on first down, no less. Here is Cam Lawrence, a reserve LB who only had a chance to rush a QB 6 times all year, lock horns with TE Nic Jacobs. Jacobs was given a positive grade by PFF for this game in pass protection, but I might beg to differ if Cam Lawrence is swimming past you for a sack. Bortles again runs into it a bit, but the Cowboys were stat padding in London on this day. Good for them.
In this Week 11 matchup, the Giants were starting a backup RT 74-Geoff Schwartz instead of young Justin Pugh. Well, George Selvie made him look like a reserve by taking him up the field, spinning all the way around and closing down Eli Manning with great ease. A most impressive closing by Selvie who is now a member of the Giants defensive line rotation. He showed plenty of moments like this as a Cowboy, but his 2013 far exceeded his 2014.
Here is the very next play against the Giants. It is another tackle-end stunt where the ends are trying to knock the guards out of the way so the DTs can come around the corner. But, Mincey hits the LG so hard that when the LT 65-Beatty goes to get 96-Hayden, Mincey has nobody in his way to go destroy Eli again, and grab yet another sack. Crawford and Selvie on the other side had some success, but here again is that non-stop motor of Jeremy Mincey.
Finally, here is one of the very few bright spots from Thanksgiving Day. There wasn't really much to choose from. But, on this play, Tyrone Crawford provided yet another highlight moment when he ran through the RG of the Eagles, 66-Andrew Gardner, tossed him aside, and then closed down QB Mark Sanchez and knocked the ball loose. As that day went, the Eagles recovered that fumble, but Crawford finally notched his first sack of 2014. He would end the season with 3 sacks - all against the Eagles. As dominating as he was at times, that sack total won't shout his quality league-wide, but perhaps 2015 is the year where he will have the gaudy total that will get him more attention outside of DFW.
So, 12 games into the season, the Cowboys had 19 sacks and ranked 28th in the league. Next time, we will finish out the regular season before we check out the playoffs as well. But, it is all cast against the idea that the Cowboys have stocked up with pass rush threats who can beat their men for sacks. Hardy, Lawrence, and Gregory will join Mincey and Crawford and likely as they grow continue to move the Cowboys up the ranks of the NFL pass rush teams without needing blitzes.
In other words, they should be more equipped to "get there with 4."