Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Marinelli Report - Week 2 - Eagles

Five times in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, they have held their opponent under 1 yard per carry.  That is 5 times in 56 seasons.  3 of those occasions were in the 1960s - Oct 30, 1966, the Cowboys held the Pittsburgh Steelers to 7 yards on 12 carries (0.58 ypc), Sept 17, 1967 against Cleveland for 17 carries and 11 yards (0.65 ypc), and Oct 8, 1967 at Washington 19 runs for 16 yards (0.84 ypc).  The other 2 have happened in the last 4 Cowboys regular season games.  Week 16 last year (Game 15) against the Colts - 10 carries for 1 yard (0.1 ypc) and of course, this past Sunday against a team that boasts the 2nd best rushing team in the last 2 season, the Philadelphia Eagles. 
On Sunday, the Eagles called 17 run plays and racked up a grand total of 7 yards.  This yards per carry of 0.41 was fantastic and only got into positive numbers in the final 3 minutes of the game.  Otherwise, the Eagles were at 14 run plays for -4 yards. 
Either way, they were simply demoralized.  It was the worst rushing day for the Eagles since 1961 and for a team that has run for over 200 yards in a game 9 times in 2+ seasons under Chip Kelly, it was easily the worst his team had ever run the ball. 
And for Rod Marinelli and his defense, it was a glorious day.
The Cowboys did it with swarming defense, fantastic advance scouting (as they did seem to know what was coming over and over again), and big players making dominating plays.  It is one thing to stop a defense in their own stadium, it is quite another to make them show dread that they have to walk back on the field again.  Most of the NFL will blame that on the ineptness of the Eagles' offense, but the Cowboys deserve top credit for taking the opportunity to not allow the home side even a moment of optimism.  
Below is one of the most amazing drive charts you will ever see.  It is the details of the Eagles drives from Sunday where the Eagles finally snapped a play over midfield at the 9:03 left in the 3rd Quarter.  The first half totaled 5 drives, 16 plays, 1 first down, and 22 yards of total offense.  Simply put, total and utter domination:
The key to shutting down the Eagles is making sure you are "assignment sound" and making them mount long drives as opposed to having big plays.  The Cowboys have not always been good at guarding against the "big play", but under Rod Marinelli, this has been a massive focus.  
Why don't the Cowboys blitz more?  Why don't they play more risky coverages?  Why don't they force the issue on defense?  Because, they want to be tactically sound.  They want to give nothing for cheap.  And what this means is defined in the following way - how many Explosives are they conceding?  
In the NFL, an explosive is defined as a play of 20+ yards (run or pass).  Generally, the average NFL team concedes about 4 a game and about 62 a season.  The very best teams (usually Seattle) give up less than 40 and the very worst teams give up about 80.  
I grant you that 2 games in is a ridiculous time to build a projection, but nevertheless, after 2 games against the Giants and the Eagles, the Cowboys have conceded just 4 explosive plays.  The team is also amongst the league leaders in forcing 3-and-outs.  And, of course, they are about to add premium personnel to their group.  
You are allowed to get a little bit excited about this Cowboys defense now. 
Let's look at some of the weekly numbers:
Here we see the details of a great day for the defense.  They took the ball away multiple times, they did not allow 3rd down success, they stopped them through the air and on the ground.  
Again, it is ok to use the term "dominating" after the league wanted to crown the Eagles the greatest offense we had ever seen in Mid-August because they lit up a few vanilla defenses in the preseason.  Silly rabbits.
Now, let's look at what I think is the best feature on this entire page.  My graphics and stats guy, John Daigle put together a throwing chart to show you where Sam Bradford's throws were going on Sunday.  It was evident in both Week 1 and Week 2 that there is almost no vertical stretch from the Eagles.  In fairness to the scheme, they did seem vertical back in 2013 (with DeSean Jackson, of course) and to a lesser extent in 2014.  But, for reasons that are somewhat unclear, Bradford has shown almost no interest in throwing the ball down the field.  Here is his chart from Sunday and as you can see, there is almost nothing more than 5 yards down the field:
Just look at the blue dots (completions).  You really don't need a big arm to make any of these throws and of his 23 completions, 16 of them were 4 yards or less downfield.  16!  I can't believe how putrid that really is.  
Here is our weekly run-down of Splash Plays.  To answer the question, "What Is  A Splash Play", I invite you to read all about it by clicking here
Now, note all of the plays behind the line of scrimmage.  Look at how Sean Lee racked up 5 different big plays and set the pace, but let's not overlook the play of the DL and Jeremy Mincey in particular.  On several occasions, his penetration allowed Lee and Barry Church to run free and past DeMarco Murray in the backfield.  It was a really impressive job.  Of course, for DBs, there is an issue with splash plays because if they never throw at you, you can't make a play.  If they do pick on you, you have more opportunities, but it doesn't mean you are a better player.  Sterling Moore had many splashes last year and Tyler Patmon is now taking that target.  So far, Patmon is standing up.  
Here are the season totals and you can see that #50 is taking off to the team lead.  I awarded an additional splash last week to Tyrone Crawford after a few readers thought he deserved on that I didn't initially award.  Feel free to look for discrepancies.  I will take them all under extra review if need be.
I also think this is a good spot to say how impressive JJ Wilcox has looked this season. The Cowboys are playing a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3 (as usual) and that requires your Centerfielder to have some range, confidence, and closing speed.  He never jumped off the screen early in his career, but is starting to do so more and more.  
The blitz rate was not high, but it does seem with Sean Lee, Marinelli might mix in some more opportunities for LBs to spring traps on the QB.  I think we should keep an eye on the presence of Lee making the Cowboys' pass rush less predictable.  
I think Xs and Os Thursday is going to look at Sean Lee (Which I am sure is what everyone with a Cowboys' blog wants to do this week), so today, your little video nuggets will be what I considered the most wonderful point of Sunday's performance.  It was the Eagles 1st drive of the 3rd Quarter.  They had been demoralized in the 1st half.  They were mad.  They had adjustments and planned on coming out in the 3rd, get the kick, and then fix all of the issues immediately.
That didn't quite happen.  
1st Down:
2nd Down:
And before people can even get in their seats, the hole gets deeper.  
We are tracking these to also see if the Cowboys get caught in a blitz.  Is there a relation to bringing more men and conceding a big play?
Same thing here.  Do the Cowboys make a game-changing play when blitzing?  Not this week.
On every level, Sunday was an unmitigated success for the defense.  They did everything they wanted to do and even led the Eagles to say that the Cowboys knew the plays:
I am not sure what Huff is getting at, but there is no doubt the Cowboys were sitting on tendencies.  This is a well-coach team and the Eagles sometimes boast about how they don't have a real big playbook.  They just put you in binds and make you answer questions.  
It appears the Cowboys had plenty of answers.  These teams will meet again, but on the surface, you are starting to get the idea the league is beginning to understand how to deal with the "Chip Kelly offense".  This is an amazing league and contrary to media reports, Kelly isn't the smartest man in room of dummies.  NFL Coaches love to scheme a new idea and then the opponents love to move their chess pieces to stop it and stamp it out.  Has that happened here?  Doubt it, but the Cowboys may have helped lay out a blue-print that makes you wonder if you should have loaded up on Eagles on draft day in your fantasy league.
Regardless, enjoy that performance.  Lost in the Romo injury sadness was one of the best defensive performances the Cowboys have put up in years.  They humiliated their rivals for all the NFL world to see.

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