Thursday, October 29, 2015

Xs and Os - Week 6 - Giants

Late in the week, we finally get a chance to "look at the tape" as Jason Garrett likes to say and examine some plays that we cannot fully digest on TV. I can't promise that every week we will be able to do this, but honestly, this is my favorite exercise of the week because only here can you fully appreciate how advanced and complex the NFL game can be sometimes.
Here, we are not looking to call anyone out, and we surely want to leave open the possibility of our eyes deceiving us and more than anything, I want to admit that I don't have the benefit of the coaches telling me what coverage they were in. So, sometimes, this diagnosis will be "pretty sure" rather than "100% sure" even though I am trying to get it right. I will make calls and try to hunt down the right answer, but I will just admit right here that we will try our best to be accurate but invariably, I will see something wrong.
But, let's pick plays that are interesting but not played out by this point of the week and have some fun talking Xs and Os. Feel free to tweet me @SportsSturm when a game shows you a play that you would like broken down and I will attempt to include it in this post. 
This week, unfortunately, with all the catastrophic moments in this loss to the Giants, there isn't much to "keep it positive" when it comes to the Xs and Os breakdown.  It just happened that way.  But, let's look at the kick return, the Cassel performance from a "here is what went wrong" standpoint, and then a 3rd play that might be a sign of things to come.
1) - The Kick Return TD By Dwayne Harris
I wish I knew more about special teams.  I know just enough to be dangerous, so I rely on a few people who know better to point me in the right direction.  I just thought it was important for me to confess that I haven't spent much time studying kick cover strategies.  
Now, here is the roster of this kick cover group, going back to week 1.  I mention this because there are some changes this week that we should at least be aware of.  
So, the first thing that jumps out is that R1 and L1 are always safeties, but for whatever reason, James Hanna is playing L1 this week.  R4/L4 are Heath and McCray and their job is to get in there and wreck stuff, with a 2nd wave, R5/L5 (Wilber and Gachkar) to help on the tackle.  This, of course, is a speed issue as you should hope your DBs can beat your LBs down the field.  Then, you give the LBs the inside position to allow them to arrive almost simultaneously with the DBs.  R3/L3 usually are another pair of Linebackers and they help keep contain on the edges.  On a middle kick, you certainly want to funnel everything inside.  R2/L2 are another set of safeties who also "set the edge" which leaves the two outside "safeties" (Wilcox and Hanna) to actually play safety and fix anything that breaks, and Bailey which generally stays out of the way.
OK.  Here is what it looks like happened from the end zone view:
It all happens very fast, so let's use a few stills and I can tell you what has been told to me what broke down.

The 3 outside players on both sides are in pretty decent position.  Here they are.  You are ok here, but you are also outnumbered in the middle if you don't rally inside.  The only spot you might want better on the outside is Hanna is getting a little too far upfield.  Look at Wilcox versus Hanna.  Wilcox is still in position to get inside.

So, as Harris hits the hole, you can see how all the cover guys are nearly at the same level.  This is a problem because then once he breaks through that wave, he is pretty much gone.  L4 (Danny McCray) and L5 (Kyle Wilber) are the guys who had the issues from my sources.  It appears Wilber has to get inside his man and McCray can't get blocked into the R5/R4 guys.  He has crossed out of his lane and is actually impeding his own guys, too. 
Now, once that happens, we have the issues where if anything goes wrong, Wilcox and Hanna have to meet in the middle and shut that down before it breaks into the open field.  As you can see below, Wilcox is on the hash and as is likely on his spot, whereas, Hanna is too far off the hash on the other side and Dwayne Harris runs to that daylight.

The first thought here is that Dwayne Harris is a good return man.  The other thought is that the Cowboys had to adjust on the fly to figure out their personnel on the outside spots and asked Hanna (who has really good speed - maybe faster than many safeties) to play Barry Church's spot.  It appears that he was on this kick cover for Barry Church who sprained his ankle in the game and likely was no doubt taken off kick coverage in the middle of the game (he was out there for the opening kick).  Did that cause this?  Well, the insiders tell me to look at 40 and 51 who had to be better here, but 84 could have kept the damage lower if he was more on his spot.  However, a quick look at the lineups all year show that he was doing something he doesn't often handle.
2) - The Cassel Mistake Decisions
As you know, I think Matt Cassel is a tremendous upgrade from Brandon Weeden.  As in, he is the no-brainer choice of the two.  I still look to Tony Romo's return ASAP, and now wonder if the Cowboys should have tried to keep him off the IR-DFR list and maybe he could have returned before November 22, but I admit that being overly cautions with Romo is a good plan.  
Meanwhile, as Cassel tries to get you in the Win Column, it will be important for him to continue to challenge the opponent on a case-by-case basis.  I cannot stress how impossible it is for a backup QB to come in and never make the wrong decision, but it sure seems that if Cassel could take a few more easy throws rather than trying the tough ones constantly (kind of the exact opposite of Weeden), the team might be better moving forward.  
Here is the first one:
This one is WR error as we have talked all week.  Terrance Williams is a good player who has a few instances on occasion where he demonstrates that he might have a ceiling a bit lower than we had hoped.  On this one, like many slants and comebacks, you have some rules that simply cannot be broken because the QB is trusting you.  And when he trust you that means he is throwing the ball when your break foot hits the ground (because at that moment you have the position needed) and leaving the rest of the play up to you to do your job.  
Once Williams does not stay inside Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and loses the 5 yard race to the sideline - and in this case actually leaves his feet which means he has no way to help tackle the man he just lost the race against, then the play is dead - and the game might be, too.  
Two other thoughts - DRC runs Williams' route better than Williams.  This could be a chance to pile on #83, but it could also be a chance to suggest that they need to burn corners on tendencies more.  Also, Doug Free is getting pushed back into Cassel on this throw, not helping the angle.  
Here is another look from the ALL-22:
I think you could argue - as Cassel did after the game - that he needs to be careful with Rodgers-Cromartie who is well known for having ball hawking skills.  But, beyond that, this is on Williams about 100%.  The other critique is that this is 2nd and 9.  So, take the check down and make it 3rd and 4.  But, really, I have no issue here with the QB.
Next, this one.  
This is a killer.  This has to be a touchdown.  When Williams is at the 20, he has 3 yards on his guy.  Just a horrid throw that either tells us A) his arm is not strong enough, B) the wind in NY is legit, or C) it just slipped out of his hands.  But, this is 100% QB and it is just really, really poor.
You can call it a punt, but that is a TD you can't miss on if you want to win a game like this.  Yuck.
Cassel said it came out of his hand funny, but you could argue that this is about as bad a throw as you will see all year.  The safety had no intention of being involved in this play, but it was just such a duck.  
I like you, Matt.  Please don't do that ever again.
Finally, Cassel violated my #1 rule for QBs on this 3rd one.
Do NOT throw the ball into coverage on 1st down.  DO NOT.
1st down is where we are to be as smart as possible with the ball.  As you can see above, this throw is a high-risk throw into a space deep in the secondary that is surrounded by danger.  On 1st down, I am taking Cole Beasley who has the entire outside of the field to make up a quick 10 yards. 

Then he gets the ball placement wrong, challenges DRC again, and the third pick is due to a rush of blood to the head.  Take the easy throw underneath once in a while.  Especially on early downs.   
And use Cole Beasley.  He is a real weapon underneath and Cassel didn't really go to him much at all on Sunday.
Overall, Cassel was good and moved the offense.  He just has to not panic into throws - especially on 1st down.  
Here is one more.  It is the 4th down throw to Hanna.  I am guessing we were all upset with his decision to throw the ball there, but the Giants clearly were trying to keep everything in front of them.
As you can see on many of these throws, Cassel is looking to his frontside (right) way more.  But, man, Darren McFadden looks in so much better spot if you have to check down.  Is he going to get to the sticks? Not sure.  Does he have a much better chance than Hanna?  I am sure.  Yes.

Easy for me to say, but a check down to McFadden on the other side might extend the game.  But, like the play earlier where Beasley was open, they are both to his left.  He is not seeing that very well when the rush is on.
3) - Just Another Extra Point
This is the extra point after the Harris TD.  You may know it as the moment before Greg Hardy loses his mind on the sideline.  So, 15 seconds after the kick return and 15 seconds before the tirade this happened:
3 things to look at above.  1) Tyrone Crawford jumping over the center and getting tipped head over heels.  2) Greg Hardy pancaking the poor guy who tried to block him.  and 3) Byron Jones is absolutely going to block a kick soon.  He is too good and too athletic not to do so.
Hardy is certainly controversial.  But, he can destroy the guy in front of him just about anytime he wants to do it.  
Not much to learn here, just want to make sure you are aware of it.
Let's close the book and move on to the Seahawks.  

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