Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Decoding Linehan - Week 10 - Miami


On October 23, 2006, the Cowboys were dueling with their old rival, the New York Giants on a Monday Night game at Texas Stadium.  Inside the 2-minute warning late in the 1st half, the Cowboys had the ball down inside the Giants 5-yard line. 
The Cowboys trailed the Giants at that moment, 12-7, so with a reasonable snap or two before the half, the Cowboys could go to the room with a halftime lead.  Win the game and Dallas would start the 2006 season at 4-2. 
So, what happened at halftime will go down as one of the most decisive and odd moves a Cowboys' head coach has made during the Jerry Jones era.  After Drew Bledsoe got his angles wrong on a throw to Terry Glenn at the pylon on the left-front of the end zone, Sam Madison stepped in front of the pass and picked it off for the Giants.  Bill Parcells was irate. 
He pulled the plug on Drew Bledsoe.   This leads us into another area of conversation about the ultimate power of a head coach under Jerry Jones.  At least for that one moment in time, Parcells seemed to do what he wanted and make the boldest of bold moves to an undrafted QB who had done nothing in 4 seasons in the NFL from a guy who had been to a Super Bowl as a starting QB and was still playing reasonably well and had the team in a reasonable position (the weren't 0-6).   It would be the last meaningful pass Bledsoe would ever throw in the NFL, and make no mistake, he was not happy to be yanked.   Thanks to Pro Football Reference, here is the sequence:
The Tony Romo-era would begin at halftime of that game in Week 6 of 2006. 
And, as if the football gods have a sense of humor, the first pass Romo would throw was also picked off to start the 2nd half. 
But, that era, born on October 23, 2006 continues as you read this almost a decade later.  And on Sunday in Miami, all seemed right in the Cowboys world once again.
As if you needed to be reminded, the Cowboys have been 84-64 during that span of time since Bill Parcells pulled the trigger on 10/23/06.  Romo is now 30 games over .500
These tweets were from Friday, so you must add in the Miami win.
The oddsmakers for Thursday have installed the Cowboys (3-7) as a favorite over a 10-0 team which seems very confusing.  It comes down to a guy who is 3-0 on a team that is 0-7 without him.  Kind of makes us 2nd guess the idea of discarding QB wins, yes?  78-48 with Romo, 6-16 without him.  All other variables are pretty much equal.  
In short, the Cowboys are a very, very different team with Tony Romo at the helm.  He does things at the QB position that the replacement level QB's can't even imagine doing.  Yes, there will be a "next one" after Romo - like Staubach and Aikman before him, he will eventually reach the end of the line and then the search begins that could take a decade - but the present tense of Romo is such that you should not be in a hurry to move on to the next guy.  
Now, what is the big deal about Sunday?  He only put up 17 points against the Dolphins!  Well, it surely wasn't a hot knife through butter, but the big deal is that the Cowboys offense looked whole again with just the flick of his wrist.  Yes, there is rust and inaccuracy, but that was Romo.  The guy who defies Xs and Os.
So, what does that mean?  That means that every snap in this glorious sport has a specific design.  Here is how the play should work (as it is drawn up with Xs and Os on the board).  But, the defense is trying to sabotage those plans with their own designs.  What happens then?  Romo, improvs and adjusts on his own in that Favre-ian way that he grew up learning from what he saw on his television.  
Thankfully, even at this advanced age in his fast career, he hasn't stopped the blind spin back to his left - maybe his trademark improv move.  
Here is the first pass of his return in the pouring rain.  A free blitzer is bearing down and Romo has to make him miss or it is a safety.  He does, then the ill-advised left handed pitch that almost picked up the 1st down.  Not exactly the easy throw a coach wants called to get his QB into a rhythm,  but it shows Romo is ready to try to make something happen.  
This one was even better.  Olivier Vernon collapsing Tyron from Romo's blindside, he feels it, spins back against the grain again, and on the run to his left hits Devin Street past the markers.  This is what we mean on "Defying the Xs and Os".  That is 100% full improv from a QB to "make a play".  This is what he does.  
He also sees the defense and trusts his instincts enough to let the receivers try to make a play, too.  Sometimes that is a really bad plan. 
Free blitzer (same guy as the 1st play) and Romo with a hopeful heave as he "chucks and ducks" to implement some self-preservation.  I know he gets away with this technique, but it never advisable to throw this pass.  I get that Dez likely was not on the same page, but from a QB perspective, there are about 3 problems with this throw.  He knows it.  We will call that rusty decision making.  Taking a field goal is ok this early in the game.  
Here, Romo makes a throw that requires the arm strength that flirts with danger, because that is a throw that looks good on the tv copy, but you see here on the All-22 that the window is not huge.  Especially if Beasley's man bails out to help on Terrance Williams (like he did).  For some reason, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that Weeden doesn't try this throw and that Cassel under throws it and we justify it as a punt.  Romo shows that Williams is a weapon again.  
And then this beauty...
Look at Tony calmly look off the coverage for a moment.  He knows he is coming back to Dez who is in the slot and has a Linebacker chasing him with a safety that doesn't have leverage.  Here is the shot from up top:
Romo watches Witten and then once Dez crosses the face of the safety, this is a nice meal for a veteran QB who sees the whole field.
Welcome back, Tony Romo.  
The numbers indicate the return to normalcy in many of the areas we talk about on a regular basis.  I hope you had a chance to read all about that theory yesterday as I will not repeat the entire discussion about how Romo affects just about everything, but I will link it here for you to review if you so choose. 
Check out the balance.  Look at the 3rd down conversions.  They moved the chains 7  times which is only the 2nd time this season they did that after being one of the best 3rd down teams in the NFL in 2014.  And no, they did not pass for all of those conversions.  But, QB play actually assists you by playing well on 1st and 2nd down, you can actually run on 3rd down once in a while.  See, it all traces back to the QB.  Running gets easier because their are fewer defenders sitting on your run plays.  All of it.
If you go back week-to-week, you will see how the other QBs look in this study.  You can see the Weeden weeks where nothing went past 10 yards or were all on the right side of the screen.  Cassel would not attack the middle of the field much in some of his starts.  But, here, you can see that the corners and safeties would work up a sweat covering all of the area that Romo will attack. 
Here, we again get to see how the production was spread out by personnel grouping.  The Cowboys were determined to get 12 and 13 personnel rolling again and when you can run for 7.7 a carry out of 12 personnel, you know that all is right in the world again.  
I think this is a good spot to also compliment the debut of Robert Turbin.  I know that we have been fooled before from a small sample, but he sure looks comfortable running those zone plays and shows a real aptitude for what is required from a RB in those situations.  Darren McFadden appears more suited to the man or gap plays, but I think Turbin is going to be perfect for helping kill off games down the stretch with his physical style that just pounds the opponent.  
As a whole, the offense appeared to make sense again from a stylistic view of their identity last season.  They were never an aerial show.  They were balanced and used that balance to attack.  Sunday, that returned.  
As you know, I support this number being low because you cannot have run/pass balance if you spend too much time in shotgun.  You also cannot run downhill from shotgun with the same physical force, and of course, that also affects play-action.  40%-50% is back to where it really works.

I think we should be aware of the plan against Tony Romo for the next several weeks as it pertains to Miami, Carolina, Washington, Green Bay, and Buffalo.  All of these teams bring pressure from a number of areas and are either blitzing or disguising their rushers to confuse.   In other words, expect pressure to test Romo's health moving forward.  The opponent is not going to just sit back and let #9 get comfy.  
11 blitzes on 31 passes is quite a few, and they got to Tony twice and caused both of his picks.  You know Carolina was watching with great interest.  Here were the down situations for the blitzes:
The Dolphins really brought pressure on 3rd down, which makes the Cowboys 7-14 on 3rd downs all the more encouraging.  The only way to back defenses off is to burn them continuously. 
Here are the season numbers on this:
First, I should point out that because this is a short week, I did not get much time to focus on non-Romo topics (pass protection, running game) as I would like, but we have to get ready for Carolina.  I do hope to put a short Xs and Os post out on Wednesday night, but we will see how it all falls into place.  
But, make no mistake, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin had some very difficult days on Sunday and need to bounce back quickly.  I realize it is all competition-dependent, but when you are touted as the best in the league, you bar is going to be very high.
Romo brought a lot of good and a little bad back to the Cowboys offense and now you look at every game on their schedule as "winnable".  Yes, Carolina appears to be the best in the NFC, but that should not make them seem invincible when you play them at home.  The Cowboys surely believe they are at least an equal to Carolina from a quality standpoint and they are no doubt determined to show that on Thursday.  
If this team can keep its balance and its ability to sustain long drives and move those chains on 3rd down, they can absolutely beat a bunch of opponents the rest of the way.
In a very winnable NFC East, the team in last place today might be the best of the bunch.  But, wild projections on a blog do not mean anything.  They have to keep stacking up wins.  And the Carolina defense is good on all 3 levels and will give the Cowboys a test that Miami is not capable of giving.  Carolina's strength is their physicality in the front and the speed at linebacker.  If the Cowboys can run the ball on Thanksgiving, the bandwagon will start filling up again.

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