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.
In a short week, we are going to get a short version of the Xs and Os (largely because the Cowboys play another game in just a few hours, but there were a few things from the Miami game that I thought we could get into before we turn the page to Carolina this afternoon.
I always love to take the lead from you guys on what you want to see, so let's pick 3 things today that have been mention.
1) - Tony Romo to Dez Bryant on 1st play of the 4th Quarter for a Touchdown
Well, this is worth looking at as the Cowboys took a lead they would never get back here on this play that seems simple enough, but as you know, it hasn't always been an objective to get Dez Bryant to the slot more often. The reason, of course, is inside, you either get the corners to "travel" with him, or you have a LB trying to cover him with safety help.
So, here you see the play before the snap. I put the 2 Dolphins who will end attempting to "vertically bracket" Dez Bryant - LB #46 Neville Hewitt shallow, and FS #35 Walt Aikens deep.
So, they want the LB to trail Dez and force a leading pass into the safety. Then, the safety - who definitely appears to be showing that he might also help on Williams - makes the fatal mistake of getting his faced crossed by Dez. What this means is he loses leverage to the weak side once Dez runs past his spot. In fairness, Aikens has no idea where Dez is going and they might be running Dez to either corner. He doesn't know. Watch below.
This is really solid protection, too. Dez is not completely open here, and I do think it should be said that Cassel or Weeden are looking at Street or Witten here and in a moment, McFadden. Romo is looking for Touchdowns, especially to 88.
Look at all of Romo's time. In retrospect, they all make it look easy here, but the Offensive Line, Romo, and Dez Bryant all did a really nice job here at making their jobs look simple.
2) - Darren McFadden's 2 big runs were Pulling Guard shows from La'el Collins
I really enjoy looking at successful running plays and figuring out why they work and, of course, what doesn't work.
So, as you can see above, the Cowboys are a zone running team predominantly. They have run 255 RB run plays this year and 204 of them - 80% - have been zone plays. But, they also employ a lead back right now (thanks, Joseph Randle) who is not an accomplished zone runner. In fact, during his prime, most of his success came from man-blocking (sometimes called Gap blocking schemes).
Well, as it turns out this year, as you can see above, McFadden is killing it on man plays and is quite pedestrian on zone plays. That doesn't mean that he can't figure it out, but that means so far, he has not.
Now, on Sunday, we saw more of the same. No production from zone plays and huge production from man plays. Here are the two big ones. Both from the 3rd Quarter and both from 12 personnel. The only difference is that on the first one, there is a WR to the right (Terrance Williams) and on the second one, there is not.
There are a few keys on both of these plays I want you to notice. First, look at the step to the left from McFadden at the snap and then notice what it does to the Dolphins. They believe he is going left, just because he has that false step. Also, notice that the line that is not pulling (everyone but the guards) are all down blocking to the left as well. This deceives the defense into taking a step left themselves, because they think a zone is coming to the other side.
This is important - because when I share these numbers, people always want to know why they run 80% zone if they are less productive. Shouldn't they be running the plays that work more? Maybe. But, these are zone counters. They work because the defense has been dealing with zone stretch plays all day. And the only way to shut down zone stretch plays is to aggressively attack through the gaps. And, of course, what gets you all messed up as a defense if you do that?
Counters back in the other direction.
Now, look at our pulling guards above. #70 Martin takes out the wide contain man and #71 La'el Collins needs to turn the corner to beat the Mike LB back to the play. Not a problem.
Now, McFadden has nothing but green grass.
Now, notice this one. Look at what Witten in motion does to the defense. They shift because they don't want to be outnumbered on the zone stretch left. But, its going right. This time, the outside man is the tight end to that side, #84-Hanna. He has to wall off his man and let Martin and Collins get around his back. Great job.
Next, Martin comes around and pancakes poor little Brent Grimes (#21). No problem.
Next, Collins mauls #46 Hewitt. Done.
Not to cheapen McFadden's role here, but Dan Bailey would have run for 15 here. This is stealing.
3. Those 4th Quarter sacks on stunts/games with the tackles and the ends
As you may be aware, the Cowboys had zero 4th Quarter sacks for the first nine weeks. Now, they have 3 (passing Washington and Pittsburgh!) because of some 4th Quarter pass rush that might be classified by some as "garbage time", but I think in the NFL, it is where pass rushes generally do their most damage against a team that is trying to find bigger passing plays.
To me, this is where a deep rotation should get you some sacks because the QB is holding the ball and trying to make a play.
Look at all 3 of these sacks from Sunday's 4th Quarter.
This first one by 58-Jack Crawford does not look like it is for sure a End-Tackle game where the end takes out the guard, allowing Crawford to come around the corner and ear-hole the QB, but it worked out that way. 92-Mincey gets the initial penetration and Crawford clean up. I just am not sure it was the design or if that was improv work. Either way, it was a big hit on Tannehill.
This next one - shared by 76-Greg Hardy and 95-David Irving - was absolutely a stunt. Watch 94-Randy Gregory not even consider rushing, but rather he goes and frees up Hardy by taking out his man. Also watch Irving do the same on the other side to free up 98-Tyrone Crawford. This puts pressure on the tackles to realize what is happening and to switch which is tough in all of that chaos.
Now, this one is just the opposite. Here, the DTs are taking out the tackles to free up the DEs to come inside and have a free run. Gregory is caught up in the traffic, but look at DeMarcus Lawrence flying in untouched. Tannehill sees that in his nightmares.
I just named a bunch of different linemen assisting each other in generating pressure - rather than just trying to beat their men individually. This is what the Cowboys are banking on moving forward - 4th Quarter leads, attacking in waves, and collapsing pockets.