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.
Well, there have been more enjoyable games to dissect than this Seattle game, but as is our weekly habit, let's look at the All-22's and pull out a few talking points worth rehashing before we move on to Philadelphia...
Thanks to many of you for your feedback and I will try to address the ideas presented by you the reader today in this mix. Here we go:
1) - What happened to the Wide Receivers? What has happened to Cole Beasley? What happened to Cassel throwing the ball down the field?
You all had the same basic premises...
Well, this was the takeaway from the game from most observers. Why was the QB position unable to press the ball downfield - save for the forced throws to Dez (open or not) - and use the advantages that Dez should give the offense?
It is difficult to use wide stereotypes to get into the head of Dez Bryant, but for the most part, likely because of the horrid experience for Matt Cassel in New York, he turned into "captain check down, Part 2".
Let's examine a couple examples of what we are talking about here.
This is the 3rd down on the first drive of the game. The Cowboys had marched all of the way down the field and put themselves in a position to get 7 points. Now, this situation does not call for high risk throws, but the whole game-plan on Sunday seemed built somewhat around using Dez on the inside to attract massive attention and then that might allow some opportunities elsewhere. Say what you want about the Legion of Boom, but they seemed positively obsessed with 88 on Sunday (as they should) and that left others unattended. Look at Cole Beasley above. He is running vertically down the numbers and a throw there is not simple, but it is available down the seam and a Touchdown opportunity.
Use Bryant to create chances elsewhere. But, Cassel takes the 9 yards and sets up 4th and 1. Again, not a horrible decision, but a missed chance at striking aggressively to the end zone.
This one is a bit more bothersome. This was the 3rd down and 6 from the 12 yard line in the 4th Quarter. Down 10-9, do we make an aggressive throw or do we take our field goal?
I think we know what Cassel was doing on Sunday. Safe check downs. But, look above at the route combination on the bottom of the field. Dez cuts inside and all Seahawks eyes are on him. Look at Terrance Williams running the corner route in the end zone. Again, is it an easy throw? No. But, it is available and a touchdown chance. Pull the trigger! Instead, he never considered it, his head went to the left immediately and he took the 4 yards and the field goal team rushes on. Linehan or Cassel? Not sure.
One more here. This is the final drive and the first play. It ended up being the roughing the passer penalty, but again, they throw at Dez down the field (who has 2 dudes on him). But, what about Beasley? Why run him on repeated verticals if they are not even going to consider him - despite the coverage being inviting:
Dez lined up next to Beasley. If he looks the safety to Dez and throws it back to Beasley here, there is about a 80% chance the Cowboys win this game (wild guess) based on Beasley putting you right into Dan Bailey's range if they throw this ball. Instead, it was never considered. The safety is close to Beasley, but his back is completely turned. Again, I stress this is not an easy throw. And that is because there are no easy throws in the NFL when you are playing the Seahawks. But, sometimes, you either attempt throws with higher degrees of difficulty or you lose. I think all 3 of those videos presented opportunities to people not named Dez that seem to indicate that Cassel is not considering all of his options.
2) - Before we get to the La'el Collins portion of this post that will make us happy, let's look at the offensive line losing a lot of running plays due to Tight End issues.
The Cowboys ran the same play in the 2nd Quarter twice. It had the same result twice. Let's examine that.
This is the first attempt. The concept is to pull the RT Doug Free around to the opposite side and he will get 54-Bobby Wagner. The problem is that when Free leaves, it is a race between 56-Cliff Avril and the TE James Hanna to cut off that gap that Free vacated. Often times, on this play, the RG would down block on Avril, but he has the 3-tech, 77-Rubin on his outside shoulder that prevents him from helping. So, now, Hanna - with no leverage advantage - has no real chance against Avril. Here is the other view:
Not every backside DE is going to be so aggressive when that opportunity shows itself. But, I think we know how the Seahawks roll. The play never had a chance and Wagner slips under Free, while Avril is on top of McFadden at the handoff.
So, it worked so poorly, they ran it again on the very next drive.
This time it went even more poorly despite trying to give Hanna a little advantage by positioning him back a half-step further. This time 91-Cassius Marsh shoots Free's spot and Hanna has no chance. Without Martin being able to get that down-block, there is really no way this play is going to work.
I am trying to recall any occasion where Doug Free pulling all the way around Left Tackle has ever been tried before. But, I am fine with this idea being put back on the mothballs. 2 tries, 2 negative plays that killed drives. Yeesh.
3) - Finally, everyone requested a La'el Collins breakdown of his finest pancakes.
As I am sure the world is aware of by now, La'el Collins is a very bad man. He destroys things without remorse. I promised he would take Ron Leary's job by Oct 1 and although I missed by a few weeks, I believe the overall premise I stated last spring was that his ceiling is so much higher than Leary's. Leary is a solid NFL Guard. Collins has a chance to be the best guard in the league.
Just watch this masterpiece. He destroys Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas on a pulling play around the left edge. Trust me, they will be coming back to this idea.
I think the under-rated trait of Collins is his speed. For a guy who is that massive and that strong, he actually seems to be as fast as any player on the line. If the RB can stay up, it might have been a fun race to the goal-line.
But, that is not all.
He did it again, later in the game. And while Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas are famous, they aren't massive men. But, Brandon Mebane is a 315-pound roadblock at DT. Watch this matchup from Collins:
I especially enjoy how delighted Collins looks after he throws Mebane down. It is his touchdown dance.
He looks like a special player. His overall game grade was off the charts. The Cowboys offensive line is as solid as ever. Perhaps, with reasonable QB play, that will help put this team on a roll.