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.
The team has certainly moved on to Tampa Bay - as they must - but for us, today's look at the Xs and Os of the Eagles loss in Overtime.
I love taking your requests for this Thursday tradition, so let's see what the people wanted to see more of from Sunday's game before we move on to Game #9:
1) - David Irving Continues to Show Up On the Tape
@SportsSturm David Irving's cowboys tape and where you think he fits in going forward. Maybe same for BJones (FS/TE cover duties?)
The personnel department has had its hits and misses in 2015, but one that might end up growing into a rather significant role would be Iowa State's David Irving. He went undrafted in the 2015 selection meeting (largely because he didn't play college football in 2014 after being dismissed from his college program for a few off-field incidents), before being signed by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs then took him to camp which he survived until the final cut down at which point the Chiefs moved him to their practice squad. He lasted there for 3 weeks at which time the Cowboys decided they preferred him to Davin Coleman (undrafted from Arizona State in 2014).
He is a massive man (6'7", 273) with arms that seem to go on forever. He can play DT or DE and honestly, every time he is on the field, he is doing something. That, of course, means that he will continue to get on the field - especially in a setting where it seems there is very little disruption happening at either defensive tackle spot right now. I would say Tyrone Crawford has gone from unsung superstar to solid player (which is not what you are hoping for when you sign his contract extension), and now Irving is getting more run, even at the coveted 3-technique position.
Let's take a look at his 3 splash plays from Sunday:
In a game where the head coach complained about his defensive line not doing a good job of "getting off the ball" at the snap, here is Irving (3-tech) in the backfield to meet the ball carrier way ahead of schedule. Look at that fine job of defeating an outside zone. Slant hard and get between them. Lovely quickness and a 4-yard loss.
Look at this beauty. Again, from the 3-tech spot, the RT 67-Kelly is trying to cross his face and keep him away from the backside of this play to the left. Irving is not having it and gets inside that reach effort and is there to not only re-route Sproles, but also to grab him and bring him down. Again, this is disruption that is not happening enough. Yet, when they give this guy snaps, he continues to flash.
Not every pass rush has to be a sack. Here is a strong pressure that causes the incompletion because he is hitting Bradford and ruining the throw. Again, you want guys who can beat a 1-on-1 if they are left alone. He has a chance to be left alone a bit at this stage of his career. But, when teams start to see this, they will offer him a bit more respect.
2) - What happened on the Jordan Hicks interception of Cassel?
There are many plays in every game, but only one or two stick in your memory. Both from Sunday involved Matt Cassel throws early in the 4th Quarter for me.
First, the interception that killed most of the optimism:
This was a killer for sure. The Cowboys are driving and this is a 2nd and 7. There is no reason to force any issues here. You are in field goal position already and the game sits at 14-14. Everything is rolling in the Cowboys favor and Cassel is feeling good as he is putting a drive together with some underneath throws to Cole Beasley.
But, then, he tries to get 5 here to McFadden out in the flat. McFadden is waiting for Dez to clear 2 of the 3 defenders out of the area and then McFadden will have a 1-on-1 with a linebacker underneath. I assume this is an option route, but perhaps I am reading that wrong.
Either way, I have been asked if McFadden gets blame like Terrance Williams did for somewhat similar play against the Giants that also was a killer Pick-6. If I were to nit-pick McFadden, it would be that he runs his route very slowly (some say lazily) and doesn't really scare Hicks with an initial burst. If you run it faster, then Hicks is on his heels and not able to jump the route. But, if you run it at practice speed, then Hicks is not off balance, and able to switch directions and make a break on the pass much easier.
But, to be fair to him, unlike Williams where he has to comeback to the play, the McFadden route is really a 90-degree angle route to the sideline. He ran the right route at the right angle (even though he might fade slightly). For me, this comes back to the throw. We have two problems here. 1) the throw is late. You have to get it out there quicker, basically once McFadden plants his cut-foot. and 2) the throw misses to the inside. This is the killer. You can't miss to the inside. That is where the defender is. Miss high. Miss low. Miss outside. You can miss this throw a number of ways and it is only incomplete. But, if you miss to the inside (behind him) then you are going to pay dearly in the NFL. Credit Hicks for an aggressive play because he has no help and seems susceptible to coming back to that and converting McFadden into a wheel route, but he made the play that turned the game on its ear.
Now, to Cassel's credit - as Jason Garrett indicated on Monday - he continued to battle and on the very next drive pulled off the miracle throw to Dez Bryant. Also, a play that could have easily been picked off and he likely should not have tried, but it does go back to our initial analysis of Cassel - he is a back-up gunslinger.
Insane. There is no way to break this play down. Dez Bryant defies your Xs and Os and just does something that is truly insane.
Now, Shanker also asked for the 2nd and 19 in overtime. I believe he meant this 2nd and 14 with 13:25 to go. If he did then I agree that this might have lost the game and also was the most frustrating moment of the overtime for me.
I have many opinions about Chip Kelly and his program. In fact, I am critical of much of it. I don't think professionals like having their diets and sleep and life monitored at the levels he enjoys. They prefer to be "treated like men" and he prefers to maintain the college coach relationship. I think that does more harm than good. I also think it is unlikely he can be a successful GM after just a few years in the NFL in any capacity. But, his scheme? I have no issues with that.
It is based on plays that place the defense in a massive conflict (like Art Briles is so good at in Waco) and allows you to pick your poison. Also, the tempo does amazing things. It causes the defense to get tired and when you get tired and have no recovery time, you make tired decisions. Here, the Eagles test the Cowboys with a quick pace and then a funky alignment. Double tight ends, but on the same side as the RB. Look how many gaps are to the right. And then look at how many Cowboys there are. Conversely, with no Sean Lee, the Cowboys have over-adjusted to the side that appears to have the strength. But, what about the weak side? The Cowboys are out-numbered. This is bad. Very bad.
This play is a killer because it is completely a product of not having a gap covered. Once Gachkar went to the opposite A-Gap, this play was screwed. Now the LG can get Gachkar. The Center gets the Mike. And you have the RG on Hayden and the RT to deal with the outside contain man (Lawrence). This is dead from the snap. Now, Gachkar might have been where he was supposed to be (I doubt it), but someone was out of place. And then McClain had to save the play by beating his block to the spot and he isn't doing that in 2015.
You hear coaches talk about lining up right. It is pretty basic stuff. Get your "run fits" and everything is fine. If you don't, you are asking for trouble. Here on 2nd and 14, you can give up 5 yards and still force the Eagles to a 3rd and long where they are worst in the league. Instead, Murray gets 20 because you can't line up right.
"I think the biggest issue on defense was simply not being ready. Not being lined up like we needed to be. When we were lined up, we played well. The most important thing against that team is to get lined up." - Jason Garrett in Monday's Press Conference
Just like last Thanksgiving - when the Eagles beat you, it is often based solely on you not lining up right. And that is a product of their tempo and a design of their offense. And for the Cowboys, that sort of thing is what is used against you if they want to call you a "poorly coached team". Get lined up is football 101.
3) - The Overtime Touchdown to Jordan Matthews
Let's end with this. The Eagles playbook is small. I hear people complaining about an offense being too predictable or too vanilla. The great offenses don't need 400 plays. They need a few that put you in binds and the variations that counter your adjustments.
Let's look at 3 plays from this game that all involved the exact same concept to Jordan Matthews:
This is from the 2nd Quarter. Jordan Matthews - #81 - is in the right slot and runs a dig. The Eagles run a zone right to move everyone that direction and then Matthews runs against the grain in the opposite direction. This was one of Mark Sanchez's best plays last year, too. It is very difficult to defend. They also have their tight end running a deeper route that they will use here in that "levels" concept where the QB can see which throw he likes more. 10 to Matthews or 20 to Ertz. You can actually see Claiborne trying to figure out which guy he is supposed to have and which guy Bradford is going to throw it at.
So, the Cowboys see that over and over and even though that was against a zone, here we go against man coverage in the 3rd Quarter:
This time, Ertz stays in to protect and Matthews looks like he is running the same route, but he is locked in man with Byron Jones. The Eagles adjustment is when you sit on that route, then they are going to cut it off and head back to the right on a pivot. This loses Jones and Matthews has a big gain on another simple throw right in front of Bradford. Look at the Cowboys linebackers (joined by Jeff Heath) trying to figure out what is going on with the play-action right, but Ertz going back to the left. They almost all run into each other.
And now, the kill shot:
Same concept again. Now, the Cowboys are ready for it. Look at McClain trying to get back once they see Ertz cutting across to protect. But, again, Matthews loses Jones. Hardy almost gets to Bradford, but Sam delivers a very nice throw and Jones falls down.
This time, they needed a safety to make a play and you will see below that JJ Wilcox takes another poor angle. You can't do that there. A FG doesn't end the game. A TD does.
Game. Set. Match. All on the same concept to Jordan Matthews repeatedly from the right slot. It is a simple offense, but man is it complicated to stop, when they get rolling.