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.
Normally, I grab plays that you all request about the game that just happened and break them down. Today, I am calling an audible and doing something a little different. Partly because I have grown weary of breaking down another Cowboys loss where they don't score even a touchdown (3 of the last 5 games - no touchdowns) and partly because I was asked to do something this week by a friend and media brother.
My main man and Ticket Morning Muser George Dunham, is the biggest Cowboys lifer I know. He followed this team since his birth, considers Danny White a hero, was the longtime voice at Texas Stadium, and promises that Tom Landry would have never allowed Rowdy to exist.
He loves this team and what it stands for. He doesn't love every decision they have ever made, and I think he is comfortable telling the world that he certainly doesn't think this team needed Greg Hardy's considerable issues on this roster.
George asked me to take a close look at Hardy this week and his play against Tampa Bay. The premise that is out there is that Hardy may have begun to check out a bit this week after some Twitter controversy and a missed meeting, the subsequent scolding, and then even a sideline disagreement with DeMarcus Lawrence. With each passing loss, the questions come up about what is the point of Hardy if the season becomes a complete lost cause. Might they just cut ties and admit the whole thing was a mistake? And he is not the only person with this feeling. George also knows I am a big fan of the player (from a Xs and Os standpoint) and wanted my eyes to look at the performance to make sure he wasn't being biased.
So, he detailed a number of plays here that might suggest that Hardy is not the monster he was against New England and that his performance has dropped way off in just a month. Then, I will present a number of plays that say that despite the idea that he "seemed quiet", he is still playing his tail off and is just getting double and triple teamed and therefore needs more help.
Let's see what happens when we pop on the tape.
The Bad Tape of Hardy's Afternoon:
These are the plays that George directed me to that required more from Hardy:
Hardy is locked up with #62 Evan Smith and never seems to be able to shake free. Then he gives a normal jog to the QB.
On this run, Hardy is lined up by the rookie Left Tackle #76 Donovan Smith and looks like he is participating in a practice. There is no pop here and no real intensity from Hardy.
This one looks like a pretty normal pass rush that doesn't materialize. I don't have a big issue with this, as it is simply a normal play for me.
Here he is rushing against #76 Smith again and gets chipped by the RB #34 Sims and gets toppled. It was sort of shocking to see him get knocked off his feet like this unremarkable hit, but again, it does happen. I wouldn't say that you can suggest this is an abnormal play.
Here is a massive down block from a tight end that blindsides Hardy (right defensive end again) and knocks him way out of the play. I think this would argue that Tampa Bay was attempting to slow Hardy down by attacking him, which is a standard practice for a destroyer like Hardy. I don't think it suggests he has lowered his effort or performance levels.
Here Hardy is unable to budge #70- Logan Mankins and seems to be offering a practice-level motor. Not his best snap of the game, to say the least.
Hardy against Donovan Smith again here and I have no issues at all with his effort level as he tries to pinch in and close down that hole. It appears you are getting everything he has late in the game.
And then this one which caused many to continue to have the theory that he is not the same guy when he realizes it is a run play. This is rookie backup lineman #64 Kevin Pamphile and he gets Hardy pushed right past the runner without really being able to anchor and help make a play on the runner.
OK. So those were the plays that were provided by George yesterday and I can see a few that might be considered "loafs" and a few others where you can see how much Tampa is trying to take a little starch out of his shirts by striking him before he can strike them. Again, that is trench warfare in the NFL.
Also, he does look like he tired a bit as the game went on, which was surely true of any player on a sunny day in Tampa. Now, I went through the same game and pulled a few plays that I think demonstrates he is the same force he always is, but he just didn't have the tangible stats that show his results. I think you could say it was a quiet statistical day without argument. But, I don't that that equates to a drop in RPMs or effort.
The Good Tape of Hardy's Afternoon:
Here on a stunt with Crawford, Hardy barrels down the middle and lays a lick on Winston.
Another high effort play where he employs a spin and again is just a moment late. But, his "dancing bear" movement skills almost get home.
This one shows what he is all about. Look at him at RDE closing all the way across the field on a full sprint and then rushing Winston's throw and closing down the QB from behind.
Much better job here against the run and a tackle for loss as Hardy sheds Donovan Smith and gets Martin behind the line.
He doesn't get too much done here, but it does demonstrate that he is playing his tail off as he starts in the LT/LG B-Gap and then works down the line against the center and RG. I might argue that this shows that he is playing hard on most snaps.
Not only does this show effort, but it shows elite effort and elite skills. Hardy is so good that when you see this several times a game, you understand why certain teams are willing to put up with his nonsense. This doesn't require a coaching background to see how awesome this is. It seems pretty clear he can beat Jameis Winston in a foot race.
This is the play where Heath is called for the defensive holding and led to the game's only touchdown. Look again how close Hardy is to getting home. He flushes Winston out and that led to Winston realizing he can make a play for the end zone on 3rd and goal.
I might argue that Hardy was close to several sacks. Is every play great? No, but percentage-wise, I would argue he flashes more time than anyone over the course of 3 hours. Over 60 plays, you might be able to pick the best 5 or worst 5 to make any case you would like.
I would also argue pretty clearly that he is the best defensive player this team has. From a Splash Play standpoint, he has 11.5 in just 5 games. The team leader has 12 over 9 games. Now, I admit George and I had a different view back in March when the Cowboys made this decision, so perhaps there is confirmation bias at work from each of us. And, it is reasonable to assume that like any pass-rusher, his motor runs hotter when he sees a sack opportunity over plugging another run play. That is not uncommon.
But, the fact that he has 4 sacks, 8 QB hits, and 9 more QB hurries in 5 games (a pace over the season for 13 sacks) suggests he is as disruptive a defensive linemen as the Cowboys have had since the prime of DeMarcus Ware. This is purely a study from his On-Field work, but from where I sit, he has been the same dominant player he was in Carolina.
Anyway, I thought you would enjoy George and I both making our cases and you are certainly now able to look at all of these plays and decide for yourself what you think.