When you are 3-8 and your team is going to be playing without its star QB for the remainder of 2015 (door cracked), perhaps the defense adopted the idea that it had nothing to lose.
I never like that idea, because it means you leave your identity and chase something that, when you had a clear head, you had previously decided you didn't want to do. But, now, a team that never brings pressure from its defensive backs decides to do it quite a bit in Week 12 at Washington.
And it all comes back to the idea that now you have to pull out all of the stops to win.
In 2014, the Cowboys blitzed over 10 times just once all year. They sent pressure at the Houston Texans 11 times over the course of the game. Otherwise, it was a steady diet of less than one time a series where they might send in a linebacker and almost never a defensive back.
In 2015, the same pattern held. Against Atlanta, New York, Seattle and Carolina, the Cowboys went entire games with only 3 blitzes or less. 3! In other words, they are not going to chase sacks in an effort to get sacks, while leaving their backside uncovered for massive strikes over the top. It isn't worth it. Rod Marinelli doesn't believe in it. It is unsound.
But, the last time Matt Cassel started - at Tampa Bay - the Cowboys decided to unleash tons of pressure on Jameis Winston and the Bucs with 12 blitzes - the high water mark since Marinelli has been running the show over a span of two seasons.
And then on Monday night in Washington, the Cowboys decided to not only bring pressure, but to bring it in the form of Barry Church blitzes repeatedly. Church dove in on at least 6 occasions and helped generate some sacks and some tackles for loss on run plays that were sabotaged. He had only blitzed on 14 other occasions in 11 games, so to step it up that substantially was noteworthy. And the team decided to bring pressure 13 times in this one game alone.
I guess they decided they have nothing to lose. And, to be honest....
Here is the first play of the game:
As you can see, Church isn't even on the screen at the snap as he dives down at the snap. Then, see what looks like a T-E stunt where the tackle 98-Crawford tries to occupy the RG, RT, and anyone else (look at the center go all the way across) he can as he takes an outside path. This allows 90-Lawrence to cut inside the opposite A-Gap and have a free run at Cousins. Well, much of the commotion is caused by Church filling that edge and making everyone slide in that direction. Sometimes it isn't the numbers, it is the confusion. In this case, it was both.
Church kept coming again and again and it led to some other bright moments as well. This would definitely fall under the heading of "new wrinkles" as future opponents are going to have plans for this tactic, but on this night - especially with all of the sideline technology melting down - the Redskins were being knocked off their path continuously in a way that was reminiscent to the Jim Haslett nights of owning Jason Garrett in the past.
Here is another that led to a stuffed run.
Watch how late he deploys. Watch the opposite safety sprint to get to his single-high spot, and then the Redskins run right into the teeth of the run blitz. It also helps that 86-Jordan Reed can't block very well at tight end.
So not only was the pressure being brought and Barry Church looking more like a weapon at the safety spot where he often seems pedestrian, but Sean Lee was a terror. I had him credited with 4.5 splash plays, which exceeded his previous high of 3.5 from Week 2 at Philadelphia where he looked like the best linebacker in football. He was tremendous on Monday night and it is weeks like this one where you can see his best attributes and his upside that made the Cowboys think they could basically build the defense around him.
And that means, "keeping him clean" by making sure he is free to run and hit and not to have to fight off blockers continuously. That is the idea of the scheme. To keep the Will Linebacker free to chase the running back from sideline to sideline.
Great example here:
Tell me that doesn't look like Luke Kuechly last week. If only they could keep Lee healthy. Everything would look so different.
Weekly Data - Week 12 - Washington
Let's be honest here, the defense allowed less than 17 points and less than 275 yards. Take any game, in any place, against any opponent and you will take a performance where you gave up less than 17 points and 275 yards.
So, from that standpoint, you really have a hard time complaining too loudly - especially with 3 sacks! - but, of course, once again, no defensive takeaways. The team got a special teams takeaway, but the Chris Jones recovering a fumble cannot go on the defense's ledger.
Otherwise, you will take 4.4 yards per play and, of course, 16 points and 266 yards. That is plenty solid.
KIRK COUSINS - THROW CHART
As you can see, there is very little vertical about the Redskins offense, aside from the mandatory "take a shot" plays to their speedster DeSean Jackson. We should not marginalize those, though, as they should have hit at least twice and, of course, did on the big one over the top at the end.
You see it every week, Cover 1 Man-Free with one center field safety (42-Church) and one rat in the hole (55-McClain) who is so shallow it looks like he is spying Cousins. Again, I have never called plays at any level, but this seems like a real aggressive idea when you are up 7 and there is 30 seconds left in the game. If you are up 7, don't you have to have some help with DeSean over the top?
Don't you keep everything in front of you? Claiborne can't run with Jackson. Hardly anyone can. This seemed like a needless idea at this juncture. But, they survived it.
DALLAS PASS RUSHERS vs Washington
Look at the rushers! 12 5-man and even a 7-man pressure to boot. And, of course, to annoy many of you, a couple 3-man rushes on 3rd and long.
SEASON PASS RUSHERS
Here are the season numbers if you want to compare and see how Monday's performance broke the tendencies of the 2015 season.
DALLAS BLITZING - GAME BY GAME
Like I said, it was the most this team has ever brought pressure since Rod Marinelli has made the calls. They really thought they should attack Cousins and make him get the ball out quickly, while deploying more men in the box to shut down that run game.
SPLASH PLAYS - WK 12 -WASH
As I indicated, this was a massive week for Sean Lee and it should be pointed out that the real run of form from DeMarcus Lawrence should continue to have everyone fired up.
I am guilty of thinking he was a massive disappointment in September and into October, but starting with his night at the Superdome, he has repeatedly put himself in a position to make plays. He is having the year that many thought Randy Gregory might have this season. Gregory, unfortunately, is still looking for his first regular season play of substance as we enter the final 4 games of his rookie year that was derailed with an ankle injury.
SEASON SPLASH PLAY STANDINGS
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
There is no question that the Cowboys can feel good about the overall performance of its defense for many weeks in a row, to be honest. The takeaway issues continue and that is the overall biggest problem - but, maybe Chris Jones is the answer to these problems.
Now, they face Aaron Rodgers again, but have optimism that the circumstances actually play in their favor. The Packers are not last year's Packers - primarily because their version of Dez Bryant - Jordy Nelson is not with them. That means they have their own cast of ordinary receivers who can be covered and that limits their explosiveness dramatically.
They have not been very good at Lambeau recently - losing to the Lions and the Bears in their last two home games and have combined for 29 points of offense. They also ended the Detroit game with only 1 of their 5 starters on the offensive line. On the other hand, they have 10 days off between games and the Cowboys have 6.
But, anyone who can recall that playoff game last year will recall a 2nd half where Rodgers made play after play (with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams making most of them) because they could not collapse the pocket. The pass rush that got to Kirk Cousins 3 times needs to duplicate that feat to pull the upset.
Or, will the Cowboys roll the bones and play as if they have nothing to lose with the blitz game?