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.
Let's grab three moments from the difficult afternoon at Lambeau Field and then move on to Game 14 after this.
1) - The Big End Zone Interception
The Cowboys got a stop of Green Bay on the opening possession of the game. The Cowboys took the ball and went right down the field and had a 1st and goal on the 3. From there, they were stuffed once and a missed throw to Witten, so they faced that big 3rd down and goal where they can take a 7-0 lead if everything goes right. But, you know, 2015....
Here it is below:
Cowboys in empty. 2 TEs, 3 WRs. Spreading them out usually chases off the blitz because if you want to bring pressure against empty, there is a good chance it is Cover 0 and man across the board. Very dangerous defensive idea, but 2 things. 1) we know from last year that Green Bay is one of the riskier defenses going (they played man with no safety against Dez on 4th and 2 in the playoffs!) and 2) the Cowboys have a QB that nobody respects against the blitz. If he can't see anything past the pressure, then send more pressure.
The things I see are the following - 6 Man Green Bay pressure. Cassel knows he only has 5 guys blocking. This is a major problem. One guy is unassigned and that is Clay Matthews. Matthews is a fantastic player, so his reputation precedes him, but man, he doesn't even get his arms up here. I found his execution here to be rather odd, to be honest.
Now, if Cassel is thinking about anything else besides 52 ear-holing him, it is Dez on a square-in against man coverage in a rub route concept were Beasley is out to the flat and at the intersection, one of them should be open (most likely Beasley because his man has to either trail or go over the traffic). Once his man goes over it, the ball needs to go to the open Beasley.
But, in fairness to Cassel, this decision can only be made as an unblocked Clay Matthews is in your face and on Monday night he had a similar Beasley/Bryant issue and Dez let him know in no uncertain terms that when in doubt he should go to 88. Fine. He did. And the throw was far from perfect. But, the catch effort was very poor as well. I think Dez has to catch this and I assume he feels the same way.
However, it looks like Cassel's 3rd most appealing throw here. Yet, against a Cover 0 blitz, asking him to figure this out that quickly is, again, a test of QB quality. Smart idea from Green Bay, to make Cassel do something he is uncomfortable doing.
Look at 42-Burnett for Green Bay bluff as if he is dropping with Witten and then he joins the pressure. That leaves the LB 48-Thomas to get out to Witten and for a while, 82 is wide open. But, Cassel isn't scanning the whole field. He never sees him until he puts on the film on the airplane.
2) - This week's La'el Collins Show
Well, one of the things you should take from 2015 that will serve this team for years is the idea they added 3 blue chip stocks to their portfolio last spring. Byron Jones is already in the running for best player on the defense. Randy Gregory is someone I refuse to lose faith in because of his ankle injury. And, then, La'el Collins. I thought he was the best offensive linemen in the draft, so you can imagine my excitement when he was added without using a pick last May.
He has been put in the lineup and provided the fans with many moments that channel memories of Larry Allen running down the sideline back in the day.
Add this one to that highlight film:
Just look at #71 in all of his glory. He destroys 21-Clinton-Dix and then nearly out-runs Darren McFadden down the sideline off this pitch play with the pulling linemen, Collins and 77-Smith. I mean, it is just beautiful football to behold. The two seal blocks from the tight ends makes the play work, but from there, it is what you often get on pulling plays - Big vs little in space. And that is where DBs try to make those giants miss and then make the tackle. But, the Cowboys bigs are so darn athletic that you can't often shake them in the open field and Tyron and La'el both find their "littles" that they clear out.
And this is where it is difficult to analyze the role of the RB in this play. Man-Blocking requires a player gets the ball and goes. There are no decisions to make. Just follow your guys at 100% speed when you turn the corner. He gets all of stats for the run, but if this is blocked right, you can literally pitch the ball to anyone with juice. Give Clinton-Dix huge credit for getting back up and chasing this play down or it would have been a touchdown. Unfortunately, it ended up being a play that didn't lead to any points.
Now, to the negative...
This is where Collins has to be better. 1st and goal. The Cowboys want to ram it right in there. They pull Martin around but because Collins loses to the inside with 64-Pennel, Martin cannot take the right angle into the hole and 52-Matthews beats him there. After Matthews re-routes the play back inside, now Pennel throws Collins off the block and onto the ground and then is back on the ball carrier. This leaves Martin trying to block 2 guys (64 and 52) and the play is dead.
From Brandon George's piece from yesterday Collins spoke about this spot: "Really, going back to that goal-line play, just blocking down that defensive lineman, understanding that I got to keep my feet up underneath me, not slipping, staying in blocking and finishing," Collins said. "Just really knowing that I can do that better, just continue to work on it. When you're down on the goal line there are a lot of things that you just can't allow. You can't allow a little bit of penetration. You can't allow even just a little bit of uncleanliness."
He is correct. Great prospect, but like everyone, there are things he can do better. On a wet field, slipping was everywhere.
3) - Turbin gets a pass protection lesson
I think Robert Turbin is a useable piece moving forward. His whole style really appeals to me as he has 4.45 speed, built like a bowling ball, and runs with that low pad level where he finishes runs with a real punishing blow. He also has a feel for the zone plays that includes proper reads and cutbacks and an overall feel for the Cowboys preferred scheme.
But, to get that prime-time run, he is going to need to prove he can pass those mental tests that pass protection requires. Going back to DeMarco Murray, what made him great was he was really solid in all the departments. Unfortunately, whether it be Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Christine Michael, or now, Robert Turbin, it doesn't look like the Cowboys have any RB that is particularly versatile in all of the categories.
Turbin has a chance, though to be solid and this one bust is not the end of the world. However, it may have been the end of any chance for the Cowboys to pull the upset on Sunday. This is 3rd and manageable (5) and because of this sack, the Cowboys punt and shortly thereafter, the Packers put the game away.
Let's look at the protection. In presnap, you can see Cassel calling out the protection and identifying 47-Ryan as the Mike. You can see the Packers showing pressure, but also trying to confuse Cassel. For Turbin, it seems pretty straight-forward. He will leak out if Matthews doesn't come. He also wants to chip Free's man before he goes to the flat if the Packers don't blitz.
It looks like Clay Matthews bluffs for a split second and then Turbin loses sight of him. And, when Matthews is mauling Cassel, you can see that Turbin knows he was fooled and hates what happened next.
Let's look at Green Bay's idea on this 3rd down. They show single-high, but when they only blitz 5, that leaves a robber to cheat over to Dez. Cassel has to figure out the single-high safety is actually the robber and the other safety who was faking the blitz (21) is now busting his tail to get back to Center Field. That CF safety looks like he is getting into the lane for a Dez slant and that he will also have Turbin if he tries to leak out into the flat for a big play.
Again, Green Bay loves taking risks - especially against QBs they are not afraid of - and did these sorts of deception concepts all day long. QB1 would have been better, of course, but again, this is the 2015 offense in a nutshell.