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.
This week, I wanted to take a quick look at some big moments - all in the 2nd Half - in the game versus the Jets before we fully put this thing to bed.
1) - End Zone Interception by Calvin Pryor
First, another week and another end-zone interception. This one was the only of the 3 interceptions from Kellen Moore that I took seriously as one was the traditional opening drive "freak-out" bad decision and the last was a desperation interception that was actually going to be a disaster if it was caught (because time would have expired).
So, this is 2nd and goal from the Jets 6 yard line with 5:25 to go in the 3rd Quarter.
The Cowboys are lined up 3x1 to the right with Beasley on the outside, Escobar in the middle, and Witten to the inside. Dez is off by himself to the left and is going to run the dig.
Jets in presnap are sugaring a bigger blitz, but end up sending 5 with 6 dropping. It sure looks like the plan is to go 4 over 3 on the right and bracketing Dez to the left with 24-Revis playing outside leverage and the safety 21-Gilchrist has the inside breaking routes (the slant, especially) and is in position to assist with a fade or a back shoulder throw from Moore if the QB just wants to throw a pass at Dez and hope for the best.
Here is where Moore was fooled. If you start looking at each route, you will see that Beasley is wide open (again - how many times has Beasley been open in the red zone with the various Cowboys QBs looking everywhere else?), Escobar has the corner open as well, and Witten and Bryant are attracting the most attention but also are covered for the most part.
This is somewhat reminiscent of last week in Green Bay on the goal-line where the Cowboys remain committed to going to their big weapons, but this is generally turning down better options elsewhere because the opponent is not dumb - they understand you want to go to Dez and Witten constantly, too. Now, let's go back to the role of 25-Pryor (circled in red above) who is the safety who appears to be attending to the 3 threats over on the right.
Moore is looking at Witten, but I bet he is just waiting for Dez to clear that inside safety to be wide open at the goal-post. But, the Jets were ready for this. The opposite safety sees it all and has the DIG covered from the opposite hash. Pryor looks like he is helping out of Beasley, but then peels off to get Bryant.
Honestly, this is why I wanted Pryor so badly in the 2014 draft. I would have taken him over Zack Martin because his centerfield instincts always impressed me at Louisville. I haven't studied him much since he has gone to the Jets and Martin is an all-pro, but this one play shows he is really strong at seeing a play all around him and then jumping a throw. Brilliant safety play.
Meanwhile, that moment was pretty frustrating for people from Moore's perspective. What a rookie QB throw, they said. But, this demonstrates how good NFL defenses are. You will never see this sort of safety play and complex coverages at the NCAA level. It is tough to say Moore didn't see the play. There were better options elsewhere, but it looked like Dez had a step on his man and the throw was on the money. But, that backside safety in the NFL was waiting. This is one argument for always going to the outside where no ambushes are going to be hiding like in th middle of the field.
2) - Terrance Mitchell gets the ball right back
2 plays later, the Cowboys received their one takeaway of the game.
This looks like Cover 3 with basically a 4-3 zone look behind a 4-man rush. The safety comes up to get one flat on the defensive right and the slot corner (#21-Mitchell) has the left flat. Now, one great thing about zone coverages is that the defenders can watch the QB and make plays based on seeing where he is looking.
Watch Mitchell and watch Fitzpatrick. It is pretty clear that the QB is trying to convince the flat zone man that he wants the flat to the TE. It is also pretty clear that Mitchell is not buying that fake with the eyes and is sitting on the sit-down by Tompkins behind him.
It was almost a blind throw if you look from the end zone where it is pretty clear that if Fitzpatrick just throws the ball where he is looking, Mitchell has left that guy, 81-Enunwa wide open to the outside. I am pretty sure we need to credit Mitchell for a nice ball-hawking play in his debut, but also this is a very odd decision by a QB who makes very good choices almost all the time but will make an untimely poor one periodically without warning.
3) - Cowboys give up a big play at just the wrong time
1st and 10 at the Jets 31 with 1:01 to play in the game. The Cowboys must get a stop to win this game. Instead, they allow a massive gainer.
Unfortunately, this is one of those learning moments for a rookie CB. Byron Jones admitted after the game that in the chaos of the moment, he got the wrong coverage when he pressed Thompkins when it was not his assignment. He should have been playing "off and soft" where nothing gets behind you. You are fine conceding a short gain in front of you, but nothing behind that is damaging. Well, he misses his jam, Thompkins gets a step to the outside and now we look at that hole in a Cover-2 that everyone knows about - the sideline spot 15-20 yards down the field beyond the corner but in front of the safety. You can't give that up! But, they did at just the wrong moment.
Watching live, it looked like JJ Wilcox was late, but as you can see, he is occupied by a deep seam route himself. Jones has to deal with this play on his own, and he did very, very poorly.
Now, perhaps for a moment, we should recognize the big-time throw from Fitzpatrick here. He does not have the cleanest pocket but makes the play nicely.
Great throw. Blown coverage. Ball-game.
So, that is that. I don't want to break anything else down today, but I do want to ask one question: What is JJ doing here?