Friday, January 08, 2016

1/8/16 - Cowboys Mailbag - Defense

The offseason brings many things - most notably plenty of your emails, tweets, and correspondence.  With that in mind, the hope here is to spend considerable time every Friday trying to roll through as many as possible and talk the offseason.

Let's get started!
Marcus, according to the numbers I can figure and what others have out there on the inter web, it appears that everyone agrees that Hardy's hit in 2015 ended up being $8.8m.
Because he finished the year on just 6 sacks - a number that seemed to be a given after his first week or two, it really would have to be characterized as disappointing to see that he never tripped any of his sack incentives which kicked in at 8.  If he got to 8, he was slated to get a $500,000 bonus and then it went up to another $1,000,000 if he got to 10.  But, his play slowed way down into November and then almost silent in December.  I would say his best 2 games were easily the games against New England and Seattle.  Now, that is impressive in that he played his best against the 2 Super Bowl teams from last February, but not impressive in that the dates of those games were October 11th and November 1st.  He just looked like he had an explosiveness in his first few games back that was missing for the majority of his games.
Now, in a way, the Cowboys may benefit from this because the better he played in 2015, the more difficult it would be to keep him.  I am not suggesting I am endorsing the keeping of Hardy, because I certainly began to question his current value versus his form in 2013, but if they wish to, the price really went way down as the season went on.  Hardy's contract stipulated that the Cowboys could not use the franchise tag on him this offseason.  Now that he is coming off just 6 sacks, there is no reason to even consider that tag either way.  And this says nothing about the idea that he is a pain in the neck off the field, too.  Who is going to bid on Greg Hardy to acquire him?  
You could argue that the Cowboys might be one of the only teams interested at any amount over the bargain basement minimum-type bids.  I never would have imagined 3/$18-21 million would get Greg Hardy signed for his age 27, 28, and 29 seasons, but now that seems to be his ceiling.  It will be fascinating to see if A) the Cowboys want to remain in a relationship with Hardy and B) what it costs.
From where I sit, I would probably endorse it at the right price (with escapes built in) because he is very talented.  But, he is not what he was in 2013 anymore and he is also a headache enough times to say that he is not the #1 priority of the offseason for sure.
Stace was responding to some of the items I have written this week about the defense and the final statistical results showing that the 2014 and 2015 defenses are statistically similar.  
As you look at the numbers above in his tweet, it is really alarming how the defensive numbers are almost identical right down the board.  The defense actually allowed fewer touchdowns in 2015 than they did in 2014.  That would win you plenty of bar bets.  
Now, as I try to say every time, this isn't to say the defense is blameless.  They deserve plenty of blame.  No takeaways and they weren't great on getting the stop they needed when they needed it.  But, the numbers tell a really interesting story to a certain extent.  
Of course, what is missing in those numbers is the drastically different way in which each season was played.  In 2014, the Cowboys played defense in situations where they had a lead (4 points or more) on nearly half of all plays.  The final number was a staggering 49.3%.  Think about what that means:  the opponent must throw.  They must be aggressive.  They can't play safe.  They are trying to push the ball down the field.  They can't take what you are giving.  And they can't just run the ball down your throat.  With a deficit, teams change their game and play into more bad plays.
But, in 2015, the number was down at 159 snaps the whole year with a lead of 4 or more.  It almost never happened.  In fact, the final number was 15.9% because there were 998 total plays run against the Cowboys all season.  So, what happens when you never play defense with a lead?   Teams run the ball.  They throw safe.  They take no chances.  They understand that a punt is ok.  
I wrote about this theory at length back in Week 8.  I hope you get a chance to go back and review it if you like.  But, the bottom line is teams with the lead get more sacks and interceptions because of the lead.  Offenses take more chances and defense play more downhill and "pin their ears back" and rush the QB with no concern about running plays.  
So, in 2014, they played with the lead half of all plays.  In 2015, it was 1 of every 6 plays.  And that makes a massive, massive difference.  Does it explain almost no takeaways?  Of course not, but it does offer some real explanations about why the defense had some statistics that are very similar to 2014, but still seemed like such a mess.  
Football is a complicated game for sure and we sometimes need to unpack context to get a real look at things from a proper perspective.
DS: on this point about 4th qtr. collapses both in 2014 and 2015 does this indicate a conditioning problem? Do the Cowboys do too much strength training and not enough cardio work? 
This is one that I might not be great at providing an answer for.  I think that we always look to conditioning as a reason one team excels late in games versus not, but it is such a different game scenario than the rest of the game that it is tough to weigh apples to apples.  
Let's face it, it has been a while around here since everyone thought the Cowboys were a solid secondary, so it stands to reason that when the opponent goes into a hurry-up posture and a 2-minute offense, that a team with a weaker secondary would suffer even if they are in great shape. Conditioning can often be used as a excuse cover-all term for just getting beat.  So, when I see the Jets game or the Saints game and wonder why the Cowboys defense caved in at the last minute, it would be hard to argue they were just too tired.  They made mental errors.  Are those mental busts aided by physical exhaustion?  That seems like a stretch to me.  

No comments: