WEEK 5 - NEW ENGLAND
No Gregory - Otherwise this is the full defense as planned in training camp. Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain play their first action of the year and are used liberally to start. The game featured the Cowboys taking off a linemen to allow most of the game in the dime defense to feature a 3-2 in front of it with Hardy, Crawford, and Lawrence as the front with Lee and McClain behind it. The Cowboys rushed all 5 at times with this alignment and actually were quite impressive with 5 first half sacks. Hardy was very effective off the RDE spot. In the 2nd half, the Cover 1 spread out attack ran into repeated pick plays and rub routes which put the Cowboys in space. In particular, 24 Claiborne was attacked repeatedly down the field and 42 Church underneath trying to deal with Dion Lewis. Also, Claiborne and the secondary were exposed with the edge contain on multiple run plays leading to issues. As the game went on and the offense proved hopeless, the Patriots started to figure out the Cowboys defense and put on a clinic starting with about 5 minutes left in the 2nd Quarter. It ended up being a bloodbath. Byron Jones was locked on Gronkowski all day and did a fine job against a much bigger opponent. JJ Wilcox was again late on many plays and is now so deep that there is no chance he is going to jump a play in front of him. Is he being coached this way?
COVERAGES - The Cowboys were in 32 pass situations against Tom Brady and basically ran Cover 1 all day with actually man coverage across the board, and then as many as 3 shallow robbers underneath trying to take away Brady's initial quick pass offense. 20 times in Cover 1, 6 instances of Cover 3 (all in 1st half), and 6 of Cover 2.
Through 5 Games – Coverages in 193 pass plays: 90 in Cover 1, 39 in Cover 3, 11 in 2-Man, and 53 in Cover 2.
WEEK 6 - AT NEW YORK
Gregory is back so pretty much all hands on deck for this 2nd meeting with the Giants. They did scratch Tyler Patmon for Corey White as they try to figure out how to live without Orlando Scandrick on the fly. This game was one of the best defensive performances from the Cowboys all season, but it might be partially because the Giants were never too aggressive on offense. The Giants ran the ball, they completed a few big plays at big moments, but for the most part were nothing to write home about at all.
The issues started to creep up though that would be the theme of the season - no takeaways, although they had a chance or two again (Byron Jones INT), and the offense sabotaging them to no end (and a KO return for a touchdown to Dwayne Harris). It was remarkable how badly the offense and Matt Cassel played in the 2nd half and that means the defense would get more and more frustrated as they felt the game slipping away. They did great on total yardage (less than 300), great on 3rd downs, and yet there was very little to show for it. Jack Crawford did well, Byron Jones was great. Rolando McClain started to look very poor. And the safety position had all sorts of mixing and matching with 27/42 broken up for Byron Jones high and than a small amount of Jeff Heath.
COVERAGES - The Cowboys were in 28 pass situations against Eli Manning and it was almost completely Single-high safety to try to get that extra man down against the run and to flood the intermediate zones. 14 times in Cover 1, 11 times in Cover 3, and 3 times in Cover 2 zone.
Through 6 Games - Coverages in 221 pass plays - 104 in Cover 1, 50 in Cover 3, 11 in 2-Man, and 56 in Cover 2.
WEEK 7 - SEATTLE
All hands are available in this one. This is a pivotal home game in which the Cowboys are going to be an substantial underdog. Unfortunately, they did not play that way and their conservative offensive style and lack of any sort of playmaking made this a very frustrating day for the defense. They really battled their rear ends off and got really big performances from many. Greg Hardy might have played his best game for the Cowboys - he was great and also grabbed an interception on an exceptional play. Byron Jones was good again. DeMarcus Lawrence was very good. They did a wonderful job against the Seattle running game limiting them to 3.6 yards per carry all day. And Seattle's passing game was nothing special for the most part. The Cowboys defense played about as hard and as well as they possibly could. They even blocked a FG in the 4th Quarter to fight their tails off to the end when Seattle finally broke through.
It did appear that the Cowboys wanted to run a ton of single-high Cover 1 and Cover 3 on this day. Seattle started sniffing out the Cover 3 and were attacking it as you would expect Seattle would given that this is basically a coverage that they have created and perfected. The 2nd Quarter TD drive - their only one of the day - was a clinic on this with a lot of the attack centered on Claiborne and a little on Church underneath. Rolando McClain was horrendous and looked like he should be replaced throughout the day. Maybe hurt, but just substandard play all afternoon.
COVERAGES - The Cowboys faced 30 pass situations against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks and were in a Cover 1 or Cover 3 on 29 of those 30. They had one Cover 2 late in the 1st half. Otherwise, Cover 1 - 15, Cover 3 - 14. So, it was a very vanilla day where the 2nd safety was up to stop Marshawn Lynch. It worked pretty well, too.
Season totals through 7 games - Coverages in 251 pass plays: 119 in Cover 1 (47.4%), 64 in Cover 3 (25.4%), 11 in 2-Man (4.3%), and 57 in Cover 2 (22.7%).
WEEK 8 - PHILADELPHIA
A rematch of the week 2 battle where the Cowboys looked like world beaters on defense. They absolutely dominated the first game and then started this game with all sorts of effectiveness. This game was more of the same early, but for numbers reasons, the Cowboys pretty much stayed in Cover 1 for the majority of the game. When you play Cover 1 (usually with a LB as a robber), you make things pretty easy for an offense to work against. They know what you are doing and they have also watched the Saints and Patriots (Giants and Seahawks, too) just run rub routes over and over until someone gets free on a high percentage shallow cross. It happened a lot on this particular occasion and the Cowboys did not find success as the game wore on. Sam Bradford looked about as good as he ever has against the Cowboys in this game.
The Cowboys did great against 3rd downs, but no takeaways and no real stops as the Eagles racked up 459 yards and 8 explosives (plays of 20 yards or more) which probably was the most the Cowboys gave up all season long.
Sean Lee was lost early in the 3rd Quarter with a concussion and the game went down hill from there. Andrew Gachkar and Anthony Hitchens were repeatedly attacked. Gachkar also looked to struggle with run fits on a few occasions. Wilcox with another poor angle on the winning touchdown. No real pass rush to speak of.
COVERAGES - The Cowboys were in pass coverage on 41 occasions. It was mostly Cover 1 (28), with some Cover 3 mixed in on 3rd down (especially) - 9, and Cover 2 - 4.
Season totals through 8 games - Coverages in 292 pass plays: 147 in Cover 1 (50.3%), 73 in Cover 3 (25%), 11 in 2-Man (3.7%), and 61 in Cover 2 (20.9%).