Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Decoding Linehan - Week 6 - Green Bay


Decoding Linehan

Sunday was yet another impressive offensive showing for this young Cowboys squad, which took apart a decent Green Bay defense for what many of us would call a near-perfect offensive performance in this league.
We hear coaches talk about objectives quite a bit over the course of their many visits with the eager media. They talk about scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. They talk about production in terms of yardage. And they talk about winning the turnover battle.
So here is the checklist as I see it for an A-plus offensive performance:
  • 28 points or more
  • 400 yards or more
  • Win the turnover battle
And by all of these measures, the Cowboys had quite a day in Green Bay.
Six scores on 11 possessions for 30 points; 424 yards of total offense; +2.

If you nail all of these, you are nearly unbeatable. In fact, they are 10-2 under Jason Garrett when they accomplish this, with the two losses going down as two of the most insane losses in franchise history. The December 2011 "Lost in the Lights" game vs. the Giants, 37-34, and the even more absurd 51-48 loss to Denver in 2013.
In fact, the Cowboys under Jason Garrett have played 48 regular-season road games and have only hit the triple three times. At New York in his first game as coach in 2010, at Washington on Christmas weekend of 2014, and this game.
On the road: score 30, gain 400-plus yards and put together a turnover margin of +2.
And that is why "grading the offense" was pretty elementary stuff this week.
There is a lot to look at this week, but I wanted to start by suggesting I will reference this game from henceforth as "The Lucky Whitehead Game," if you don't mind. Lucky is a second-year undrafted free agent who was brought in merely as a return man, but one more sign of the excellence of this offense is that they have a design in mind for every member of the squad, trying to find an extra edge that may win them a game along the way this season.
This was when you were going to see Whitehead in motion and that there always was a purpose for it. He plays about 15 snaps a game and most of them are in a package we call "13" because there is one running back and three tight ends in the game:
This is a grouping that screams "run" to the defense. They are planning on pounding the ball because they have eight run blockers of size. Therefore, you better beef up that defense or they are going to run Zeke right at you.
But, they also plan to keep you honest. If you do not respect that one wide receiver, they will use him so that all future opponents know they are not bluffing. Often, it has been Dez Bryant as the lone wolf. But recently, it has been a "little," like Cole Beasley or Lucky Whitehead, who can destroy you if you only have one guy to match his quicks.
And on Sunday, there was destruction from Lucky Whitehead.
First, we should recognize how big that drive right before halftime was. Here is a few minutes of our conversation with Jason Witten from Monday about this play below:
Above, I circled Whitehead in blue and Julius Peppers in red. Peppers is the key here, and you will see in the video below that he is the unblocked player the Cowboys will read:
As Witten says in that audio, they use the threat of Zeke to take Peppers out of the play. Then, Lucky needs just a sliver to get by with his speed, and once he does, the Packers have nobody else over there if the tight ends -- Witten and Geoff Swaim -- can get out and block. It was so easy and yet so effective.
So then they come back to 13 later in the game. The Packers are terrified of the jet sweep again, so here comes the changeup to the changeup. Lucky on the sweep is the first changeup to a handoff to Zeke. Here is the next one, which served as the kill shot later in the game:
And the end-zone view:
This is the genius of this offense right now. There are so many threats, and if you demonstrate they can all hurt you, now you have the defense thinking and not attacking. You can hear the collective cussing of the entire Packers secondary on this play, when they know they have been duped again. You can see the culprit is No. 36, LaDarius Gunter, who had what we call a really rough day in the NFL.
That is why you cannot underestimate any injury on the field. Both coaching staffs are finding the weak spots. The Cowboys saw the Packers did not have Sam Shields. They also did not have Quinten Rollins. They then lost Damarious Randall on that play in the second quarter. So Gunter is their fourth corner and the Baylor basketball player, Demetri Goodson, is their fifth -- and both were playing all day. This changed the Packers' blitz attack and also changed the places Dak would go with the ball. Once they saw Gunter struggle, they went at him again and again.
This is a merciless league. Back to that play after the jet sweep on the drive that may have changed quite a bit about this 2016 season for both teams and the NFC race:
So Gunter switched sides after Randall got hurt and the Cowboys attack. Here, they try the undrafted corner out on the double move. He falls and Dak hits Terrance Williams for a huge gain.
Now, they have hit two huge plays in a row. What should they do for a third?
That's right. Send Brice Butler over there for a turn against Gunter. Beautiful fade. Touchdown. Dak Prescott hits on all of his throws in this scenario and his counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, did not.
And to prove they were watching Gunter all day, here he is again, being duped by yet another different Cowboy, Cole Beasley, for a touchdown.
There is a very good chance you had never heard of LaDarius Gunter until Sunday. Well, now you see his fingerprints all over this game.
This is what coaching can do. Find and destroy bad matchups.


What an impressive showing from the offense that accomplished a ton on the ground as well. In fact, this may also show how we take this offensive line for granted if I am hardly giving Elliott and the line any time this morning after the way they carved up the "top rushing defense" in the league.

As I indicated in the preview, Green Bay had not seen anything like this offensive line and they were going to be in for a long day.


Ah, yes, the Dak Prescott deep shot made its debut. They had a real chance to hit on that long pass to Brice Butler right before the interception, but it didn't quit connect. We will see more of that in the future because the pass is there with all of this running.
With Dak Prescott as your quarterback, play action should be so effective. He seems to have way more Russell Wilson-like tendencies than we ever imagined.


On days like this, we can see that it really isn't a question of what worked. Nearly everything they tried worked, and they saw a Green Bay team that likes to play nickel all day and, therefore, made them change that. This is what versatility brings. You make a defense leave its comfort zone by changing things up.
If they like to play big, you counter with "11 personnel" all day. But if they like to play small, you force them to defend multiple tight ends and even a fullback all day. One of the best sayings about offensive play-calling these days is to "make them wrong," which is to say that as a textbook offense, you can never let the defense choose correctly. They can't defend everything.


At the risk of making this report too long, I also wanted to circle back to the theme of last week, when I wrote that this would be a wonderful test. Going to Green Bay was going to force the Cowboys to prove they could beat pressure.
And that is the thing about blitzing. You can't count it in raw numbers because it is not something that can be counted blitz for blitz. If you can't deal with the blitz, they send more. If you burn it, they send fewer. And for a number of reasons -- including Green Bay realizing its corners were outclassed -- the Cowboys saw some blitzes early, dealt with them and chased them all away.
By my count, they faced six blitzes Sunday. Five were in the first half. Here they are:
A beautiful, quick out to Cole Beasley for an easy gain. This is how you stop a defense from blitzing. It looks so easy when you hit them right in their weakness.
Another blitz, another first down for Dak. Easy slant and nice gain. This is easy, although that hit hurt a bit. By the way: As you can see, a blitz almost always means man coverage. Cover 1 here.
Third blitz. Dak has a first-and-10, and he is confident. He moves Zeke out to ISO against the safety in another Cover 1 look. With protection, he finds a matchup and goes to work. This didn't connect, but it is enough to stress out a defensive coordinator about what happens if he tries it again.
Fourth blitz, still in the first quarter, and the Packers get home and a takeaway. You can see Dak is looking at Zeke at the top vs. Clay Matthews, and Clay is planning on jumping that route. This is the one point the Cowboys looked a bit stressed themselves.
Fifth blitz. This is the play where the Packers lost Randall, the corner, to the groin. He blew his groin trying to deal with another Dak decision. He also has Cole Beasley for a big gain across the middle. Dak makes very quick decisions and delivers a fastball. So the Cowboys have seen five blitzes and, four times, dealt with them very well.
That, and the poor personnel that was trying to play man coverage behind these blitzes, caused the Packers to stop until they were very desperate late in the game. One last try:
One last blitz. Cover 1 behind it. Prescott sees Jason Witten to move the chains again. Nice and easy.
If you beat the blitz, you stop seeing the blitz.


Standing ovation. There is nothing to nitpick, really.
Enjoy your bye week. You earned it.

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