Thursday, December 29, 2016

Marinelli Report - Week 15 - Lions

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) rushes the passer as Detroit Lions tight end Matthew Mulligan (82) blocks during the Detroit Lions vs. the Dallas Cowboys NFL football game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Monday, December 26, 2016. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)
Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) rushes the passer as Detroit Lions tight end Matthew Mulligan (82) blocks during the Detroit Lions vs. the Dallas Cowboys NFL football game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Monday, December 26, 2016. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)
Don't look now, but the Dallas Cowboys are ranked 12th in sacks.  It happened very quickly, and I don't wish you to be alarmed.  So, allow me to tell you again.  They are top half in the league in getting to the QB in 2016.

How about this one:  In December - a span of 4 games for every team in the league, the Cowboys are at the top of the NFL in sacks with 14 (tied with Joey Bosa and the Chargers at the top, if you want to get technical).  Now, that should remind us that September through Thanksgiving also happened, and during that span, the Cowboys were at a far more normal spot of 25th in the league.  But then they went on a tear.  
A David Irving and Benson Mayowa tear, that is.  3 sacks in Minnesota.  3 sacks in New York.  4 sacks versus Tampa Bay.  And now, 4 more sacks against Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.  14 sacks in December, which is easily their best month in a long, long time.  In fact, they sit at 34 sacks through 15 games.  Assuming they can get even 2 sacks on Sunday in Philadelphia, that would put them at a very nice 36 for the season, which might put them in the Top 10 in the league. It would also exceed any and all seasons since 2011 when DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher, and Jay Ratliff provided this team their last consistent pass rush crew.  
Since 2011, the Cowboys have had years of 34 (2012), 34 (2013), 28 (2014), 31 (2015), and here they sit at 34 again.  
But, that 2011 team used 19.5 from Ware to stack its total high.  The Cowboys have 34 this year, but have nobody with more than 6.  Benson Mayowa is at 6, Maliek Collins is at 5, Tyrone Crawford at 4.5, and now David Irving is at 4.  This is pretty stacked with a number of rushers from different places, and none of them mentioned were DeMarcus Lawrence (1 sack) or Randy Gregory (0).  Those two have had the biggest draft-day investment, but for a number of reasons which are pretty well documented, they have not really joined the party yet.  
But, with Mayowa and Irving leading another show, we saw 94 emerge from the sideline in flashes on Sunday.  Gregory, a tease of all teases, showed us again why I fell in love with grabbing him at pick #60 - warts and all - in 2015.  He is a fantastic body and is so gifted, that you don't need to watch much football to see him jump off the screen on back to back plays on Sunday in the fourth quarter (a quarter that the Cowboys defensive line seems to routinely dominate this season.  They rank 5th in the league in fourth-quarter sacks).
Will he be able to join the team in the playoffs?  To be determined.  But, with Mayowa, Irving, Collins, Crawford, Lawrence, and Gregory, you can see the pass rush is being built with young, team-controlled assets moving forward.  How exciting.
This is a good portion of the report to point out how disappointing the defense looked through 3 drives.  They were being picked apart by the Lions with a series of frustrating plays that ended up in the end zone.  20 minutes into the 60-minute affair, the Cowboys looked like they were putting up their worst defensive night of the season.
Then, adjustments were made.  Deep breaths were taken.  And the Cowboys limited Detroit to next to nothing for the balance of the evening.  
It is certainly no surprise that from there is where the Cowboys started breaking down the Lions' protection and confusing them with an array of back-end coverages.  The Lions can be a slippery bunch, but once they got the Cowboys' attention, the rest took care of itself in short order.
Once again, 22 splash plays.  The volume of big and noticeable plays from the defense this month indicates to me that this is not a team that is playing bend-but-don't-break right now.  They are making too many plays to say that.  It feels more like an attacking defense that is setting the pace itself, since Thanksgiving.  Again, very good signs.
Here is where Stafford got his business done and as you can see, football fans, here is another QB completing passes at about an average depth of 5 yards.  The Cowboys were very strong again against deep balls.  
My only thought here on that chart above is the following - David Irving is NOT a fluke.  
And with Mayowa, they are quite a force.  Let's take a look at this duo again - with some help from their friends - 
Taylor Decker is a very nice player.  He will get better, but the rookie from Ohio State at left tackle for the Lions had a rough night.  Here is Mayowa extending that left arm and then coming back under it to get to Stafford with a power to speed sack.
This one is artwork.  Irving is lined up over center.  Mayowa is out over Decker again.  Sean Lee helps with the stunt to pick off the LT and Mayowa swoops back inside.  The LG is clueless and the center is getting his lunch handed to him by Irving.  They then meet at the QB and Stafford is having a less than enjoyable time with that.  
We see this a lot.  Someone else - Maliek Collins - makes a play.  But David Irving helps cause it.  Look here as Stafford leaks to his right, but then stops, because he sees 95 right in front of his path.  That means he pulls up, allowing Collins to run over him from behind.  96 gets the sack, 95 gets noted for contribution.
Here are a few Randy Gregory flashes.  This one looks like the Lions forgot to block him and he destroys a run play.  But, look closer.  It is actually because David Irving caused problems inside that kept the pulling guard from getting to Gregory.  Irving keeps Gregory clean, and 94 destroys the play.  Again, David Irving, guys. 
This one is another example of Gregory's athleticism and why he will be useful for a long time around here if he can focus on football.  Great pressure here and Stafford is running for his life in the second half.
And finally, this week's "David Irving is playing at an unfair level" play of the week.  Poor 75-Larry Warford is victim of the push-pull technique and then Irving is by in a flash and doing his thing, which, as you know by now, is not to get a sack.  It is to knock the ball loose while getting a sack.  
Amazing month for this kid.  What a find.
The Cowboys have found a defensive line.  Nobody move.  
I know this Marinelli report was shorter than usual, but the good news is clear.  This defense is playing great football right now in December and that should cause everyone to want to run to the playoffs as soon as possible.
Enjoy the remainder of your holiday weekend.  I have a plane to catch.  Talk again soon.

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