Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Decoding Linehan - Week 16 - Philadelphia


In a game when literally nothing else mattered, we thank the football gods for offering us one six-play drive led by Tony Romo to offer you this morning -- because any and all other things from Sunday's game will be summarily dismissed.
The game happened. Stats were accumulated. In the words of Bob Knight, "Let's move on to something else, if in fact there is something else."
Well, there is, coach.
Romo played his first (sort of) meaningful football since Thanksgiving 2015. As I wrote yesterday, I don't really see the benefit of it all, beyond the idea of making everyone feel warm and fuzzy to see just six plays.
Zero plays would have made sense if you felt like he was done here and didn't want to hurt value by playing him.
Twenty-to-30 plays would have made sense if you wanted to sharpen him up against live action (and potential contact) for either A) the possibility of playing in the postseason, or B) enhancing his trade value by showing the league what he looks like.
But six? That didn't make much sense.
Six, to me, felt like the dipping of a toe into the water and then suggesting that we just got our toe wet, so let's not risk an entire foot for fear of drowning.
I could be wrong, but I think when Tiger Woods is trying to get back into tournament form after a long layoff, he will play two dozen rounds of golf (to get warm), not one hole. But either way, I will take what we got, because nothing else was very interesting.
So let's look at that drive and what we can see from ol' No. 9:
Snap No. 1: Shotgun 11, Eagles zone it up, and Romo sees a shot to Terrance Williams on the right sideline with no safeties bothering him, so he fires it down the field about 45-47 yards and overthrows his man a bit. But that felt like a show of intent and a message that he isn't out here to check it down.
After a tackle for loss in the running game, here is a third-and-14. He had the free dump-down to his running back out on the left flat, but you could tell Tony wasn't interested in a three-and-out here. Trips right with Jason Witten staying in and releasing. Cole Beasley heads right down the middle to occupy everyone in the middle of the zone, and that allows Williams to get inside leverage on the corner and dig to the middle at the chains. The danger of this route against a zone is Jordan Hicks (No. 58) undercutting the route (and you can see he is there if he sees it), but Romo puts good zip on the ball and makes this throw look pretty easy.
From the end-zone camera, you can see Romo with some expert quarterbacking here by using his eyes against a zone. That may seem basic, but obviously, it requires you to know where everyone is going on their routes, rather than having to see it with your eyes. Then, at the last second, as Williams gets to the top of his stem and breaks in, you head back to him and fire a strike. Well done.
After a big Darren McFadden run, the Cowboys are now on the Eagles' side of the field with a first-and-10. Here, the Eagles remain pretty vanilla in their zone and drop seven, so Romo takes the easy check-down. I have to confess, I was wondering when Jim Schwartz was going to bring pressure. He never did, which is something any of us who fear for the fragility of this matter wanted to see and relax about after he took a hit or two. It was almost like the Eagles were not interested in testing Romo, either.
Good elusiveness from McFadden to shake Hicks.
Eagles finally change up to some Cover-1 Rat, and that is when Romo is going to see some tasty man-coverage options where Dez Bryant can try Nolan Carroll (No. 22) on for size. Again, Romo uses his technique to square his shoulders to the right and sell the idea of the comeback to Beasley, which is done to hold the center fielder and move him toward the offense's right. The moment the safety takes a step in the wrong direction, the ball is off to Dez. Carroll is lost and panics, which results in a defensive pass interference flag down to the 3. How many times have we seen this?
For years, the Eagles have wanted to play defense like the Vikings do, which is to just trust that your corners are able to hold up in man coverage. And for years, the corners have not been good enough to repay that trust with shutdown ability (regardless of the paycheck investment).
So, you can see above, the Eagles are sure this is a zone run -- and it probably is. The run/pass option is something we have seen the Cowboys use all season when they see something they like on the edge -- especially down here. So it is Carroll (No. 22) versus Williams (No. 83), and this is a beautiful pump-and-go for a touchdown that made everyone feel like it was 2014 again.
This view doesn't offer much insight on Williams, but you can see Romo's poise and confidence that this is there and he is ready to take advantage.
What are you going to say about that drive? It looked great. I wanted to see more and I wanted to see the Eagles do something a bit more testing, but all in all, it was an enjoyable distraction to a bland game.
OK, in lieu of breaking down Week 17, let's look at some 2016 results, in full:


Now, there are two ways to look at the above chart, and the way you choose will allow you to know your position on the ol' half-full/half-empty imbroglio of life. You can say those are amazing stats if you consider the circumstances and if you can finish in the top 10 in just about every major offensive category with a rookie quarterback, and that you are in for a bright future ... OR you can say, I bet they would have been top five in all of those if we looked at them the day after Thanksgiving -- and what happened in December?
Let's put it this way -- it was quite a season on offense.


My main man, John Daigle, made this beauty yesterday. It is the full-season throw chart for Dak Prescott. Every last throw is here. It is clear that his best attribute is knowing where to throw the ball to increase his chances for good things and decrease his chances for bad. This is a positive, for sure. Look how seldom he messed with deep safeties. I would love to run a similar chart for the NFL's interceptions, and I bet you would see one big yellow circle in the middle of the field, between 15-25 yards.
Pretty even distribution from left to right, and the depth of his throws ranks right there with the best quarterbacks in the league (and more importantly to many, it seems, Romo's 2014 masterpiece) -- despite the silly narratives that try to say otherwise.


There is a lot to look at above, but the simple truth is that the Cowboys' offense is back to being a powerful machine in 2016. In 11 and 12 personnel groupings, they would declare run and run the ball. In shotgun 11, they would spread you out, pick you apart and move the ball. They would fall about 100 yards short of 2014's production (we imagine the final game was the difference there) but otherwise, sparkled all year with their balance and might.
They never fully reestablished the multiple-tight end situation after losing Geoff Swaim and we aren't convinced they have much at fullback, but in 11 personnel, there are very few teams you would rather have than this one.


The 2016 regular season was all very impressive, across the board.
Next week, we prepare for the march. The pressure will increase along with the anxiety, and the stakes will raise considerably.
Until then, enjoy the bye week (not too much) and tomorrow we wrap up the defense's regular season.

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