Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Decoding Linehan - Week 7 - San Francisco


Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (82) catches an 18-yard pass for a touchdown from quarterback Dak Prescott (4) over San Francisco 49ers free safety Jaquiski Tartt (29) to make the score 19-3 in the first quarter during a National Football League game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California Sunday October 22, 2017. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)
Andy Jacobsohn/Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (82) catches an 18-yard pass for a touchdown from quarterback Dak Prescott (4) over San Francisco 49ers free safety Jaquiski Tartt (29) to make the score 19-3 in the first quarter during a National Football League game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California Sunday October 22, 2017. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)
Some weeks, there is lots of information and analysis required to properly assess what has occurred for the Cowboys and their offensive performance as we have enjoyed offering for quite a few years. 

But, on occasion, there is a game that is such a thorough destruction and demoralization of an opponent that it seems to quickly be set aside as some sort of mid-season scrimmage where you just hope to leave fully healthy and move on to the stiffer challenges that lie ahead.
I just don't know how to analyze games like this where it seems the opponent is in no frame of mind to deal with what is coming for them on a given day and after offering some token resistance, they spend the last three quarters just trying to get out of there themselves.
In other words, the Cowboys destroyed San Francisco in such a way that there is very little story to tell.  They did whatever they wanted to do offensively, made very few noteworthy mistakes, and really had a full play-sheet to choose which strategy they would use next to knock the 49ers another 7-8 yards off the ball.  It reminded me of the Bengals destruction of last season in Arlington where every component seemed to be working in concert with the other members of the offense and the final score was a matter of how interested they were in exposing valuable pieces to potential injury.  Literally nothing else was at stake after the Cowboys scored their third touchdown early in the second quarter.  The 49ers weren't beating anyone on Sunday - especially a team that has its offensive groove back.
"Yards Per Play" or YPP is an interesting statistic some weeks and 7.2 is about as good as you are going to see (best since that same Bengals game in 2016).  What makes it more ridiculous is that the Cowboys emptied the bench and really tried to lower that number themselves as the second half went along.  They were at 8.3 YPP when they hit that screen pass to Zeke with 306 yards of total offense on just 37 snaps.  
The 49ers do have some decent defensive talent, but not nearly enough.  Add to that the morale of being winless and looking across at an offense that is just not feeble in the slightest and you can see how the resolve of the opponent was as low as it gets.  
When you look at the chart above, you can see how the Cowboys offense is designed to work.  There is literally one throw beyond 13 yards downfield (the touchdown to Witten) and no throws anywhere near the deep middle of the field.  They avoid danger at all costs.
When you stay on schedule and ahead of the chains, then you never have to risk the ball down the field in any sort of way that turns high percentage plays into low percentage plays, or even worse, turnovers. When the Cowboys are playing their best, they stay out of 3rd and long and therefore can just march the ball with run plays and short passes that never risk the ball at all.  This is how the interceptions are so rare without really forcing the QB to be totally accurate.  There are two types of throws - high danger throws into tight spaces or easy throws into wide spaces where either your guy catches it or nobody does.  This is the way Dak Prescott operates.  Don't throw into danger, which is possible because you don't HAVE to throw into danger.  If it was 3rd and 13 and you are behind, you either try to fit the throw in there or you lose. 
But, if it is 1st and 10 and you are up 2 scores, you know that this play is not the end of the world and you can live with a punt if the opportunity doesn't present itself.  No big deal.  
This is how Prescott operates.  He has an offense that is designed perfectly to amplify his strengths and seldom visit his weaknesses.  And it all starts when the Cowboys can run the ball like we know they can.
If you read this chart every week, you know it doesn't look right.  Everything worked?  Well, 21 personnel didn't set the world on fire (2.3 yards per play), but beyond that, literally everything went for 5 yards an attempt or more?  Good gracious.  This is what you see in high school football some Fridays, but usually professional defenses put up a bigger fight than this.  
Again, there were pretty much zero plot twists in this game.  It was a movie where everything goes really well in the first 5 minutes and then we have a few hours to kill of continued happiness turning to boredom at the end because there is no plot or conflict or anything.  There are some good highlights, but beyond that, everyone gets an "A".   
You should enjoy these days because they are rare.  
Let's look at a few of the plays that worked well:
This is Zeke's big run in the first quarter where he went in from 25 yards untouched until the 5-yard line.  Untouched on an inside run.  I was watching this live and complimenting the offensive line but then I started watching the 49ers D-line on the Cowboys' right side and just got confused as to what they saw.  Look at the end zone view.
There is no doubt that 70-Martin and 71-Collins are digging those linebackers out and clearing a path, but what is 69-McDaniel (across from Martin) and 96-Cooper (across from Collins) doing?  Cooper seems to be sitting outside on contain, and at first glance you think McDaniel just got crushed by the pulling play of 64-Jonathan Cooper and then you see he is already on the ground by the time Cooper crushes him.  If your DT and DE are going to get out of the way on runs right at them, you are going to have this result.  What makes this remarkable is the score is 0-0 at this point and the game just started.  I want the Cowboys to get credit for what they scored, but this defending is just atrocious.  
I really liked this 3rd down play at 12:58.  This is Cover 1 on 3rd and 4 and the Cowboys saw a rookie trying to deal with Dez Bryant and pretty much let him figure it out and get to the sticks.  This just shows that when you put him on an island, the Cowboys trust him to win with physicality and move the chains.  This is basically the same thing that makes him one of the best red-zone guys in the league, too.  He will win and extend drives on plays like this.  Dak just has to make a good throw.
The Niners bring 6 and 97-Watson is going to get there, but Prescott is on time and gets it to where Dez can do the rest.  That extended the drive and turned into the play below:
This beautiful throw to Witten has to be on the list of Dak's very best throws of his young career.  The 49ers are in Cover 1 here with the safety sitting on the underneath crosser to Dez, so that leaves Jason Witten on an "out-and-up" against 29-Tartt.  I am sure the young safety was pretty sure he had the old man handled, but Witten does what he does and then finishes the play as Prescott drops it in a bucket perfectly from a nice distance and Witten secures the ball with one mitt.  At no point would I call him "open", but against man coverage, you put it in a spot where only your guy can get to it and let him make a play.  Unreal.  
Then look at this angle.  5-man rush against 5-man protection.  This is a real issue on Sundays because offensive lines can't deal with this.  But, here, you see each guy has his guy stopped.  The QB can scan the field, make his decision, and make his delivery without any impairment whatsoever.  Very rare and underappreciated if you watch this team only, but trust me, there are quite a few QBs who don't recognize this type of protection.
Here is the play of the day.  Third quarter, 1-play possession, and the kill-shot to end the proceedings.
11-personnel, with motion to the left from a receiver, Switzer, to force the defense to follow that player.  It may not be convincing, but it is one more thing to think about.  Watch the TE go across and get the far-side DE to sell the play going in that direction, and then the G-C-G release into the right flat and you can hear the collective cussing from the defense when they see what is happening in slow motion.  
Now, with 70-Martin leading the path and joined by his friends, the convoy is complete.  Get Zeke down 20 yards and then get a little help from a receiver (Noah Brown) and he will do the rest.
Just watch every player.  It is really fun.  The timing is important, but when they hit it right, it is just beautiful.  Reminds you of one play from last season, right?
Sub Lucky Whitehead with Ryan Switzer, Doug Free with La'el Collins, and Ron Leary with Johnathan Cooper, and you have an instant replay.  
This day in Pittsburgh, nobody held Frederick up so the convoy was even more daunting and then Elliott runs away from Shazier.  But, that is a play on Sunday that looks like an identical replay of this one.  
If you think perfectly run plays that catch an opponent in your trap is magnificent, than you really enjoyed that one.  A well earned "Dilly, Dilly!".
The game was a laugher and set the new high of 501 yards of offense for a Dak Prescott-led Cowboys offense.  Time to get ready for Washington.  They will offer more resistance than the 49ers did, rest assured of that.

No comments: