Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Marinelli Report - Week 16 - Seattle

The Marinelli Report

If you are wondering, the answer is Nov. 11, 1966.
Fifty-one years ago and some change is how long it had been since the Dallas Cowboys managed to lose a game to an opponent that produced as little offense as the Seahawks did Sunday, when they took a vital game with high stakes after generating just 136 yards of total offense.
I was wrong in assuming it had never happened before in Cowboys history. Just not in my lifetime. But evidently, it happened twice in the 1960s. And the most recent time -- that day 51 years ago -- was a day in which the Eagles beat the Cowboys 24-23 and generated all of their points off three special teams plays. Two Timmy Brown kickoff returns and Aaron Martin's punt return accounted for all three of the Eagles' touchdowns and overcame the fact that the Eagles had 80 total yards of offense as they took down Don Meredith and the Cowboys.
The other occasion was even longer ago, in 1965, as Craig Morton took the loss in Milwaukee against those Green Bay Packers, who generated all of 63 total yards to beat the Cowboys 13-3 in one of the more forgettable meetings between the two rivals.
But if you are asking if it had ever happened in a Dallas Cowboys home game, the answer is no. Before Sunday, the Cowboys had never lost a game in which their defense had allowed so few as 136 yards. For that previous record, you had to go all the way back to 1961, when the St. Louis Cardinals took the win in the Cotton Bowl against your Cowboys with 193 yards of offense, two Bill Stacy interception returns for touchdowns and the aid of five Cowboys turnovers from Eddie LeBaron and friends.
That is how rare Sunday's result was.
The Cowboys defense allowed very little. Here is a look at what should be a victorious defensive drive chart:
As you can see, the Seahawks did put together two successful drives -- both started by Cowboys turnovers -- that were taken into the end zone. Add to that a third touchdown on the Dak Prescott pick-six, and you see how the Seahawks won something rather uncommon: a game in which their offense did not move the ball all day long. But in games where they are minus-3 in the turnover battle, the Cowboys lose almost every time (as would everyone else). The Cowboys are now 11-113 in games all-time when they take a minus-3 in the turnover battle. Can't do that and survive.
... Which leads us to the actual issues of Sunday for the defense. If you are going to choose between giving up yardage or taking the ball away, we certainly know the correlation stats. Takeaways are how a team wins football games. Yardage is generally just yardage. And while we properly place most of the blame on the offense for the way the season has deteriorated, we should take careful note of this defense not generating any takeaways for the fifth time this season. That doesn't lead the league -- Miami has actually had seven games with no takeaways -- but it has led to losses. As a league, regardless of any other factor (quality of the opponent, site of the game, etc.), teams win just 26 percent of the games in which they generate zero takeaways. The Cowboys, now 1-4 in those games (they beat Arizona), are at 20 percent.


It certainly takes the analysis out of an analysis piece to surmise that you reached just about every objective you would like in a game like this, but people, let's be reasonable here. No team is supposed to lose a game in which the defense allowed 2.5 yards per play. That is just insane. The Seahawks are a very poor offensive team -- no doubt about it -- but this is the NFL, and they have Russell Wilson. You limited them to one drive of substance, one play of 20 yards and sacked Wilson three times. And you still lost.
Defensive reasons for losing? Well, the red-zone defense allowed two touchdowns in two opportunities and you never got a takeaway. Otherwise, there isn't too much to complain about.


You would be hard-pressed to play Wilson much better than this. He is a dangerous playmaker who has speedy weapons that can cause issues, for sure. And the Cowboys limited him almost totally. Almost. He will take shots down the field, but there was almost nothing in this game.




Again, it was the Cowboys defense in a bit of a nutshell. It played well. It played fine. But it didn't generate a play to win the game and, by anyone's measure, was the second-best defense on the field Sunday. It plays hard, it gets things accomplished, it could be worse ... But in the end, it is a defensive unit that is middle-of-the-road. That worked well when the offense was top five. But middle-of-the-road offense and middle-of-the-road defense means a season around 8-8.
And here we are.
Let's check a few videos:
I think Taco Charlton can feel good about the finish to his rookie season. More and more as the year has gone along, he has started to show up a bit more and there are signs that he has a future. I know opinions are all in ink and I definitely had views on draft weekend about the Cowboys taking him, but since he has been here, I have no real issues with his attitude or tools to develop. I think in Year 3, he has a chance to be pretty nice. This shows his size and his power. He closes Wilson down on a four-man pressure that brings a linebacker and drops Maliek Collins into a spy role. Charlton now has three sacks, and we can be optimistic that he can make a run at 6-8 next season.
Here is the "Deacon" package on third down -- three rushers and one linebacker spy who delays his rush. On this, Benson Mayowa gets left tackle Duane Brown nicely. That requires some real strength to grasp on and bring him down in that frenzy, and he made it look easy. Mayowa has just this one sack after six last season, but I still really like his flashes that have drawn multiple holding penalties and caused other plays despite not getting the sacks.
Here is the fantastic sack by DeMarcus Lawrence on Sunday that demonstrates he was not an early-season fluke. He now has 14.5 sacks on the season (admittedly, September and October were his best work), which likely says he has received much more attention as the season has gone along and that it would have been nice to have had David Irving play more this season. Regardless, he is just a half-sack behind the league lead and I bet a sack title would cap off his fine pre-free agency season.
I don't know what your first reaction was when Lawrence ran down Wilson, but this was mine:
Now, that is an obvious reference to some and a confusing tweet to others. So, let's let everyone in on the fun. Here is the Bob Griese sack by Bob Lilly in Super Bowl VI (the very rare Bob-on-Bob sack):
They still haven't posted the All-22 from Super Bowl VI, but it does show you that even with all of this time passing, quarterbacks running backward to try to keep a play alive often goes very poorly.
Now, those two red-zone touchdowns were a big story, so let's view them.
This is Jimmy Graham. He is 6-foot-7, 265 pounds. Jourdan Lewis will try to cover him. He is 5-10, 188. How did you think this was going to go? On the goal line, they are trying pre-snap motion to see if they can get this matchup or if Byron Jones will follow him (which causes its own issues and may not fare considerably better). This is their Dez Bryant fade, but it is even more of a sure thing. If you have a big target on a tiny defender, this is a pretty easy decision for your quarterback to make.
Look at the Cowboys trying to sort through this after the motion. Wilson is thinking, "Are they serious? They are leaving their 5-10 corner out there against him?"
Second and goal from the 6-yard line. This is where you really needed to force a field goal if possible. You can see the Cowboys are going to double Graham here and the Seahawks are going to isolate a rub route to where they find individual coverage. Red-zone defense is really difficult if they have a Graham, because either you double him or you don't. And either decision is going to be wrong because the Seahawks have seen it all. This time, they use Doug Baldwin to the corner and Chidobe Awuzie gets caught sitting on the slant (it appears). Touchdown.
Next week, we finish up 2017. For now, let's put this Seattle game to bed and turn the page.

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