As we look at the defense week after week, it is important that we keep a close eye on their progress and while noting that the caliber of opponent and quarterback is a very important consideration, we also don’t want to minimize a gradual, but physical domination like we saw against Tampa Bay.
The Cowboys took a step back against Seattle, and all week you would think that Tampa was pretty sure that they could just follow the recipe and run the ball down the Cowboys throat while staying in a down and distance that would allow some things to happen down the field.
The Cowboys were very strong in forcing 3 and outs and flipping field position on more than one occasion. They were tempering their attacks, but continuing to fly to the ball.
It will be most interesting to see how they try to compensate for all of the safety injuries and replacements that are in front of them right now with the mysterious injury to Barry Church and the nagging calf muscle of Gerald Sensabaugh. But, for now, they seem like they are using common sense by fixing that issue from depth. Using Mike Jenkins as a real piece of the puzzle, but not at safety. Moving Brandon Carr to safety in the nickel is a very nice fix, provided it allows you to get Orlando Scandrick, Mo Claiborne, and Jenkins out there together. You would think that would match-up well with most offensive attacks.
It puts Carr in the middle of more situations that will require tackling, but he is a very big player and should handle himself well. Also, don’t expect seam tight ends to trouble him much.
When I look at the defense from a standpoint of who is showing up week after week, I keep coming back to Jason Hatcher. This might be the first play-maker on the defensive line not named Ratliff since the days of Greg Ellis. He is coming into his own and making everyone happy the Cowboys showed so much patience with him. After all, he is one of the longest-tenured Cowboys and a holdover from the Bill Parcells era. And yet, he still seems like a relatively young player.
The other player that looks the part after 3 weeks is still Bruce Carter. He is really a force in the running game and can keep up with most running backs who head for the sideline. Athletic middle linebackers are required for the upcoming matchups with Washington and so forth, but the startling contrast to Bradie James and Keith Brooking is remarkable every week.
Let’s take a look at the “Splash Plays” from Week 3 versus Tampa Bay:
Splash Plays are key impact plays from the defense. Usually, they are obvious, but there are some that blur the line. I have listed time and play of each one for those who want to double check my work.
Lots of newcomers registered their first contribution of the year. Included in that group is the promising Tyrone Crawford from Boise State. He had a big pressure that rattled Josh Freeman and I look forward to seeing more of his work as we go. They seem to be bringing him along slowly, but I am all for adding to his work load.
Here are the team standings kept on a week-by-week basis with the numbers below:
Whenever we look at the blitzes for the Cowboys, we want to take special note of what the blitz situation was on all of the big plays for both the offense and the defense. It is important that we do not just note the great moments the blitz causes, because as we have seen a number of times with Rob Ryan, the blitz opens up opportunities for the offense, too.
If the blitz is doing more harm than good – as it did in 2011 – we must recognize that and alter the delivery or the pattern. So far in 2012, the blitz has been used sparingly, and for the most part, the first 3 opponents have not been able to punish the Cowboys for being short in coverage.
To date, the Cowboys have only conceded 8 explosives (plays of 20 or more yards). This ranks 3rd best in the NFL behind the Steelers and Chargers. Obviously, we must consider the offenses that the Cowboys have been playing, but under any circumstance, that number quite good so far.
The best way to look at those numbers is the percentage of blitzes by downs. Meaning, how often do they bring pressure (5 or more) in certain downs. To properly do this, we would also need to list distances to go, but I want to try to keep this simple enough for everyone to follow along, so I will keep that to myself unless I find something that jumps out.
So, on 1st Down, they brought pressure 55% of the time (5 of 9), 16% on 2nd Down, and 50% on 3rd Down. Our studies show that Rob Ryan generally likes pressure when you don’t expect it, and coverage when you do expect a blitz.
But, he has to make sure his call sheet isn’t too predictable, thus a different plan for each opponent.
Make no mistake, game planning for Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and a much improved (we think) Chicago offense will have nothing in common with the last 2 offenses that hardly did anything adventurous.