Cowboys' defense for Cutler did not go to plan

The Cowboys game plan against the Bears and Jay Cutler didn't go according to plan.

Conventional wisdom is that Jay Cutler plays very poorly under duress. In fact, it doesn't require one to go very deep into the archives to see Cutler's body language and performance take a major nose dive when he had to keep pulling himself up off the turf in Week 2 in a prime-time road game where he was being beat up.

So, in another prime-time road game, the idea from Rob Ryan and the gang was to try to get to Jay Cutler and see if they could revive the poor body language and the weak back-foot throws.

Well, that didn't seem to work very well.

The Cowboys played it pretty close to the vest early on, but as the game went along, they saw that sending 4 rushers was not getting the job done. Anthony Spencer could not play and the very weak Chicago offensive line was focusing all attention on DeMarcus Ware and was not having trouble stopping the Dallas pass rush.

So, as the game went on, the Cowboys defense had to start pressing. Pressing more coverage up to get to Cutler, and risking more busts in the back.

And bad things happened.

There were 6 explosive plays turned in by the Chicago Bears on Monday night. 6 is a very high number based on our 2011 research. In all of 2011, the Cowboys conceded 6 explosives on only 5 occasions. Unfortunately, all 5 were NFC East opponents: 2 games against New York, 2 games against Philadelphia, and the game at Washington all had 6.

But, here, the Bears found 6 explosives - all in the 2nd half. Here they are - Please note the pass rushers sent:

Q-Time D/D/Yd Play Rushers
3-12:02 1/10/D34 Cutler to Hester, +34 TD 5
3-8:09 1/10/C6 Cutler to Marshall, +25 6
3-0:20 3/4/C36 Cutler to Davis, +21 4
4-13:42 3/5/D38 Cutler to Marshall, +30 6
4-7:37 3/3/C40 Cutler to Davis, +25 6
4-6:35 3/6/D31 Cutler to Marshall, +31 TD 7

On 1 occasion, the Cowboys sent normal pressure. On another, the Hester TD, there was only 5. But on the other 4 explosives allowed, Jay Cutler made the Cowboys pay badly for sending the "big blitzes.

This is why we don't want our coordinators to use blitzing as a necessity. If you need it to get pressure, the good QBs in this league will bring you to your knees.

Here is the Marshall TD Play to show you the Cover 0 blitz that the Cowboys called in desperation and that was quickly solved by the Bears for the easiest TD of their year:

Notice the simple route that allows the Bears TE to pick off Brandon Carr. This leaves Marshall all by himself and since the Cowboys blitz cannot get there in time, the play is a disaster for the Cowboys.

This demonstrates the under-reported issues of Monday. Not only did Tony Romo make some desperate decisions that went very poorly on Monday - So did Rob Ryan.

And the Bears made them pay.



Let's take a look at the "Splash Plays" from Week 4 versus Chicago:

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.

For more, read a detailed explanation of this study here: What is a Splash Play?

I would like to point out one big positive from breaking down the defense. I think Josh Brent played his best game as a Cowboy. His sack was relatively lucky, but his overall line play was very impressive, blowing up running plays on numerous occasions. I was very pleased with his play at DT.


Q-Time D/D/Yd Player Play
1-4:50 2/9/O46 Lee Tackle For Loss
1-4:11 3/12/O43 Claiborne 3rd Down Stop
1-1:10 1/10/O18 Crawford Run Stuff
1-0:30 3/9/O20 Ware Pressure
2-11:17 1/10/O6 Hatcher Run Stuff
2-5:00 3/1/D25 Brent Run Stuff
2-5:00 3/1/D25 Hatcher Run Stuff
3-6:25 2/12/O28 Ware Sack and Strip (2)
3-6:25 2/12/O28 Butler Fumble Recovery
3-0:48 2/5/O39 Lee Run Stuff
4-12:14 2/G/D3 Spears Run Stuff
4-11:34 3/G/D4 McCray Pass Break Up
4-6:41 2/7/D32 Lee Run Stuff
4-4:38 2/13/D46 Brent Sack

The team did very well plugging up the run. But, very poorly in stopping the big passing play and the 3rd Down conversions.

Here are the team standings kept on a week-by-week basis with the numbers below:

Player Splashes
Ware 12
Spencer 8
Carter 6
Hatcher 6
Lee 6
Brent 4
Spears 3
Carr 2
VButler 2
Crawford 2
Sensabaugh 1
Lissemore 1
Claiborne 2
Jenkins 1
Lewis 1
Church 1
Scandrick 1
McCray 1
Team Total 60



We covered most of the blitzing report above, but we should point out that of the 12 blitzes on Monday night, I had 3 of them in the 1st half and 9 in the 2nd half. The Cowboys were trying to press the issue as they fell behind and it seemed to only make things worse.

The Cowboys were able to find 2 2nd half sacks, and both did come by sending extra pressure.

Q-Time D/D/Yd Play Rushers
3-6:33 2/12/C29 Cutler Sack and Strip by Ware 6
4-4:42 2/13/D46 Cutler Sack by Brent 5

Here is how Rob Ryan deployed pass rushers, separated by down.

Pass Rushers Against Chicago - 27 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers 1st D 2nd D 3rd D 4th D Total
3 Rush 0 0 3 0 3
4 Rush 3 7 2 0 12
5 Rush 4 2 0 0 6
6 Rush 2 1 2 0 5
7 Rush 0 0 1 0 1

Overall, it was a night where it reminded you of plenty of the defensive deficiencies of the Terence Newman/Bradie James/Keith Brooking 2011 Cowboys.

They can't get pressure without blitzing. When they blitz, they expose their corners too much. And when you do that, big plays happen if one guy misses his man.

The idea was that if you get good enough corners, they could cover this up, but even the best corners lose to Brandon Marshall. The only tried and true way to win defensively against a veteran QB is to get him to the ground. And preferably with only 4 pass rushers. Then, the blitz is a luxury item, not a necessity.

But, to do that, you need more than Ware to get to the QB. And that is why it is key for Jay Ratliff and Spencer to get back on the field. If you can get Jason Hatcher and those 3 players to all get out there together, with a little Tyrone Crawford mixed in, perhaps this team can get more pressure without coming up short in coverage.

But, Monday was a reminder that corners don't fix everything.