Cowboys defense must make one last stand
DEC 29, 2012 9:58a ET
Normally, you are able to read about the splash plays on Wednesday, but because of the above fact of insignificance, travel, holidays, and family, I have delayed getting to this study until a few days later. That has allowed me to consider the opinions of others when trying to summarize this game, and as usual, I have a hard time with some of them that I have observed.
Basically, the summary appears to be "what can we expect of the defense given the many injuries?" That, of course, is spot-on in many regards, as they are a rag-tag bunch that does not resemble anything close to the squad that left training camp. But since they will not cancel nor postpone the games, we still have to expect the Cowboys to offer some resistance on defense, and any resistance that we saw on Sunday against the Saints (what must go down as one of the best single-season offenses to not sniff the playoffs) was truly minimal.
They could not get off of the field until points were being added to the Saints totals, as there was seldom a stop any other way. Third down defense was a struggle as Drew Brees and his offense could move the chains at will. Even with a few blatant drops, they still converted 11 3rd Downs into a fresh set of downs and dominated time of possession.
The Cowboys conceded 91 offensive snaps which was the highest play count of 2012 by 21 plays! The previous high was 70 snaps by Cleveland a month ago. 91 was the highest conceded by the Cowboys going all the way back to Tom Landry, and you can believe that it likely goes back to the inception of the franchise.
The 562 yards the Saints put up were not the most conceded all-time by a Cowboys defense, but it was the most since the Houston Oilers ran up 583 yards in 1991. Before that, the Bengals had destroyed the Cowboys for 570 in 1985, but that is it. The next highest yardage total this season was 453 by the Falcons.
And worst of all, the Cowboys had zero takeaways or sacks. Zero. That makes it the only game this season in which the Cowboys did not get to the Quarterback and the 4th game this season where the Cowboys defense had no takeaways. The 4 games, against the Seahawks, Ravens, Falcons, and now, Saints were all losses. That, of course, means that in games in which the Cowboys get at least 1 takeaway from their defense, they have a 8-3 record. Whoa.
So, to consider all of these facts about that game on Sunday and then to observe plaudits being given to the defense tells you of the dire straights they are surely existing in these days. If I would have told Rob Ryan in August that in a key December game against one of the NFL's best offenses that he would have a guy named Eric Frampton playing 52 snaps, Charlie Peprah 46, Sterling Moore 29, Brady Poppinga 25, and Michael Coe 17, then he might not mind that Dan Connor was out there for 66 snaps or Alex Albright for over 50.
Amazing, what they have had to deal with, and amazing that many of us think that group is capable of winning on Sunday night in Washington.
Brees gave out the blue-print for Robert Griffin - just run verticals with your Wide outs and allow your Running Backs to run for acres underneath against what the Cowboys have left at linebacker - which appears to be Anthony Spencer, a one armed version of DeMarcus Ware, and many other guys who are not real household names around here.
Now, the saving grace for the Cowboys is that Darren Sproles doesn't play in Washington, but we have already seen that they have plenty of things they can do with their prolific offensive display on Thanksgiving being all the proof anyone should need.
Scroll down for the blitzing report - which was an interesting study in trying to figure out a plan.
Let's take a look at the "Splash Plays" from Week 15 vs the Saints:
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?
WEEK 14 vs New Orleans
Before we get into this study, I will admit that this is one of those weeks where we have splash plays, but we don't have the big ones. And when you don't have the big splash plays, then the little ones look unworthy of tracking. But, I think if we consider the big picture, we know that each play is its own story and we should understand the potential effects of any play made by the defense. But, clearly, in this instance, we see that takeaways and sacks are vital.
|2-10:36||1/10/O17||Spencer||Holding Penalty Drawn|
|2-10:17||2/27/O7||Hatcher||Tackle For Loss|
|2-1:50||2/2/D24||Frampton||Pass Broken Up|
|2-1:44||3/2/D24||Poppinga||Pass Broken Up|
|2-1:17||1/G/D2||Conner||Tackle For Loss|
|2-0:06||3/3/D19||Claiborne||Pass Broken Up|
|3-8:35||2/5/O46||Spencer||Tackle For Loss|
|3-8:33||3/8/O43||Moore||Pass Broken Up|
|3-4:43||3/5/O43||Sensabaugh||Big Hit Breakup|
|3-4:16||1/G/D6||Claiborne||Pass Broken Up|
Here are the season totals through 15 games:
|Carter - OUT||15|
|Lee - OUT||10|
|Brent - OUT||9.5|
|Ratliff - OUT||6|
|Scandrick - OUT||5|
|Coleman - OUT||2|
|Lewis - GONE||1|
|Church - OUT||1|
The blitz reports for the Saints are a bit tricky, because we see that over the course of 53 passes, the Cowboys tried everything. There are many who are frustrated by blitzing 3, but as you can see below, the Saints found 5 explosive plays, but none of them were against a 3 man blitz. The idea is to keep many bodies behind the ball and then you can corner the mouse (a coaching point about allowing shallow passes and then surrounding the man with the ball) and bring him down.
Conversely, of the 5 big plays, you can see 4 of them were against a blitz that did not get to Brees in time. Of course, broken tackles don't help either, but when you rush 3 you have 8 back in coverage. If you bring 5 or 6, that leaves only 5 or 6 back, where a broken tackle can cost you 20 more yards like on the Sproles play late in the 2nd Quarter.
The Cowboys tried everything to try to shake up the Saints. In the first half they brought pressure on 6 of 30 passes (20%), but in the 2nd, they tried to bring more and more - 9 of 22 passes (41%), but it really didn't make much difference. Brees was hardly touched all day.
|4-11:50||3/8/O37||Brees to Colston, +60||5|
|2-0:47||1/10/O30||Brees to Sproles, +44||4|
|5-10:46||2/9/D33||Brees to Colston and Fumble, +31||5|
|5-13:33||1/10/O26||Brees to Graham, +26||5|
|2-5:35||1/10/O10||Brees to Colston, +21||5|
Below, we usually look at all of the big defensive plays from a blitzing standpoint. But, since there were 0 big defensive plays on Sunday, this won't take long.
Pass Rushers Against New Orleans - 52 pass rush/blitz situations:
|Pass Rushers||1st D||2nd D||3rd D||4th D||Total|
And, here are the full season numbers to date:
|3 Rush||21 -
|29 - 15%||35 - 22%||1- 12%||86 - 16%|
|4 Rush||119 - 65%||111 - 59%||81 - 53%||5 - 62%||316 - 59%|
|5 Rush||37 - 20%||42 - 22%||29 - 19%||2 - 25%||110 - 21%|
|6 Rush||5 -
|9 - 6%||0||20 - 4%|
The game by game pressure numbers:Wk 1 - NYG: 11/37 - 30%
Wk 2 - SEA: 10/26 - 38%
Wk 3 - TB: 12/32 - 37%
Wk 4 - CHI: 12/27 - 44%
Wk 5 - BAL: 10/27 - 37%
Wk 6 - CAR: 9/39 - 23%
Wk 7 - NYG: 2/31 - 6%
Wk 8 - ATL: 5/37 - 14%
Wk 9 - PHI: 7/43 - 16%
Wk 10 - CLE: 4/36 - 11%
Wk 11 - WAS 3/30 - 10%
Wk 12 - PHI 6/36 - 16%
Wk 13 - CIN 11/37 - 30%
Wk 14 - PIT 13/42 - 31%
Wk 15 - NO 15/52 - 29%
Totals: 130/532 - 24.4%
You can clearly see that late in the year, the Cowboys have realized they have no choice but to gamble. They just don't have the personnel to play straight-up defense anymore like they did for a good part of the year. Against better QBs, they have had to take big risks to have a chance. And, to their credit, they have been in a position to win all 3 games since they have changed this approach.
But, now, it comes down to playing a Redskins side that is confident and sure of its objectives on offense.
The Cowboys will need a day where their secondary can hold up its end of the bargain and force big drives. On Thanksgiving, they gave up 2 giants TD strikes from the other end of the field. They cannot do that on Sunday. They must cause a turnover or two and make the Redskins drive the field.
If they do that, they can pull off a very unlikely division title. If not, their season will end like so many others - on the final week, at the stadium of a hated rival that will be taking great delight in your misfortune.
One game for all of the marbles. This is going to be great fun.
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