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Tracking The Splash Plays of 2011 - Part 3

Bob Sturm's part 3 review of Cowboys 'Splash Plays' of the 2011 season.

We have just finished Part 3 of our 4-part series on the splash play as it applies to the Dallas Cowboys defense.  If you are just joining the fun, I think you would be best served to go back and consume Part 1 and Part 2 as we attempt to fully grasp the concept before the start of 2012.  


All we have to do yet is endure four more games from December last year, and we will have a full year of data to use as a gauge for new data collected each week of the 2012 season.  


To review:

What is a splash play? Well, for purposes of this blog I believe a splash play will include the following: A sack, a pressure that forces a bad throw, and big hit on the QB, and a batted ball that may lead to an interception opportunity. Again, you can see how this leads to subjectivity, but a subjective breakdown is better than no breakdown at all, I have decided. In addition, a splash play will include tackles for loss, a big hit for a short gain, or a stop which is an open field tackle where a player is pulled down on 3rd down short of the marker because of an exceptional effort from a defender. An interception is clearly a splash play, but so is a defended pass that required a great effort. A major hit in the secondary could be a splash play, but I believe that the outcome of the play will determine that. Sorry, defensive backs, but standing over a guy who just caught a 15 yard pass because you think you hit him hard will not generally pass the test on this blog. So, stop doing it. I am trying to be careful about handing out too many splash plays per game. I am trying to be picky, but too extreme in either direction. When I log a splash play, I will put time of the game on the chart so that if you want to review the same game and challenge my ruling, you are welcome to do so. Also, if multiple players deserve recognition on a single play, we will try to see that as well. Basically, we are trying to assign a value to making plays on the defense. We don't want to just see sacks and interceptions. We want to see broader definitions of splash plays to assign credit to those who help the Cowboys get off the field in important situations. These rankings will not deduct for negative plays at this point. There are simply too many occasions where we are guessing, and for now, I want to avoid that for this particular idea. A splash play is a play that makes a major difference in the game. And by keeping it all season long, we will see which defenders are play makers and which are simply warm bodies. We already have our thoughts on both categories, but let's see if we can dig a bit deeper and actually have numbers to back up our claims.

Now, since we have introduced the premise, we have received a lot of good feedback from many of you.  By the way, your feedback is most welcomed, so keep it coming at both sturm1310@me.com and at the comments section below on this very blog.


Currently, many of you have brought up the following points that might improve "splash" research as we go.


1. - Many of you have wanted to judge these against a playing time metric. I completely agree.  When we get to the end of the 2011 season, I will introduce each player's total number of snaps so that we may divide by that count to arrive at a splash play ratio.  If one player is requiring 100 snaps per splash play and another player is getting a splash once every 20 snaps, we should try to figure out what is going on.  That will be tracked every Sunday this season.


2. - Others have indicated that we must be careful to remember some positions are more apt to be a part of a splash, while others are not as likely.  For instance, in a 2-gap 3-4, the idea would be for the DL to occupy offensive linemen, thus allowing LBs to run free and make tackles and plays.  That is true.  In order to do that, though, we would have to really complicate our system and I want to keep this as reader-friendly and useable as possible. So, we will rank them by position, but beyond that, we will simply allow everyone to draw their own conclusions.


3. - It has been raised that a player like DeMarcus Ware makes lots of plays but doesn't always make them when it matters.  This seems to be the equivalent of the NBA "clutch" stats.  I have plans to examine his plays by time of game and score of game later, but we must remember that in the game of football, every snap needs to be treated as important.  That is how they are coached; no matter what just happened, you need to win this play.  So, I don't want to get too far into rating the importance of each down against each other, but rather a big play is a big play.  On the other hand, it is a bit disconcerting that with the exception of the Spencer sack to end the Week 3 Washington game, it is difficult to come up with the biggest play the defense made last year.  It would appear that they did not alter the outcome of games with one explosive game-winning moment in the entirety of 2011.  That is something that might have helped them win the division last season and could really affect 2012.


OK.  This Part 3 will consist of the home game against Buffalo, the game at Washington, Thanksgiving Day versus Miami, and the devastating OT loss at Arizona.  As usual, I examined each snap looking for big plays by the defense.  So, now, you can look at the entire list below and if you wish to re-watch and challenge my score-keeping, please do so.


Below, please find the chapter and verse of every single splash play that we have recorded for Games 9-12:





I found 70 splash plays in this four-game segment, which was higher than the other two segments so far. I don't know what that means, but either I was a bit more generous (which I am trying not to be) or the Cowboys defense was making fractionally more plays in November.  That means the total is now 181 through 12 games, or roughly 15 splash plays per Sunday.  


Now, here are the standings through 12 weeks of the Cowboys season.  As you can see, the cream is rising to the top:


Player Wks 1-4 Wks 5-8 Wks 9-12 Totals
1. Ware 10 13 8 31
T2. Lee 10 5 5 20
T2. Spencer 8 4 8 20
4. Ratliff 2 6 10 18
5. Scandrick 0 5 8 13
6. Coleman 5 1 4 10
7. Newman 1 3 5 9
8. Hatcher 3 2 3 8
9. Butler 2 3 2 7
T10. Elam 1 5 0 6
T10. Ball 4 0 2 6
T10. Lissemore 2 2 2 6
13. Jenkins 3 1 0 4
T14. Walker 1 0 3 4
T14. Spears 0 2 2 4
T14. Brooking 1 0 3 4
T17. Church 0 0 3 3
T17. McCray 1 0 2 3

Some brief observations: Sean Lee's injury has slowed down his play making to a degree, but he is still outperforming all other inside linebackers by leaps and bounds.  Jay Ratliff is really coming on strong as the season wears on, and he led the entire team with 10 splash plays in this four-week period. Kenyon Coleman is maybe the most shocking player on this list as he is now in double digits with run stuffing plays and the argument of Coleman versus Spears is an easy one for me.  Mike Jenkins has many people saying he was the Cowboys best corner last season.  That must be purely on the premise that he wasn't getting burned, because he sure wasn't making any impact plays as we go through the season. Orlando Scandrick was really being used as a blitzing presence, and he made a fair amount of plays doing it.


Eighteen Cowboys players are rated above. Five more did play in 2011, with Josh Brent, Bruce Carter, and Bryan McCann each having one splash play so far. Alex Albright and Clifton Geathers each had zero. And that would be all 23 players who took a snap on defense last season.


The final installment will come next week, with the final four games viewed. They are, home to the Giants, at Tampa, home against Philadelphia, and at New York.  I am not anticipating this being a very impressive month of defensive football, but we will total them up to complete our pass through the season and to see what our findings give us