Defense recovering, preparing for Philadelphia

X’s and O’s of football are often times discussed without solution. That is why when something makes as much sense as Robert Griffin III matching up with a Mike Shanahan offense, we should all salute a team that can pull it off. In June, we spent quite a bit of time explaining why this should be a major fear for the Cowboys and all other NFC East foes, and those threats were on full display for all to see on Thanksgiving Day.

The two biggest plays the Cowboys have conceded in 2012 happened on this afternoon, and one was off the beauty of a simple classic conflict that the threat of what could be ends up being the reality of what is.

Here it is.  Washington in Shotgun 21-personnel, which allows them to sit in the shotgun and still be run-heavy. It is 1st and 15 and the Cowboys have dedicated the front 7 and an additional safety in Gerald Sensabaugh (who is on the top half) walking in to show an 8th in the box.

The idea here is to pass in a run situation. When the linebackers and safeties are thinking run, it gives huge opportunities down the field against only a few defenders. This, you might note, is the exact opposite of the Cowboys current situation where they are trying to pass after declaring pass (lining up in Shotgun every play with 11 personnel) and facing a secondary that is filled with 7-8 defenders.

In the blue circle is Danny McCray, who will be the player who Griffin is watching on the play fake. All he needs is a forward movement from McCray to know that his play is up top to speedster Alrdick Robinson. What makes the run fake so potent is that Alfred Morris has been running very well to this point, including the last play from scrimmage which was a 10 yard run for Morris.

The Cowboys are now focusing on stopping the run, and on 1st and 15, they are anticipating this to be a great spot to run again.

Griffin delivers a fine play fake, and the Skins send Pierre Garcon on a dig route that he runs in front of the safeties at about 15 yards. Below, see Sensabaugh step forward and Robinson pass by McCray who has already lost him at his original depth. Once McCray took a step forward, the odds of him being able to reverse direction and catch a sprinter in full gallop was completely gone.

It is all predicated on the threat of a run. If the linebackers and safeties mind their responsibilities, then you will have to lay it off to Morris or the tight end in the flat. Garcon is drawing the safety over the middle and Robinson is doubled up top. The issue with doubling up top is that someone has to make sure he doesn’t get behind your last man. And that was solved with the fake. In this picture, as Griffin is in his windup, Robinson is already 5 yards clear of the closest man. All RG3 has to do is throw the ball as far as he can and this will be a Touchdown if it isn’t dropped.

It was the longest play that the Cowboys have given up all season long, and frankly, one of the simplest concepts in football. Play action only works when you run the ball.

And, some would counter with this truth: running the ball is much easier when you have a QB who can do what Griffin does. So, we arrive back at balance. The run sets up the pass. The pass sets up the run. The defense is spinning in confusion and the offense is dictating the football game.

For once, what looks so simple on the white board is equally as simple on the field. And the Redskins are doing it on a semi-regular basis now. Just wait until they get more pieces together.

The Redskins have already scored 30+ points as many times in 2012 (5) as they had in 2007-2011 combined. Let that sink in. 30+ points in 11 games as many times as they had in 80 games. There is a new dawn in Washington and it is strictly based on a scheme and a player that fit so perfectly together.


Let’s take a look at the “Splash Plays” from Week 11 versus the Redskins:

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 11 Vs Washington

From a positive standpoint, as we declare the chapter and verse of all of the splash plays from Thanksgiving, it seems like a good idea to focus a bit on the play of Jason Hatcher in 2012. It was absolutely vital that he stepped up and played better this season, and on this day, it seemed that Hatcher was just about as unstoppable a force as the Cowboys featured on the entire defense.

Hatcher had just 13 splash plays last season and already has surpassed that number in 2012. He should generally get favorable match-ups next to DeMarcus Ware and seems to be working off the stunts and end-tackle games better than we have seen in a long, long time. As you look for things to get excited about this season, I would suggest the play of Hatcher on the defensive line is one of those items that you can latch on to. And the fact that he is on the books in 2013 at a very nice cap number ($2.8m) is one position you don’t have to worry too much about.

Q-Time D/D/Yd Player Play
1-15:00 1/10/O20 Ware Run Stuff
1-14:09 3/10/O20 Hatcher Drew Grounding Penalty
1-7:01 1/10/O49 Spencer Sack
2-5:05 1/10/O29 Spencer Sack
2-3:09 1/10/O42 Claiborne Tackle For Loss
2-0:30 1/10/D33 Crawford Sack
3-11:38 1/10/O13 Hatcher Sack
3-1:50 3/6/D47 Hatcher Pressure
4-9:12 2/8/O22 Peprah Interception
4-8:18 1/10/O20 Conner Tackle For Loss
4-3:14 2/8/D30 Spencer Run Stuff
4-3:03 3/8/D30 Claiborne Pass Defended

Up to date season standings – thru 11 games. It is worth noting how Anthony Spencer has come on and has now almost caught Ware. If you factor in debits for penalties and games played, you might make the case that Spencer has been the superior player.

Player Splashes
Ware 25.5
Spencer 24.5
Carter 15
Hatcher 13.5
Claiborne 11
Lee 10
Brent 8.5
Carr 7
Ratliff 6
VButler 5
Scandrick 5
Crawford 5
Sensabaugh 4
McCray 4
Spears 3
Jenkins 2
Coleman 2
Peprah 2
Conner 2
Lissemore 1
Lewis 1
Church 1
Albright 1
Team Total 158



For most of 2012, the Cowboys have hardly ever blitzed and hardly ever been burned because of it. But, on this day, they will rue the play Pierre Garcon made on them to punish them for blitzing 5 and not getting home.

The other big play, the TD to Niles Paul, was not so much a blitz as it was a short yardage sell out to stop the run and then a painfully blown coverage behind it. Not exactly a traditional blitz, but nevertheless, they were burned.

Q-Time D/D/Yd Play Rushers
2-13:57 1/15/O32 Griffin to Robinson, +68 TD 4
2-2:25 2/12/O41 Griffin to Garcon, +59 TD 5
4-12:57 3/1/D29 Griffin to Paul, +29 TD 6
4-7:38 2/11/O19 Griffin to Moss, +23 4

And, here are their four sacks, none of which were generated off of the blitz. It is a bit misleading to say there were 4 sacks, given that Griffin appeared to be running on 1 or 2 of them, but they were scored as sacks so we will roll with that.

Q-Time D/D/Yd Play Rushers
1-7:01 1/10/O49 Spencer Sack 4
2-5:05 1/10/O29 SpencerSack 3
2-0:30 1/10/D33 Crawford Sack 4
3-11:38 1/10/O13 Hatcher Sack 4

Pass Rushers Against Washintgon– 31 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers 1st D 2nd D 3rd D 4th D Total
3 Rush 2 2 2 0 6
4 Rush 8 5 8 0 21
5 Rush 0 2 1 0 3
6 Rush 0 0 1 0 1
7 Rush 0 0 0 0 0

And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Pass Rushers 1st
2nd D 3rd
4th D Total
3 Rush 9 –
20 – 15% 26 – 25% 0 55
4 Rush 85 – 71% 77 – 58% 59 – 56% 4 – 67% 225
5 Rush 22 – 18% 31 – 23% 15 – 14% 2 – 33% 70
6 Rush 4 –
4 –
7 – 6% 0 15
Totals 120 132 106 6 0

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 – Wash 3/30 10%

Totals: 85/375 – 23%

Just a tough day for a defensive unit that has had a pretty good season. They are beginning to lose more and more key players and are trying to hold things together.

The attrition is leading to more backups and out of work free agents altogether. That leaves to a more vanilla approach, but it is pretty clear that they cannot be what they were conceived to be back in the summer.

And that, is something I believe we say about this time of year just about every year.

Injuries show your depth or lack thereof.

And speaking of injuries, here comes a Philadelphia offense without any of their starters besides Brent Celek, Eva Mathis, and Jeremy Maclin. That should mean the defense can handle its business, with or without injuries.