Kiffin Report: Takeaways Dry Up In December

There are a number of reasons why I don’t gamble, not the least of which being that I realize from simple tracking of old predictions that I wouldn’t be very good at it.  Clearly, most gamblers don’t run this simple self-experiment to authorize their own practices, but that is not my business.

Regardless, an easy prediction going into Sunday is that we were due for yet another game where the Cowboys concede over 400 yards (8 times this year) and over 30 points (7 times this year).  Injuries, fatigue, and opponent combined with past performance to say that they were likely to lose the Philadelphia game simply because nobody could forecast a scenario where the defense could hold firm enough for a backup QB like Kyle Orton to put them in a winnable position.

And yet, the defense did a fantastic job.  They surely did not duplicate the work of Week 7 in Philadelphia when they held the mighty Chip Kelly offense to 278 yards, 3 points, and 3 turnovers, but to keep the Eagles to 366 and 24 points said that this bruised and battered defense at least gave you all it had in the final 2 "must win" games of the season at Washington and home to Philadelphia.

They played admirably well as a unit and forced many punts and even had a heroic goal-line stand that almost won the division.  But, despite 5 sacks, and maybe because the offense did not pull its weight in the final drive of the season, the unit came up short.

One of the big issues of having the 2013 Cowboys defense (and there were many, was the simple reliance on takeaways.  This was a defense that did a fine job of taking the ball from its opponent for most of the year, despite lacking a dominant posture over its opponents (like Seattle or San Francisco often do), but it did fade as the season went to its ultimate climax.


Games 1-4 Games 5-8 Games 9-12 Games 13-16
7 11 6 3
16.6% blitz 17.1% blitz 23% blitz 27% blitz

As you can see, I added another column at the bottom to show the correlation (or lack, thereof) between blitzing and takeaways.  We spent a lot of time previously demonstrating that despite Jerry’s belief, the Cowboys are horrendous at blitzing and actually force fewer takeaways by bringing more and weakening your coverage behind it.  And, as predicted, this wasn’t going to have the effects he desired.

There are plenty of cliches in sports that would summarize statistical breakdowns, and I believe the one that is most fitting would have to be "live by the takeaway, die by the takeaway."  They were doing great all season with takeaways and at one point sat on top of the league with Seattle for having as 18 after 8 games and on pace for the highest total a Cowboys defense has seen in ages.  However, that pace did not sustain, and by the time December ended, what was once #2 in the NFC had dropped all the way to #10 and with 27 takeaways on the year.  And the average takeaway total for the 16 NFC teams?  27.1.

So, a team that was bottom of the league in yards allowed per game (32nd), in explosive plays allowed (tied for 31st), and points allowed (26th), also ended up middle of the pack in takeaways and thus left the defense without anything to hang their hats on.

Here are the last 12 seasons by Takeaways and Differential:
Year Takeaways Turnover +/-
2002 30 -4
2003 *** 25 -4
2004 22 -15
2005 26 -1
2006 *** 30 +4
2007 *** 29 +5
2008 22 -11
2009 *** 21 +2
2010 30 Even
2011 25 +4
2012 16 -13
2013 27 +7

*** = Denotes Years Dallas Made the Playoffs


As you can see, +7 almost always gets you in the playoffs, but 27 takeaways – while better than 2012 by quite a bit – was not by any stretch a huge number by even Cowboys standards of the last decade.

Here is the record over the last 6 seasons for how important the turnover battle remains – so much so that they are able to overcome a number of other obvious weaknesses and still win games.

2008-2013 Win-Loss Win %
When Cowboys win Turnovers  30-8 78.9%
When Cowboys lose Turnovers 10-32 23.8%
Winner of Turnover Battle in Dallas Games  62-18 77.5%

The Cowboys only lost the turnover battle in 4 games all season.  Unfortunately, aside from Kansas City, the other 3 games were games #14, #15, and #16.  That is not ideal timing.

WEEK 17 Against Philadelphia

First, a reminder of what a splash play is: 

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.

SPLASHES vs Philadelphia

What a year and what a game for George Selvie.  He certainly had weeks where he faded out of sight, but to finish as strong as he did really has to make people feel reasonably strong about his future here.

Q-Time D/D/Yd Player Play
1-9:21 1/10/D36 Selvie/Ware QB Stop
1-8:45 2/10/D36 Selvie Holding Drawn
1-3:19 1/10/O29 Selvie Tackle For Loss
1-0:45 1/10/D36 Carter/Wynn Grounding Drawn
2-12:20 2/4/O24 Wynn/Ware Tackle For Loss
2-11:35 3/5/O23 Hatcher QB Sack
2-8:16 1/10/O20 Scandrick Tackle For Loss
2-6:25 1/10/O39 Hayden Big QB Pressure
2-5:48 1/10/D45 Wynn QB Sack
3-15:00 1/10/O20 Holloman QB Sack
3-14:08 3/3/O27 Hayden Big QB Pressure
3-8:30 1/10/O34 Hatcher/Ware Tackle For Loss
3-7:52 3/11/O33 Hatcher (2) QB Sack and Strip
3-7:52 3/11/O33 Ware Fumble Recovery
3-5:38 1/10/O20 Holloman Run Stuff
3-5:11 3/10/O20 Hatcher Big QB Pressure
3-1:06 3/G/D6 Scandrick Big Stop
3-0:38 4/G/D1 Hayden/Carter Goal-line Stop
4-11:46 1/10/O40 Holloman Run Stuff
4-10:08 2/2/D33 Hayden Run Stuff
4-2:19 3/4/O22 Holloman QB Sack


Here are the final results for 2011 and here are the final results for 2012.

Player Splashes
DE George Selvie 28
DT Jason Hatcher 26
LB Sean Lee       22.5
CB Brandon Carr 20.5
S Barry Church 19.5
DE DeMarcus Ware 19
CB Orlando Scandrick 18
LB Bruce Carter 16
DT Nick Hayden 14.5
DE Kyle Wilbur 11
S Jeff Heath 8
DT Drake Nevis 7.5
CB Morris Claiborne 7
DE Jarius Wynn 7
LB Justin Durant  5.5
LB Davonte Holloman 4
S Will Allen 3.5
DE Everette Brown 3
CB Sterling Moore 3
DE Edgar Jones 3
S JJ Wilcox 2         
CB BW Webb 1.5          
LB Ernie Sims        1.5          
DE Caesar Rayford  1
DT Marvin Austin 1
Team Totals                        253.5


Pass Rush/Blitzing REPORT

This segment of the defensive study is simply to find out how well the Cowboys are doing at getting pressure on the opposing QB.  We have spent a good part of the offseason talking about Monte Kiffin’s philosophy that, like so many of the great 4-3 schemes, is based on using blitz as a weapon, not a necessity.  If you use the blitz as an ambush weapon that is always threatened but only used at the perfect times, you can often get free runs at the QB.  If, on the other hand, you must use the blitz because your normal pressure is not getting it done, then the offense usually is waiting for you and prepared – so even 6 rushers don’t accomplish much.

What happened in the final game was much less about having blitzes burned rather than just having coverage confusion and mismatches that were exploited by a scheme that tries to focus on that exact strategy.


Q-Time D/D/Yd Play Rushers
1-10:02 3/3/O30 Foles to Polk, +34 4
1-1:22 1/10/O44 McCoy Run, +20 3
1-0:37 2/20/D46 Foles to Jackson, +20 4
2-15:00 2/9/D25 Foles to Avant, +22 5
2-1:53 1/10/D49 Foles to Celek, +35 3
3-1:51   1/10/D28 Foles to Celek, +22   5            


Q-Time D/D/Yd Play Rushers
2-11:35 3/5/O23 Hatcher Sack 5
2-5:48 1/10/D45 Wynn Sack 4
3-15:00 1/10/O20 Holloman Sack 5
3-7:52   3/11/O33 Hatcher Sack     4           
4-2:19 3/4/O22 Holloman Sack 4       


Red (Incomplete), Black (Interception), Blue (Complete), and Yellow (Touchdown)


Pass Rushers Against Philadelphia – 29 pass rush/blitz situations:


Pass Rushers 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go) 0 0 0 0
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go) 0 5 6 0
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go) 0 0 0 0
Totals 0 5 6 0



Pass Rushers 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go) 0 0 0 0
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go) 0 2 1 0
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go) 0 3 1 0
Totals 0 5 2 0



Pass Rushers 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go) 0 3 0 0
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go) 0 1 1 1
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go) 0 3 1 0
Totals 0 7 2 1

7 Rush (1) – Second Level

And, here are the full season numbers to date:


Pass Rushers 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush 7
1st Down 10 – 3% 216 – 78% 40 – 14% 10 – 3% 0
2nd Down 7 – 3% 171 – 84% 22 – 10% 3 –
3rd Down 11 – 6% 110 – 61% 29 – 16% 25 – 14% 3 – 1%
4th Down 1 – 7%  9 – 69% 2 –
0 1 –
Totals 29 – 4% 506 – 75% 93 – 13% 38 – 5%
4 – 1%


The game by game pressure numbers sent by the Cowboys:

Wk 1 – NYG: 7/49 – 14%
Wk 2 – KC:   10/43 – 23%
Wk 3 – STL: 11/57 – 19%
Wk 4 – SD:  4/43 – 9%
Wk 5 – DEN: 6/42 – 14%
Wk 6 – WAS: 8/45 – 18%
Wk 7 – PHI:  10/51 – 19%
Wk 8 – DET: 8/49 – 16%
Wk 9 – MIN: 11/41 – 27%
Wk10- NO: 8/43 – 19%
Wk12 – NY: 6/33 – 18%
Wk13 – OAK: 11/29 – 38%
Wk14 – CHI 6/39 – 15%
Wk15 – GB 10/41 – 24%
Wk16 – WASH 12/39 – 31%
Wk17 – PHI 12/29 – 41%

2013 Totals:  140/673 – 20.8%
2012 Totals:  134/551 – 24.3%

SUMMARY:  Well, that settles it.  The defense, which has not been a strength of this team since 2009, might have bottomed out in many respects in 2013.  To blame injuries as a whole is absurd, given that this defense – even at full strength – was ill-conceived from jump as we said back in April, May, June, and July in this very space.  They did not fortify their scheme change with personnel additions and were dangerously old and thin at too many key spots.  

Then, the injuries came and made a bad situation worse.  The final analysis will likely lay all of this at the ideas and scheme of Monte Kiffin, but I wouldn’t be in that camp at all.  They tried, as Jerry Jones does year after year, to fix problems with smoke and mirrors, and yet again, a silly idea to change schemes but not add significant personnel was doomed from the start and while some might actually buy that it was simply the bad luck of the medical room, that would not be doing this story justice.  To blame Kiffin, who a year ago today wasn’t even here, for a problem that existed long before his arrival is falling for the ridiculous shell game that is perpetrated on a fan base annually from the highest offices at Valley Ranch.  

Regardless, the Cowboys defense brought as much to the table as they could in Game #15 at Washington and Game #16 at Philadelphia and did exactly what you had hoped, which was at least offer some resistance (unlike New Orleans, Chicago, and the 2nd half of Green Bay) and give the offense a chance to keep up.
Perhaps everything is different if Kyle Orton can string a drive together late or if Tony Romo’s back holds up, but we all know that overall the defense of 2012 – which was bad – was actually made worse with the schematic changes and personnel adjustments of 2013.  
We assume the return to full health of Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass, and perhaps a few more longshot names like Matt Johnson could factor back into the mix in 2014, but we must also assume we have seen the last of Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer and the contract of DeMarcus Ware is a discussion worth having.  
These discussions and many more will continue to happen starting next week and throughout the off-season.  However, for now, expect changes to be announced soon and this 2013 to finally be put to bed.