Xs and Os from Week 2 – 3 Plays to Examine
Here, we are not looking to call anyone out, and we surely want to leave open the possibility of our eyes deceiving us and more than anything, I want to admit that I don’t have the benefit of the coaches telling me what coverage they were in. So, sometimes, this diagnosis will be "pretty sure" rather than "100% sure" even though I am trying to get it right. I will make calls and try to hunt down the right answer, but I will just admit right here that we will try our best to be accurate but invariably, I will see something wrong.
But, let’s pick 3 plays that are interesting but not played out by this point of the week and have some fun talking Xs and Os. Feel free to tweet me @SportsSturm when a game shows you a play that you would like broken down and I will attempt to include it in this post.
Against Tennessee, there was plenty to break down (which will ALWAYS be the case in any NFL game), so let’s pick 3 and go. As usual, I will give you the chance to select what we cover.
Mr Britt took the initiative to grab our first play:
Play #1 – 3Q/7:56 – 3/3/39 – Locker to Delanie Walker, Touchdown
We are seeing a ton of Cover 1 schemes from the Cowboys so far through 2 weeks, which was one of the real objectives for the defensive staff when they entered 2014; to see if they can make a scheme work where they employ coverages that allow for their highly-compensated corners to play what they prefer – man coverage – while the rest of the defense works in more desirable zone concepts.
Now, a couple things about coverage. 1) – This is far and away the most difficult thing to identify with accuracy and consistency. By the way, if it was easy for us to identify their coverages, it would be too easy for a NFL QB to do so. Therefore, you would prefer that it looks like one thing, but is really something else. 2) – For similar reasons to point #1, we should also understand that nobody runs the same coverage every time. Again, mixing an disguising coverages is vital and therefore to suggest that TEAM A is running this primary coverage will most of the time summarize what they do the most. Which is a distinction from what they do all of the time. Nobody runs the same coverage all of the time or they would likely be roasted quite a bit. The coaches on both sides of the ball at this level are just too good.
Here, we will try to generally simplify. This is a necessity for those of us who don’t have a decade of experience and 10 hours a day to study. But, know that Cover 1 or Cover 2 can mean at least a dozen different things with variations and hybrids. And I will not pretend to fully grasp them with any depth or accuracy, but I am constantly trying to learn more and I think this is a good play to study on that front.
The arrows designate man-to-man assignments. I circled the robber, in this case, Bruce Carter. He is free to diagnose whatever he sees, but clearly he must err on the side of helping out 32-Moore and 55-McClain in their zone.
Above, you can see Moore is waiting on which ever breaks out and McClain is looking for someone to sit in the curl flat. Locker has a perfect pocket once he sees the Cowboys are not bringing more than 4, and can see that Carr and Claiborne are squared off against the outside WRs. Although Carr above looks like he is disguising his man drop (facing the man) as a zone drop (butt to the sideline), but will quickly recover, while Wilcox is monitoring McCluster at the bottom to the sideline.
Above, based on the eyes of the defenders, it appears that both Moore and McClain are figuring the slot guy is their guy. Carter’s robber responsibility has him standing on the Titans’ logo with no real plan, and Church is up top trying to figure out what Locker is looking at. Here, we should note that Locker to this point in the game gave almost no sign that he was capable of making this throw to the red arrow above. It looks like a dangerous throw, and frankly, Walker is headed right into the sector of the field already occupied by the far-sideline WR.
I tried to draw various assignments on this toss left that makes it an easy conversion, but they are all being asked to cut off guys that they don’t have the angle on unless those defenders stay put at the snap. And that is where the fake to the FB is needed.
Here, notice the red arrows of the players who are watching Romo and freezing in their stance which makes the play possible. Big Ron Leary-65 is able to work around the 3-techique because the 3-tech is watching Romo and not realizing that his eyes are getting him out of position. Leary simply moves across his man and easily walls him off from heading with the play and this is all only possible because of a fake to a fullback who never touches the ball.
Witten and Leary have to make walls in front of the outside linebacker and defensive end, and if they are successful, once Tyron Smith pulls left (something that is rare enough that teams certainly are not expecting it on a short yardage run play) it is on. Please note that Dwayne Harris had 2 choices and I am sure he is told to address the biggest threat and he has a nano-second to decide. He helps Travis Frederick who is trying to cut off the inside LB, but if he chooses the safety this might go for a Touchdown.
At the snap, you can see that the safety on Witten is figuring that 82 is going to run his normal hook/curl to the sticks, so when Witten drags across the the opposite sideline, he is quickly going to have plenty of space. Meanwhile, the pressure package is happening with both DTs twisting and both LBs criss-cross behind them. All that movement is to make sure that one guy comes free because all 4 inside Cowboys (G-C-G-DeMarco) have to decode this plan and make sure they have it sorted.
Notice Beasley running across a bit deeper than Witten and bisecting Witten from his cover man. The question will ultimately be whether Witten can get to the sticks once the pass is completed. The deep safety is sitting on 83 and 88 running deeper routes and watching Romo carefully to see if his eyes are going to lend any clues.
Now, back to the protection. Wesley Woodyard-59 and George Wilson-21 are going to follow the DTs who are trying to cause the diversion. Wilson no doubt has Murray if Murray goes on a pass route, but once he stays home, he is trying to hide from Murray until he emerges at the QB.
Look at all the traffic above as all of the twisting is happening and still, even though Martin looks like he lost his man, Murray pops out right in Wilson’s path. This is text book stuff at the moment of truth so that Romo hardly even notices what he was up against. Free is in a pretty good spot on the left and Tyron is on an island eating a sandwich on the right.