Negative yardage plays hurting Cowboys

BY foxsports • September 27, 2012

This week, on the Xs and Os breakdown in the film room, I have decided to get to the bottom of the demoralizing moments that happened over and over again on Sunday - the negative plays.

And, I had to narrow that down, since there were so many negative plays in the game.  In fact, if you can believe this number, 31 of the 63 offensive plays resulted in 1 yard or LESS.  That is shockingly and amazingly pitiful.

However, I didn't want to look at 31 plays, so I boiled it down to just focus on what was going on with the running game.  Yes, there were 4 sacks, and that is a major concern, but I wanted to know why 1st and 10 was quickly becoming 2nd and 12 so often on simple, high-percentage run plays.

So, these are the 7 - yes, 7 - negative runs that were from under center to DeMarco Murray that resulted in a loss of yardage.  These 7 runs went for a total of negative 13 yards.

 We will identify the play and then try to see from looking from the end zone angle who got beat on the play.  It will appear quickly that there is plenty of blame to go around.

This can happen once or twice a game, but to see it 7 times (with 6 before halftime) tells us that the chemistry and continuity is just not there right now in 2012.

 Let's begin:

 RUN #1

1Q - 8:58 - 1/10/28 - 21 Personnel

This first play has been the bread and butter of the Cowboys running game for years.  It is an inside zone, FB lead run/pass option that has worked as a pass for a TD in Houston in 2010 and a 91-yard TD run versus St Louis in 2011 for DeMarco Murray.  The Cowboys run this play over and over again - especially against 4-3 defenses where they get a double team block (Center and LG, who is #76 Dockery here) on the DT who is shading over the center, and then Ryan Cook must then release to get the WLB #54 David while #47 Vickers the FB will get MLB #59 Foster.

You will see rather quickly below that the play blows up for 2 major reasons.

1) -  RG Bernadeau loses his block on 93-Gerald McCoy pretty badly and pretty quickly and collapses the middle.  Dockery gets 90-Roy Miller, but the chaos from McCoy is causing Miller to wiggle free.

2) - C Cook runs past 54 as you can see below.

When Cook leaves him untouched, Dockery tries to clean up that mess, causing 90 to run free.  Now, Murray has to bounce it outside, but the play has totally collapsed.

BUSTS:  Cook and Bernadeau both affected this play, and when both the C and RG struggle on an inside run, the play is going for a 3 yard loss.


RUN #2

1Q - 6:08 - 2/12/37 - 12 Personnel

This 2nd play is another favorite of the Cowboys, the outside zone stretch.  What you want here is for everyone blocking to get their left gap, and for Murray to decide between a cutback lane or just taking the play all the way to the left sideline if the blocks are sustained but the defense keeps its gap integrity.

The play breaks down when Adrian Clayborn gets outside of his blocker, Tyron Smith.  Basically, on the outside zone stretch, once that happens, then the runner cannot proceed down his path and must cut back - but usually there is no lane with which to cutback and the play is dead.

As you will see below, with Michael Bennett closing down and unblocked from the backside, Murray is in big trouble once Tyron loses to Clayborn.

BUSTS: Tyron Smith - otherwise, this play may find some space out on the edge.


RUN #3

1Q - 3:23 - 1/10/23 - 12 Personnel

Here is yet another run from the 1st Quarter that went nowhere fast.  Here is essentially the same play, but from the opposite side.  With the arrows above, I attempted to show you each man's assignment to make this work, but you cannot see Witten's man who is off the screen, but once again it is #54-David, the rookie from Nebraska.  Bernadeau is going to get the DE 71-Bennett and Cook is going to try to get 93-McCoy.

Below, it is a bit blurry, but Bennett jacks up Bernadeau so quickly at the snap that big Mac is almost knocked on his back.  Anytime you see a Right Guard with his arms flailing in the air on a running play, something has gone horribly wrong.

Now, you run into another problem, not that the play isn't already doomed with Bennett running down Murray without anyone left to slow him down.  You also have Witten being driven back into the running lane by the LB-David.

In the picture below, you can see Bennett about to destroy Murray, with Witten prohibiting Murray from bouncing to the outside because that path is now closed off by David's win over the Cowboys TE.

This, again, is a clear example of how looking at Running Back stats and judging his work is about as foolish an exercise as their is in football.  Murray is trying to run plays where blockers are being tossed aside and players are getting to the RB completely unimpeded.

BUSTS:  Bernadeau busted badly, Witten busted less, but still affected the play negatively.


RUN #4

 2Q - 11:54 - 1/10/11 - 12 Personnel

This 4th run is a bit more tricky, but I think we have this figured out now.

This play is just another of the countless outside zone stretch runs, but it comes with a wrinkle that is designed to hold the opposite defensive end.  The wrinkle is the fake end around to Dez Bryant.  He is the ghost on the play and the design is to make the DE (71-Bennett) have to "stay home" rather than crashing down on Murray from behind.  One false step is all that it takes to take Bennett out of the play, but the Cowboys did not come close to fooling Tampa on this play.

When looking at the play several times, I think we have to blame Tony Romo and Dez Bryant on this one.  Without being in the coaching room, we will not know which one is truly to blame, but the reason this didn't work is that the motion did not happen early enough to have a chance to work.

Above, notice how Bennett doesn't fall for the motion fake because he doesn't even see it.  Timing is so important on a concept like this because if Dez doesn't arrive in the peripheral vision of Bennett.  In other words, if Bennett never sees your fake, then he can't fall for it.  And if the fake doesn't get there in time, did Romo not wait on his snap count for the motion to arrive or did Dez take too long in going in motion?

Again, above, you see that the OL has everyone blocked, but the design is not for the backside DE to have a man on him.  They are trying to get him with the motion and you can see he is crashing down hard on Bennett and not even considering the end around fake.

And finally, Murray has no place to cut back and Bennett has the play destroyed.

BUSTS:  Most likely, this is on Tony Romo for not orchestrating the motion properly.


RUN #5

2Q - 6:16 - 1/10/24 - 12 Personnel

As you can see, all 7 of these plays are from under center, and 6 of the 7 happen with multiple tight ends.  And, the concepts of the zone blocking plays are repeated often enough that if you are Tampa Bay, you certainly are starting to anticipate what the plan here is.

That is why this play is one in which Ryan Cook is the one that we will point at here, but we also concede that this might be as much on the coaching staff as it is on Cook himself.

In a perfect scenario, Cook would get the DT Roy Miller who is right on top of him, and Nate Livings would try to reach Mason Foster the MLB.  But, they are actually at the mercy of Miller and read his actions off the snap.  When Miller shoots across the face of Livings, then Cook has to figure out how to get around those two, and beat Foster to the edge.  It is 2 on 2, and somehow, they have to get the DT and the MLB.  And this is the worst possible match-up.

Mason Foster is not the fastest linebacker on the planet - not even close.  His 4.75 40 time at the combine did not turn too many heads.  However, Ryan Cook ran one of the slowest recorded times at the combine with a 5.47.  This is a footrace to the edge, and Cook is not going to get there.

Below, you see the choice Cook has.  Reach out and hold or Murray gets clocked by a LB who is untouched.

Look at the running lane for Murray if they can get to Foster.  This might be a touchdown if Murray can make Foster miss.

BUSTS:  This is technically on Cook, but asking him to win a footrace with Foster is just a poor idea.  I imagine this is a case of Tampa sitting on this play since the Cowboys keep running it and figuring out how to scheme the play so that the Cowboys cannot block Foster.  I might haul off and say the coaching staff lost the chess match on this play.


RUN #6

2Q - 4:18 - 1/10/12 - 22 Personnel

22 Personnel is on right here, and the Cowboys are looking for points.  The beauty of "22" is that your lone WR, if a dangerous player like Dez, will attract 2 DBs and therefore, the double coverage should leave the defense out-numbered in the box.  There should be room to run.

On this play, it looks like Vickers, the lead-blocking FB, is trying to consider his options and is quickly shown that outside of RT Doug Free is just not going to happen as Free loses and is pushed right back by Michael Bennett again.

So, Vickers heads back inside, where he runs Murray is about to find even more resistance because Nate Livings is losing badly to 90-Roy Miller.

This is all supposed to happen quickly, but the Cowboys cannot get this play going at all.  By the time the two backs re-route from RT to "up the middle", Livings has been discarded by Miller and the play is completely swallowed up.

By the end of this play, Murray had 10 carries for 11 yards, which included a TD run of 11 yards.  There was plenty of head-shaking on the way back to the huddle as frustration had set in.

BUSTS:  Doug Free, Nate Livings both were defeated.


RUN #7

4Q - 9:57 - 1/10/48 - 12 Personnel

The Cowboys pretty much stopped trying to run the ball until the 4th Quarter, where they tried again on a 1st Down to run a simply inside run out of 12 personnel.

Keep in mind, this is at a moment in the game where the Bucs are just overwhelming the Cowboys front with the pass rushes, as the Cowboys have been sacked 4 times in the game and most of them had just happened.

McCoy, Miller, Clayborn, and Bennett have flat-out worn down the Cowboys OL to a point where nothing is working out very well and Romo looks like he is one more hit from being knocked out of the game.

So, here, the Bucs are just running stunts and games and having a grand time.  And the Cowboys ran a play right into the teeth of a stunt.

Above, you can see that Miller goes to the "B gap" between Livings and Smith, and Foster will attack the opposite "A gap" between Cook and Bernadeau.  This leaves a giant hole where Lavonte David will dive in and meet a running back without a lead blocker right in the hole.

As you can see, Tyron sees what is happening, but again, this is not a speed match-up that the Cowboys can win.  He is close enough to witness David sprinting into the hole and charging down Murray at the point of the handoff.

David trips Murray up and another demoralizing running play is destroyed.

BUSTS:  Honestly, this is just running a play into a buzz-saw.  Nobody lost their battle, Tampa just had a perfect stunt on that was going to make any middle run quite a task.  Perhaps, we must look to the Tampa play-calling on defense as the big winner here against an offense that has no confidence whatsoever.


In the end, after looking at these 7 plays, I think we named everyone at least once.  Bill Callahan talked at length about all of the issues they have and they are focusing on working things out.  But, we are starting to see that the overall quality of the line is not very good and it seems like quite a chore for everyone to hold together on the same play.  In particular, the interior continues to be over-matched on running plays, and the tackles are no great security on passing plays.  We could have looked at the sacks (I did) and assign blame on those as well.  Pretty much everyone was over-run by the Tampa pass rush.

The most disconcerting element of all of this is the lack of regard that the league has for the Buccaneers front.  Either the Cowboys made them all look fantastic or they are better than the league is crediting them for.

Either way, this will have to improve quickly.

What do you think?  Leave your thoughts below.