Splash Play Report: Defense does its part

BY foxsports • October 23, 2012

Six games into the 2012 season is a fair time to ask the question, "what is this defense really good at doing?" Surely, they seem far more talented than they have in the past. They have several more useable parts, and many of them seem to either be entering their prime or in their prime.

But, what are they really good at?

Sacks? No. They are Tied for 21st.
Takeaways? Of Course, no. Tied for 29th.

However, there are several metrics (albeit less glamorous) that they seem to thrive on to this point.

3rd Down Conversions - the Cowboys rank 10th in 3rd Down conversions which is playoff caliber.  This is something that makes or breaks NFL defenses, and the ability to get off the field on the money down is incredibly valuable.  However, will it hold through Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, and Michael Vick?  They especially thrive on 3rd and 6+ (4th in the NFL) and 3rd and 10+ (2nd in NFL).  These are especially encouraging given that the secondary was the offseason initiative.  Keep the receivers in front of you.

3 and Outs - Wow.  No. 1 in the NFL in 3 and Out percentages?  I had no idea until the NFL Network featured them above Seattle and San Francisco in this category last Thursday Night.  Again, we must consider sample sizes and the fact that the Cowboys have played some pretty weak offenses, but if they can continue to force a 3 and out in 33% of all drives (19 of 58 so far) then the Cowboys defense is going to be highly praised.  The best way to keep from having issues is to snuff out drives before they get started.  Interesting note:  32nd best team in this category?  The Giants. 12%, or only 9 of 73 drives have ended in a 3 and out against that Giants defense

YAC - The Cowboys have given up fewer yards after the catch than any team in the NFL to this point.  Of course, not everyone has enjoyed a bye-week, and not everyone has had the benefit of playing Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Carolina, but still, 430 yards after catch through 6 games is a great number.  The average NFL team has conceded 678 yards and there are 2 teams at over 900 yards of YAC (Tennessee and Washington).  Theoretically, this means that there is better tackling happening and fewer explosive plays.

Again, in the end, this will be tested over 16 games, as last season after 6 games the Cowboys felt pretty good about themselves defensively, only to be fed a huge dose of reality in Game No. 7 at Philadelphia.



Let's take a look at the "Splash Plays" from Week 6 at Carolina:

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?

Oddly, one week after a season low 7 splashes in Baltimore, the Cowboys had 19 in Carolina.  There were many occasions where Carolina was going to run their offense right into the teeth of the Cowboys front and see how Dallas responds.  For the most part, Dallas responded very well and handled their


Q-Time D/D/Yd Player Play
1-15:00 1/10/O40 Lee Tackle For Loss
1-10:55 1/10/D39 Spencer Run Stuff
1-10:18 2/10/D39 Hatcher/Ware Sack
1-9:39 3/16/D45 Lee Pass Defended
2-7:33 2/G/D7 Brent Pressure
2-7:33 2/G/D7 Claiborne Interception
3-11:04 1/10/O25 Ware  Tackle For Loss
3-10:23 2/13/O22 Ratliff Pressure
3-10:23 2/13/O22 Claiborne Pass Defended
3-10:11 3/13/O22 Carr 3rd Down Stop
3-7:34 1/10/O16 Brent Run Stuff
3-6:52 2/10/O16 Brent Run Stuff
3-1:03 3/1/O29 Conner/Spencer Run Stuff
4-13:08 1/10/D46 Crawford Run Stuff
4-3:20 1/10/O31 Carter Run Stuff
4-2:45 2/10/O31 Ratliff Pressure
4-2:08 4/2/O39 Claiborne Pass Defended
4-0:18 3/10/O46 Spencer Sack
4-0:03 4/20/O36 Ware  Fumble Recovery

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Up to date season standings - after 8 games, I will make sure we get a "per snap" ratio:

Player Splashes
Ware 15.5
Spencer 10.5
Lee 10
Carter 7
Brent 7
Hatcher 6.5
Claiborne 5
Spears 3
VButler 3
Carr 3
Crawford 3
Ratliff 3
Jenkins 2
Sensabaugh 1
Lissemore 1
Lewis 1
Church 1
Scandrick 1
McCray 1
Albright 1
Conner 0.5
Team Total 86

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It was quite evident that the Cowboys were not going to bring any pressure to Cam Newton.  Conventional wisdom is that you must keep him in front of you, and therefore it was a different type of "pressure" strategy.  You could see the edge rushers not going all out to get to the QB, but rather to keep contain and to not let Newton out into the open field.

Here are the 6 Carolina explosives - which is a troublesome number - none of them coming because of blitzes.

Q-Time D/D/Yd Play Rushers
2-10:08 3/8/C46 Newton Scrambles, +24 4
2-8:59 2/7/D27 Newton Keeper, +20 --
2-2:00 1/10/B50 Newton to Lafell, +32 4
4-13:36 2/1/C34 Stewart Up Middle, +20 --
4-12:46 2/9/D45 Newton to Murphy, +26 4
4-0:49 2/1/C34 Newton to Smith, +26 4

And then, here are 3 big defensive plays from the Cowboys, with the interception coming from 5 man pressure and Josh Brent getting to Newton, but even that was more of a goal-line front than an actual blitz.

Q-Time D/D/Yd Play Rushers
1-10:18 2/9/D38 Newton Sacked by Ware and Hatcher 4
2-7:38 2/G/7 Newton Intercepted by Claiborne 5
4-0:24 3/10/C46 Newton Sacked by Spencer 4

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Here is how Rob Ryan deployed pass rushers, separated by down.  In 30 of the 39 situations, the Cowboys rushed 4 or less.  Careful, and keeping contain on their most dangerous weapon.

Pass Rushers Against Carolina - 39 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers 1st D 2nd D 3rd D 4th D Total
3 Rush 0 2 4 0 6
4 Rush 12 7 4 1 24
5 Rush 2 5 1 1 9
6 Rush 0 0 0 0 0
7 Rush 0 0 0 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%
Totals:  64/198 - 32%
Overall, great work, and the big kill shot in the end by Spencer was a rare game-saving play. There was only one similar play in all of 2011 - where a defensive play sealed a win -  also by Spencer against Washington last September.

Now, a big test arrives.  The man who tortures Dallas defenses, Eli Manning is coming to town.

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