Tracking the Cowboys defensive splash plays - Part 1

BY foxsports • July 20, 2012

"He's really starting to make a lot of splash plays.  We don't like those on offense.  But, a splash play is when you have a big hit.  Big hit on a running back.  Big hit on a wide receiver.  Big hit on a quarterback.  Or just making a tackle for a loss.  Just making that impact play is what they call a splash play.  He makes a lot of those." - Davin Joseph on Navarro Bowman

The above quote was from the NFL Network's summer time-killing series, NFL's Top 100.  I enjoyed the series quite a bit as a football nut trying to survive May, June, and July, but if you check it out try not to get caught up in the actual rankings.  Just enjoy five minutes on players like Navarro Bowman and learn about guys that you don't know a ton about.  Bowman, you might recall, was very highly ranked by the Cowboys in the 2010 draft and looked to be the player the Cowboys would have taken in the 2nd round if they had not grabbed his college teammate, Sean Lee.  It looks like both Penn State linebackers in that draft are fantastic young players and Bowman is already thought of as a Top 100 player.  Something Sean Lee will need to look forward to and build for next season.

Anyway, the point of that setup was simply to introduce a new term to the blog that I want to pursue from henceforth.  The concept of the "splash" play.  Offense is much easier to consume and evaluate in my opinion with the resources we have available to us as fans and media.  We can surmise much more by looking at the TV copy or the coach's film that is now available to all of us if we so choose to examine it (And, I most certainly do).  But, on defense, we have much less clear and concise information with which to draw our conclusions.  We are guessing coverages and responsibilities and overall are left to wait for sacks and interceptions to know if a player is getting it done. Therefore, when someone is asking how well someone is playing, we tend to suggest that DeMarcus Ware has 13 sacks and that is pretty much it.

So, I wanted to broaden the discussion a bit with this idea of splash plays and then begin logging them on a game by game basis.  It is certainly not perfect - in fact, it is quite subjective if we wish to rate plays on the basis of disruption or impact, but nevertheless, I wanted to introduce them to the discussion this season.  If for no other reason, for years we have been "Decoding Garrett" and meticulously breaking down the offense, and many of you have asked for better evaluation of the defense as we travel through another Cowboys season.

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.

So, that is the plan in 2012.  But, to get the system cooking, I am rewatching all of 2011.  Each week, I will release our findings for 4 games and in a month we will have gone through all 16 games.  We will have running totals and be able to update the season stats as we go.  It is imperfect, and I generally don't like dealing in imperfect plans like this, but I want to give it a shot and see who is making the splash plays for this team.  If Anthony Spencer can do many things besides sacks, let's count them up.  If Gerald Sensabaugh is better than I think, let's see it.  That is my plan.

So, here are the results of Games 1-4 from 2011.  I have detailed each play from the Jets, 49ers, Redskins, and Lions Games below.  You should be able to scroll through and sort as you wish:

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