Tracking The Splash Plays in 2011 - Part 2

BY foxsports • July 26, 2012

Last week we introduced the concept of the splash play, and began rolling through 2011 again to demonstrate what we are talking about from Weeks 1-4 on the schedule.  If you missed it, this might all make more sense if you check it out by clicking here.

In a nutshell, I am unsatisfied with our current metrics for evaluating defensive players and wanted to try something new this season. Tabulating and evaluating "splash plays" is an idea that is worth trying, and although there is subjectivity involved, I suppose that is not that different than just about every other way we attempt to evaluate the Cowboys.  I think Phil Costa had a lousy 2011.  The Cowboys obviously did not since they try to replace him very hard.  I feel I have my evidence that is both objective and subjective.  They clearly have theirs (he was too young, he did not have enough help, he is developing) as well.  But, to act like anything in football besides the final score and the final record of the teams we follow is 100 percent objective analysis is likely missing the boat.  

But, on this blog in particular and most Cowboys coverage in general, we spend a ton of time on the offense and not nearly enough on the defense. So, this year, I plan on a weekly analysis of "splash plays".  And according to the jargon in the NFL, a splash play is basically a play for the defense where somebody steps up and does something.  

Here is what we ended up with last week:

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, there you have it.  This week, we are doing part 2 of our 4-part review of the 2011 season.  Below, I have covered 4 games in this particular edition, from Game #5 (New England), #6 (St Louis), #7 (Philadelphia), and #8 (Seattle).  

From these 4 games, I have tabulated each snap and have awarded splash plays where appropriate.  Then, we are adding them up and combining them with the findings from Part 1.  Before long, we will have all of 2011 charted and have a good sample size for which to enter 2012 with some basis to work with.

I am quite interested in your feedback about how you see these charts and how you might make them better by improving this project.  Please feel free to email me at and we can grow this properly by checks and balances.

Below, please find the chapter and verse of every single splash play that we have recorded for Games 5-8:

55 splash plays were awarded in these four weeks and 57 in the first four weeks for a total of 112 in eight games (14 per game).  Sometimes there are more and sometimes, like the Sunday night game in Philadelphia, it is less.  

Now, we want to reveal through 8 games of 2011, the team leaders.  We must account for games lost to injury, and here is the list of games missed:  Sean Lee missed games 7-8.  Mike Jenkins missed game 8.  Jason Hatcher missed 4-6, Terence Newman 1-2, and Orlando Scandrick missed 2-4.  Bruce Carter did not play until Game 8, missing 1-7.

Here are the standings through 8 weeks of the 2011 season:

Player Wks

10 13 23

10 5 15

8 4 12

2 6 8

5 1 6

1 5 6

3 2 5

2 3 5

0 5 5

4 0 4

3 1 4

1 3 4

2 2 4

As you can see, DeMarcus Ware is starting to open up quite a gap from his closest competitors in this category.  He had a ridiculous performance at Philadelphia when pretty much the rest of the roster stayed home.  I credited him with 7 splash plays in that one game alone, and the entire team had just 9.  The chart above lists 13 members of the defense and there are plenty of observations to draw, but the names not on the list are the names that are most disconcerting to me.

Keith Brooking and Bradie James each had just one play in eight games that seemed worthy of noting.  That is beyond shocking.  Marcus Spears had just two plays that were noticeable.  Gerald Sensabaugh had only three.  That is four players of large salaries and responsibilities on the 2011 team that were almost never even noticed through half of the season.  Brooking and James have been dispatched, but the idea that Spears and Sensabaugh are likely opening day starters in 2012 is a bit of a mystery to me.

I think Sean Lee would be much closer to Ware had he not missed that action with his thumb injury, but he will return in Game 9.  And perhaps Anthony Spencer will get a bit more credit after this project, because he blows a lot of plays up and even though his sacks aren't there, you do see him every game doing something.

Next week, we tackle November and weeks 9-12.  Keep the feedback coming.

share story