Tuesday, July 09, 2013
As we continue to examine 2012 as a primer for what needs to be accomplished heading into training camp of 2013 and beyond, we should follow up our breakdown of the offensive numbers with a thorough checkup of the statistics that the defense was responsible for.
Clearly, this is less relevant when you consider the wholesale adjustments to the defense moving forward. They spent the offseason changing the coaching staff and the scheme of the defense and asking much of their 3-4 personnel to now simply switch to the 4-3. Most NFL experts would argue that this is a very unwise endeavor as players are often identified as one or the other on draft day and yet now the Cowboys are asking their entire Front 7 on the defense - who were all drafted because they were tailor-made for the 3-4 scheme to not only learn but perform at a high level on the 4-3.
Much of this is also mitigated by the fact that the Cowboys did run a very multiple and versatile front with Rob Ryan in the last few years and that they have very talented players who should work in any scheme, but still, it is not a sure thing this will work when they have 6 of their projected 7 starters as hold overs from the old scheme. Only newcomer Justin Durant, the projected SAM linebacker in Monte Kiffin's scheme has every played a snap in a 4-3. That is a shocking reality of what the Cowboys are about to try to do.
On the other hand, what you are about to see are the statistics that the Cowboys defense has amassed in 2012 with their old scheme. Now remember, health had a ton to do with another disappointing effort from the defense - so much so that the firing of Rob Ryan doesn't really seem fair based on 2012 performance - but, make no mistake; we should not be too bothered with the Cowboys trying a new defensive strategy moving forward.
Trouble is, we know from experience that scheme doesn't make the team. Players do. Special ones. And, honestly, I have significant doubts that the Cowboys can be a special defense based on a scheme that requires a team to get pressure with only the front 4 (The Tampa 2 seldom blitzes) and is based on the cognitive skills of safeties to orchestrate the entire secondary. But, I will let the coaches sort through those issues in a long camp and see where it goes.
In the meantime, let's try our best to sort through those 2012 numbers. When we did the offense, we found 5 great stats, 5 good stats, and 5 poor stats to analyze. Unfortunately, finding 5 great stats from the 2012 defense will not be easy, so I am forced to relabel the categories.
Here we go:
5 Good to Great Stats from the Cowboys Defense in 2012
Opponents Quick Strike Drives: Rated 9th in NFL with 28 drives of 4 plays or less. NFL Average was 41 drives and Playoff Teams averaged 31 drives where points were scored in 4 plays or fewer.
3rd Down and Long 10 yards+ Conversions: 4th best in NFL with 15.9%. NFL Average = 20.6%, Playoff Average = 21%
Opponents rushing for 4+ yards: 42% was 7th in NFL. NFL Average = 43.5%, Playoff Average = 43.9%
Opponents rushes for 50 yards: Allowed 0 plays ranked 1st. NFL Average = 1, Playoff Average = 1
Opponents Drives Starting inside the 20: 5th in NFL, 56. NFL = 48, Playoffs = 48
As you can see, I am really scraping the bottom of our barrel to find 5 stats where the Cowboys rank in the Top 10 in the league. And let's be honest - none of them really seem to be a major category of excellence. Rather, they are subcomponents of larger categories. It is certainly good news that the Cowboys did not give up huge plays very often, but they did give up tons of other things - long drives and big time of possession ground and pounds.
You do have to like that they made teams work hard for rushing yards and did not allow 4 yards a lot relative to the league. Also, it should be pointed out that the 5th stat I found - opponents' drives starting deep in their own territory is actually a stat that is reflective of strong special teams work - not defensive excellence.
Overall, as you can see, there just wasn't much at all that this defense was really good at. So, we arrive back at the question of what is the argument for keeping the scheme and the coaching staff the same?
5 League Average Stats from the Cowboys Defense in 2012
Opponents Net Passing Yards Per Game: 230, 19th in NFL. NFL Average = 231, Playoff Teams Average = 230
Opponents Red Zone Scoring: 54.5 TD%, 18th in the NFL. NFL Average = 54.1, Playoff Teams = 53.1
Explosive Plays (Plays of 20 yards or more): 67, 22nd in NFL. NFL = 60, Playoffs = 60
Opponents First Downs: 317, 16th in the NFL. NFL Average = 318, Playoff Teams = 312
Opponents Time of Possession: 29:27 for 13th in NFL. NFL Average = 30:00, Playoff Teams 29:23
Here we see that the squad did some things in line with the pack in the NFL. They weren't killed with yardage through the air and did a reasonable enough job with the clock and limiting the first downs. However, 67 explosive plays is at the low end of average and there just wasn't enough meat here to help when it mattered most. They found themselves behind quite a bit early in games and that actually might lead to some misleading numbers through the air as well. As you will see below, when QB's wanted to move the ball against the Cowboys, they didn't struggle to do so.
5 Very Poor Stats from the Cowboys Defense in 2012
Opponents Negative Plays (in yards): Cowboys -295, 30th best in NFL. NFL Average = -370, Playoff Teams -385
Takeaways: 16, which ranked 28th. NFL Average = 25, Playoffs = 27
Opponents Passer Rating: 94.7, ranked 29th. NFL Average = 85.6, Playoff Teams Average = 81.8
10 Play Drives Allowed: 32, 28th. NFL Average = 27, Playoff teams = 28
Opponents Passer Rating vs Blitz: 106.1, 29th. NFL Average = 83.4, Playoff Teams = 77.8
Look at those opponent's passer rating numbers. So, first, just look at all passes. We have always talked about how 80 is the NFL average and 90+ is an elite QB. As you can see, the Cowboys defense made their entire schedule to be elite QBs.
Then, with the blitz, they actually got even worse. They somehow conceded a 106.1 QB rating when they brought pressure. They also did not turn the ball over (again) and had fewer tackles for loss and sacks than almost anyone in the league. This is particularly depressing given the monster investment in the cornerback position last offseason.
They just didn't make any plays on defense. They didn't take the ball away, nor did they make the opponent lose yardage and set up longer plays.
They just didn't do much defensively that you can sink your teeth into.
Moving forward, we look to better health, a new scheme, and better safety play (gulp) to improve upon things. But, looking at these numbers, you can see the reason some were scratching their heads when the Cowboys did nothing to address the defense of note in the early part of the draft or free agency. These numbers are the argument for Shariff Floyd or players like that could have added a playmaker to the front 4.
But, they elected to look elsewhere and we will see if they end up regretting that.