I am sure it is bad form to quote yourself, but once in a while, I cannot resist. This is from last week's edition of Decoding Callahan to explain how Denver picked the less ideal way to defend the Cowboys and Tony Romo. I knew Jim Haslett, a guy who has played the Cowboys twice a year since 2010, and has figured out as good a way to attack Romo as anyone in the business, would not be as accommodating as Jack Del Rio was for the Broncos. Here is what I said last week:
"if I am designing a game-plan against this version of the Cowboys offense, I would absolutely throw pressure at Romo on a regular basis with numbers. I must blitz him and when teams have shown the willingness to send pressure, the Cowboys have had a tough time burning them in the 2011-2013 time frame."
The thing about playing QB against the blitz is that you have to understand a few fundamental truths.
1) it is going to require you to be willing to take a few hits. At lower levels of football, the defense might be happy by forcing you to your "hot route" and throwing short of the chains continuously. It seems the tactic there is simply to make you lose your patience. But on Sundays, they want you to think the hot route is there, only to slide a Linebacker underneath and try to get you to see something that isn't there and throw the football to the opponent. Therefore, the idea of the blitz at the NFL level seems to be to make you fight your first instinct. Your first instinct is find the hot receiver. The strong defensive mind is trying to make you think that - but when you act on it, they are pouncing. Therefore, you need to fight the first instinct and try to stay alive to use your second instinct. Tricky, to say the least.
2) It is going to make you move your targets for success. When they blitz, they are upping the ante on the hand. They are betting more and making you call them on it. The stakes are higher, so just like poker, when there is more in the middle, you only have to win a few hands to make your night profitable. In football terms, if they are going to blitz you all night, you only have to beat them badly a time or two and you can win the game. And while Sunday might have had such contributions from elsewhere (Dwayne Harris, Kyle Wilber) that you didn't even HAVE to beat these blitzes, this surely made your 4th Quarter more enjoyable.
More than anything, Haslett won a game in December against Romo because Romo never beat the blitz on a big hand. That night he blitzed almost 70% of the time which is an absurd amount (going into Sunday, the most anyone had blitzed the Cowboys in 2013 was 41% in Kansas City). On this occasion, it was 17 of 31 opportunities (55%). That is incredibly aggressive in the league, but as I said, backed off from what he did in the December home game. Part of this might be that he has Brian Orakpo healthy again, or partly because you have to be more careful with the Cowboys after they have stumbled upon 2 new weapons in Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. Both seem like perfect types to burn blitzes with their ability to elude 1 man at the point of the reception. And if you do that against a blitz, you can run a long ways.
Jim Haslett raises the stakes and when you beat him, you should savor it for a moment before you move on to the next one. And I have many pictures and a video to break down the play of the game for the offense:
9:12 - 3Q - 2nd and 10 from the Washington 15 after the huge kickoff return from Dwayne Harris:
Redskins are showing a 6 man pressure, but they have been doing this most of the night. Invariably, not everyone is coming on the pass rush, but Haslett has a few special blitzes reserved. In this one, he shows 6, and 6 actually do come - just not the same 6 that the Cowboys are expecting. 26-Josh Wilson is blitzing from the slot instead of 59 London Fletcher from his spot right over Travis Frederick. This will instantly make Miles Austin in the right slot the "hot receiver", but the Redskins are going to try to get Fletcher in the passing lane, and crash a safety down on Austin if he has anything vertical. Romo knows that they know his first instinct is to find the hot receiver, and therefore, does not throw it there. Another obvious reason he doesn't throw it there is that Wilson, who is a most impressive signing for Washington from Baltimore in 2011, was able to tip a ball earlier in the game on one of his other blitzes and it turned into Romo's lone interception in the game.
So, above, the blue circled receiver is the read (Austin) and the red circled rusher is Wilson. In many blitz situations, there are rushers who are unaccounted for in the blocking scheme. In this case, the Cowboys have nobody available for Wilson. He is a free rusher. What this means is that Romo has to figure this one out on his own. Fun, right? Wilson is taking an angle that he thinks will both get him to Romo and will stay in his passing lane to Austin. In retrospect, he wishes he went wider on Romo to contain him inside. But, he didn't.
The above frame is important because I wanted to note the eyes of each receiver on the play-side. They are all looking back to see how they can help Romo. Dez - at the bottom of the screen against DeAngelo Hall - is running a fade and not looking back, but in this frame, the other 3 are watching Romo. Look at Fletcher begging Romo to try to get the ball to Austin. He can't wait to step in the path of the throw. I also want you to look at Perry Riley, who Joseph Randle is supposed to handle on the blitz pickup from Romo's blindside. He did a horrendous job and Riley ran right past him to the outside and gives Romo another untouched edge rusher to deal with that he certainly wasn't planning on.
Because Romo is able to magically evade Wilson on a free run, he now has time to locate his deeper options and as he releases the ball, they both have to be considered open. Witten is more of an across the body throw, but Williams has a step on the Redskins 4th corner, EJ Biggers (remember David Amerson, the 2nd Round pick from NC State was knocked out on the Harris kickoff return minutes earlier). Romo lofts a pass to the end zone right as the linebacker Riley is about to deck him and Randle is apologetically running to Romo to beg forgiveness.
End zone view shows us that 50-Rob Jackson (the man who famously intercepted Romo's pass late last December) is going to cross the face of Free to the inside and keep him from having any chance at seeing Wilson. Orakpo will do the same to Tyron on the other side and this puts Randle in a spot where he has to show he can handle a blitzing LB.
Watch 59-Fletcher who is waiting for the underneath route interception opportunity. Also, note Randle up the the right who is engaging his responsibility. Wilson is a blur headed right for Romo. We cannot emphasize how impressive it is to avoid a fine tackling corner and keep the play alive.
Less than a second later, Randle has been schooled and Romo is alive somehow. What a play by the QB.
Here is one other key play in the 4th Quarter I wanted to show you.
12:19 - 4Q - 3rd and 5 from the Redskins' 25:
When I said Haslett is willing to roll the dice, here is a great indicator. Maybe they realize that their best chance to win is to trick Romo into a bad decision or maybe take advantage of risk aversion and maybe Romo will hold the ball and allow a fumble. Either way, this is the most dangerous of all blitzes, the Cover 0 blitz - which as you may assume, means no safeties to help if anyone falls or breaks a tackle.
The safety over Beasley crashes down to try to take him away, but Beasley has an outward breaking route that is a pitch and catch if Romo can place the ball properly in the face of 7 rushers. I assume on film he will see Miles Austin in the right slot with a back pedaling and safe Wilson, and wonder if that might have been 7 points if they connect there, but you certainly don't want to act like a 3rd Down conversion in the face of a very rare 7 man blitz is no big deal.
Data from Week 6 vs the Washington Redskins:
|Starting Field Position||D40|
|1st Down Run-Pass||10-13|
|2nd Down Avg Distance to Go||8.53|
|2nd Down Run-Pass||4-11|
|3rd Down Avg Distance to Go||7.00|
|3rd/4th Down Run-Pass||5-7|
|3rd Down Conversions||5-12, 41%|
Here are the passing charts to see what was being accomplished on Sunday. Intern Tim is back with us this year and he has made some pleasing to the eye charts for us to see.
Blue is a completion. Red is incomplete. Yellow is a touchdown, and Black is an interception. The passes are lines from where Romo released the pass to where the pass was caught. This shows you his release point and where he likes to throw when he slides in the pocket.
You are not going to throw for 500 yards every week. The Redskins know that the more pressure you throw, the harder it will be to throw something deep. Look at these passing charts. Very little accomplished down the field.
1ST HALF PASSING CHART - (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)
2ND HALF PASSING CHART - (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)
Nothing deep in the first half that completed and the only deep throw in the 2nd half that found its mark was the TD to T Williams. Haslett and Romo have some great struggles.
Dez Bryant Passing Chart - (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)
And inside the Haslett vs Romo game is the DeAngelo Hall vs Dez Bryant battle. And, this particular chapter did not include any 3rd and 21 sandlot plays. All underneath and a frustrating night for Dez. Part of that has to be on him - DeAngelo Hall is trying to get him frustrated, so he needs to be mentally prepared for these battles.
Drive Starters - The 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. How committed is he to the run or pass when the team comes off the sideline? We track it each week here -
Wk 2 - Kansas City Chiefs: 3 Run/9 Pass - 25% Run
Wk 3 - St. Louis Rams: 8 Run/2 Pass - 80% Run
Wk 4 - San Diego Chargers: 6 Run/4 Pass - 60% Run
Wk 5 - Denver Broncos: 3 Run/8 Pass - 37% Run
Wk 6 - Washington Redskins: 5 Run/4 Pass - 55% Run
2013 Totals: 64 Drives - 30 Run/34 Pass - 46% Run
* This statistic doesn't count the 1-play kneel down drives.
2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run/102 Pass - 44% Run
2012 Total: 173 Drives - 76 Run/97 Pass - 44% Run
Shotgun snaps are fine on 3rd Down and in the 2 minute drill. But, we track this stat from week to week to make sure the Cowboys aren't getting too lazy in using it. They are not efficient enough to run it as their base, and with a 15%/85% run/pass split across the league, there is no way the defense respects your running game. When shotgun totals are high, the Cowboys are generally behind, scared of their offensive line, or frustrated.
Sunday, being the incredibly strange game that it was, contained a very high amount of shotgun and therefore drove the season number back up to 63%.
Wk 1 - NYG: 44 Shotgun/71 Total Plays - 61.9%
Wk 2 - at KC: 46 Shotgun/60 Total Plays - 76.6%
Wk 3 - STL: 28 Shotgun/59 Total Plays - 47.4%
Wk 4 - at SD: 33 Shotgun/56 Total Plays - 58.9%
Wk 5 - DEN: 39 Shotgun/54 Total Plays - 72.2%
Wk 6 - WASH: 23 Shotgun/50 Total Plays - 46%
Season Total - 213/350 Total Plays - 60.8%
2011 Total - 445/1012 43.9%
2012 Total - 565/1038 54%
Here is the breakdown by groupings:
And now, a look at the efficiency of each personnel grouping.
Before you study the data below, I would recommend that if the numbers for the groupings are unfamiliar, that you spend some time reading a more expanded definition of the Personnel Groupings here.
Totals by Personnel Groups:
* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.
Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:
As you can see, hardly any production in this category - 9 plays for 22 yards on 3rd Down will not cut it in any situation.
Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 31 pass rush/blitz situations:
Denver was not up for blitzing as they tried to play deep safeties all day and still were beaten over the top. Washington has secondary issues, too.
Wk 1: NY Blitzed 13/49: 26%
Wk 2: KC Blitzed 19/46: 41%
Wk 3: STL Blitzed 10/25: 40%
Wk 4: SD Blitzed 8/41: 19%
Wk 5: DEN Blitzed 10/40 25%
Wk 6: WAS Blitzed 17/31 55%
Season Blitz rate vs Dallas 77/232: 33.2%
|Pass Rushers||3 Rush||4 Rush||5 Rush||6 Rush|
|Short (0-5 Yds To Go)||0||0||0||0|
|Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)||0||7||5||0|
|Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)||1||0||0||0|
|Pass Rushers||3 Rush||4 Rush||5 Rush||6 Rush|
|Short (0-5 Yds To Go)||0||1||2||0|
|Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)||1||2||2||1|
|Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)||1||0||1||0|
|Pass Rushers||3 Rush||4 Rush||5 Rush||6 Rush|
|Short (0-5 Yds To Go)||0||0||1||0|
|Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)||0||1||2||0|
|Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)||0||2||0||0|
SEASON TO DATE
|Pass Rushers||3 Rush||4 Rush||5 Rush||6 Rush||Total|
|1st Down||7 - 7%||57 - 61%||24 - 26%||4 - 4%||92 - 39%|
|2nd Down||6 - 6%||55 - 63%||21 - 24%||4 - 4%||86 - 37%|
|3rd Down||4 - 7%||28 - 52%||19 - 35%||2 - 3%||53 - 22%|
|Totals||17 - 7%||140 - 60%||64 - 27%||10 - 4%|
Thanks to John Daigle and Tim Krajewski for their work on the charts and graphs.
SUMMARY: This is a rather complex game situation that was boiled down to just a few plays today for a few reasons. First, the Cowboys only had 50 snaps, but not because they weren't accomplishing anything, but rather they were beneficiaries of a short field for most of the night. That isn't to say they put on any sort of an offensive clinic, because they didn't. But, they scrapped their tails off and made plays and stayed in control of the proceedings for most of the day.
I wanted to break down the running game after DeMarco Murray left with another injury, but there wasn't much when the game was in question. Joseph Randle is a 5th round rookie and the Cowboys will need to get him ready for the next few weeks, but to throw him in a game that intense seemed to be a bad spot for his debut. He didn't fare well and now they can get him ready for next week.
People wanted more run plays on Sunday night, but I am not one of them. You are not playing to achieve balance, you must play the game in front of you. And the game they had on Sunday called for them to spread out the Redskins and look for chances to make them pay for their blitzing. To me, that was a common sense decision and it turned out pretty well.
Not a banner day by any stretch, but also nothing to apologize for. Haslett makes it tough on you and you know you were in a war. More than anything, we knew it was going to be a great test of the ability to stand up to an aggressive blitz and see if this offensive line is better. I think they clearly are and I also believe that Williams and Beasley have really made this offense more dynamic and dangerous for those that want to blitz. Promising signs from the offense.