They spent most of the 2015 offseason trying to address parts and improve upon what they established the year before, but I must confess through 11 games, I am unclear on exactly how I feel about Rod Marinelli’s side of the ball.
They certainly are not very good at getting the ball as they now sit 32nd in the NFL in takeaways. We have addressed this in previous write ups, the idea that the Cowboys have spent so much time behind hinders their ability to “play downhill” and generate more takeaways, but there is no way to sugar coat a team that sits at the league bottom.
For instance, I don’t think Cleveland spends much time with the lead in games, either. Yet, they have 17 takeaways this season. Dallas sits at merely 7.
Last week, they played the team with the league’s most takeaways (Carolina) and provided a matchup between 1 and 32 in this conversation. Carolina, predictably, found 3 more freebies and the Cowboys, also predictably, were shut out in this vital category.
In sacks, the Cowboys sit 25th in the league, with 20. This puts them on a pace for 29, which will, again, be well below league average. In the preseason, I placed the season goal at 40, simply because there seemed to be no reason they should finish below the league average (38 was NFL average in 2014) with the investment they have placed on their pass rush. It simply hasn’t developed like we anticipated.
Points against the only statistic that truly matters for a defense is at league average. The Cowboys give up 22 points a game (15th), but they fall to 27th in the league when it comes to 4th Quarter points allowed. Given the games that were lost in the 4th Quarter this year, that seems like a relevant number.
The Cowboys rank in the Top 10 in yards allowed per game. They are 8th with 332 yards against per outing. The league average is 356 per, and the rest of the division is in the bottom third of the NFL. Washington gives up 367, Philadelphia 379, and New York is worst in the league, allowing 420 per game.
They are middle of the road in so many other statistics. Passer ranking against (16th), Rushing Yards per game (15th), Explosive plays allowed (12th), and 3rd Down Conversions allowed (11th).
We have seen a brutally bad defense (2012 and 2013) around here and definitely know what one looks like. This is not a bad defense.
But, we also know what a real good defense looks like, too. And this team is certainly not that, either. Not with an absurdly low number of takeaways and game changing plays. The effort seems to be there and the talent seems higher than the recent past, but the results have been pretty disappointing. But, there were a few very disappointing sequences that must be accounted for during that game.
That is the repeated issues of 3rd and Long (10+). The game often comes down to 3rd down efficiency from both sides. And when you get into 3rd and long, it is generally a proposition under 20% to convert meaning the defense gets off the field across the league at around 81% of the time.
The Cowboys in 2015 had dealt with 34 situations in 3rd and long before Thursday and had allowed just 5 conversions (14.7%). But, against Cam Newton and his very impressive gun, the Panthers converted on 3 of 7 “3rd and long” situations for a staggering 43%. It is just one game and a small sample, but giving up 3 of these long shot scenarios in one game is an absolute failure. Then, you can add in a 4th if you count the 2nd and 19 where he also converted on another long pass to Olsen again, and you can see how the defense was culpable in snuffing out time consuming drives to a team that is not known for its ability on 3rd and long. Going into the game, Carolina was slightly better than league average at (21.8%) on these.
But, they absolutely crushed the Cowboys on long pass plays at just the wrong moments:
1) 1Q/11:04 3/5/27 Newton to Cotchery down seam, +24
Cowboys in Cover 3 with the Panthers only running 3 players into routes. Outside left man runs right at the deep safety and takes the corner (39 Carr) with him. Then, the right slot receiver (Cotchery) runs a deep in right past the depth of the dropping shallow zone guys. You would like to think 7 defenders versus 3 receivers is a major advantage for the defense, but you can see all of those shallow guys worried about Cam breaking contain and getting to the sticks. This allows this opening down the field and then the velocity on Newton’s throw and the accuracy in that window does the rest. A big potential stop goes by the boards in the space between 50 Lee and 42 Church.
2) 1Q/0:33 3/10/20 Newton to Olsen down seam, +24
Perhaps the signature play of the game for the defense because this one is a real killer. You only rush 3 guys to keep Newton from trying to run. You then drop into what looks like a Cover 1 (single high, man coverage under), but with a number of others loitering in zones to make sure you don’t let them to the sticks.
Somehow, Olsen gets easy leverage on Carr and McClain doesn’t get deep enough (in fairness, he is protecting the sticks, not the deep seam), and Newton shows you his go to pass. The deep seam is his bread and butter. I swear he does it every week. Look at this from the end zone:
You want a blitz? Here is your blitz. 6 man pressure means you only have 5 left behind it to deal with 3 in routes. Patmon is blitzing from a very deep starting position in the slot here, and he will not get close. I really hate blitzing slot guys from off coverage. Behind it, the Cowboys have 31 Jones and 39 Carr to play the corner spots on a Cover 3 zone, with 38 Heath up top. It looks like 50 Lee and 94 Gregory are the 2 shallow coverage guys.
Newton does exactly what you should do when you see a blitz. Throw into it. But, even if you do throw at Patmon’s guy, how is he going to pick up 17 yards here?
Again, it is the concept of the Cover 3 corners who run with their man. Just like Cotchery’s other catch above, he is running into space that has been vacated by the corner going with the vertical threat through their area. You could argue, this is the difficulty of this scheme is that when your corner goes with his guy (as he must), then that side of the field is going to be tough to patrol, especially if Sean Lee appears to be starting at the opposite hash as he tries to bluff a blitz. You want him to switch with Patmon and then Cotchery is running to the far sideline?
I may be too conservative, but on 3rd and 17, at this juncture of a 23 6 game, I might just play coverage and assume I won’t give up 17. Instead, they gamble and give up 24. It was that kind of day.
4) 4Q/13:11 2/19/33 Newton to Olsen down seam, +31
This is just showing off. Here, on 2nd and 19 and up comfortably in the game, Newton is just going to show you that those earlier throws were not flukes.
I don’t know what Carr is doing here as it sure looks like man coverage, but that soft outside leverage is never going to work. Olsen pushes him further outside and then angles back inside. With what appears to be sub standard free safety play all day (meaning, they never arrive at the actual point where you need them to be), the corner’s coverage has to be better than this. Readers and commenters writemypaper4me.org can also enter this coupon code when purchasing the latest issue of acwlp to receive $2 off yw52vy3k