What a difference a few big plays make. If only, like the team in Chicago, a game like this happened all of the time, we might think of the Cowboys as a truly elite defense. Difficult to run against, physical, and opportunistic with a few big plays that they might put into your end zone.
Of course, "a game like this" is absurdly unrealistic.
How much so? Well, we have already shared the idea that a punt return TD, Fumble return TD, and an interception return TD had not happened in the same quarter of a league game since 1966 when the San Francisco 49ers accomplished that feat.
But, let's eliminate the special teams' TD and just focus on the idea of 2 defensive touchdowns and the rarity of that. It is true that the Chicago Bears have an absurd 11 defensive touchdowns in the last 17 games (2 of them, thanks to the work of Tony Romo and the Cowboys a month back). The Cowboys had 1 during that same stretch until Sunday when Brandon Carr and Jason Hatcher both put the ball in the opposing end zone. To find 11 defensive touchdowns in Dallas, you would have to span 91 games all the way back to December of 2006.
The idea of 2 defensive touchdowns is generally a great production number for a full season in Dallas. In fact, in 2011, Terence Newman returned an interception against Buffalo for the only defensive score of the year. They also had just 1 Touchdown from the defense in a season in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, the Cowboys exploded for 4. DeMarcus Ware returned a fumble for a touchdown in Philadelphia and Bryan McCann had a Pick-6 in Jason Garrett's first game in New York City against the Giants. But, that season would also contain the extremely rare 2 TD game for the defense.
Here are the 7 occasions in their 795 games in their history that had 2 Cowboys' defensive scores before Sunday:
1) 11765 - George Andrie returned a fumble and Bob Lilly returned an interception in the 2nd Quarter of a game against San Francisco.
2) 91883 - Dexter Clinkscale returned an interception and Michael Downs a fumble in the 4th Quarter of a win against the Giants at Texas Stadium.
3) 9985 - In the famous "Joe Theismann birthday game", Victor Scott and Dennis Thurman both picked off Joe's passes as part of a historic rout of the hated Redskins at Texas Stadium.
4) 121094 - Dallas overcomes a mediocre offensive performance at the Superdome to get a win against the Saints, thanks to defensive scores from Tony Tolbert and Darrin Smith.
5) 10399 - The Cowboys easily pounded the Cardinals (who easily pounded the Cowboys in the 1998 playoffs) with defensive touchdowns from George Teague and Greg Ellis.
6) 11401 - Here is an oddity, where the Cowboys scored 2 defensive touchdowns in a game in New York and yet still lost. Clint Stoerner versus Kerry Collins, where Dexter Coakley and Mario Edwards returned picks to the end-zone.
7) 12510 - In what would be Sean Lee's first big game as a pro, Lee and Scandrick picked off Peyton Manning passes and returned them for touchdowns. The Cowboys won, barely, in overtime in Indianapolis.
So, now you can add 111112 to the list, and a win that shows how a takeaway can make all of the difference in the world for a defense.
Of course, wanting takeaways is one thing. Getting them is quite another.
Let's take a look at the "Splash Plays" from Week 9 at Philadelphia:
Splash Plays are key impact plays from the defense. Usually, they are obvious, but there are some that blur the line. I have listed time and play of each one for those who want to double check my work.
For more, read a detailed explanation of this study here: What is a Splash Play?
WEEK 9 At Philadelphia
Bruce Carter continues his excellent play and Anthony Spencer puts up another gem. Both linebackers are complimenting DeMarcus Ware wonderfully this season. We also had the best game from Orlando Scandrick of the year and the first splash from new Cowboy, Charlie Peprah.
Q-TimeDDYdPlayerPlay1-12:22110D38CrawfordRun Stuff1-1:3624O26PeprahBig Hit Breakup1-1:2834O26Spencer3rd Down Run Stop2-14:48110O18CarterTackle For Loss2-13:0227O33CarterTackle For Loss2-7:41110O22WareTackle For Loss2-3:0424O28WareDrew Holding Penalty2-2:42213O18ScandrickPass Defended3-10:0822O36SpencerTackle For Loss4-12:3827O37Carr (2)Interception for TD4-10:02120O37ScandrickPass Defended4-9:58220O37ScandrickTackle For Loss4-3:1434D28ButlerSack4-0:55115O6Spencer (2)Sack and Strip4-0:55115O6HatcherRecovery
Up to date season standings - thru 9 games
It does seem tracking the blitz has been a bit of a non-event since the Bears game, as the Cowboys have pretty much turned off the faucet of bringing pressure. This means that very few of the big plays - for or against - are a result of bringing linebackers or defensive backs to get pressure.
Q-TimeDDYdPlayRushers3-13:00120D44Foles to Maclin, 44 TD44-2:4149D33Foles to Johnson, 3241-11:47210D38Vick to Jackson, 3133-13:56110O43McCoy left, 23-4-0:43110O32Foles to Cooper, 224
And, here are their two late game sacks, neither of which were generated off of the blitz.
Q-TimeDDYdPlayRushers4-3:1434D28Butler Sack44-0:53115O6Spencer Sack and Strip4
Pass Rushers Against Philadelphia- 43 pass rushblitz situations:
Pass Rushers1st D2nd D3rd D4th DTotal3 Rush030034 Rush121371335 Rush420066 Rush001017 Rush00000
The game by game pressure numbers:
Wk 1 - NYG: 1137 - 30
Wk 2 - SEA: 1026 - 38
Wk 3 - TB: 1232 - 37
Wk 4 - CHI: 1227 - 44
Wk 5 - BAL: 1027 - 37
Wk 6 - CAR: 939 - 23
Wk 7 - NYG: 231 - 6
Wk 8 - ATL: 537 - 14
Wk 9 - PHI: 743 - 16
Totals: 78309 - 25
Now, with a stretch of rookie QBs continuing against Cleveland, it will be interesting to see if Rob Ryan turns up the heat against his old team. Or, will the Cowboys continue to play conservatively and protect their young safeties, while trying to force slow marches down the field without risking big plays.