In the aftermath of the loss in Atlanta, there has been plenty of discussion about the way the defense was unable to get off the field with the game on the line. Bruce Carter even said in the postgame that all of the earlier accomplishments do not mean as much if you fail with the game on the line.
Just to reprint my thoughts from Monday, here are the Falcons accomplishments from their performance against the Cowboys which certainly wasn't a masterpiece, but it delivered when it had to:
- Julio Jones caught 5 passes for 129 yards
- Roddy White caught 10 passes for 118 yards
- Michael Turner ran for 102 yards
- Matt Ryan threw the ball for 342 yards and a QB rating over 100
- Atlanta put up 453 yards of offense
- The Falcons totaled 8 different plays of 20 yards or more. 8!
- The Falcons converted 7 different 3rd Downs
- The Falcons had 0 giveaways
- The Falcons had 6 drives of 60 yards or more, including all 4 drives in the 2nd half
- The Falcons scored or missed FG's on 7 of 9 possessions
- All 9 possessions started in their own territory, averaging their own 22 yard line The Cowboys have lost 2 starters off of the defense this year, and when a team carves you up for 8 explosive plays like the Falcons did, we want to try to sort through them and see what happened.
The first thing that jumped off the page was that the Cowboys seldom blitzed again on this evening. With just 5 occasions of bringing a 5th man on the rush, and with only 1 time of bringing a 6th rusher, we do see that the Cowboys were content to play most of the game with coverage. And, Matt Ryan seemed to have very little difficulty shredding that.
So, why aren't the Cowboys blitzing at all? I have them sending pressure 16 times in that last 3 games - a span of 107 pass attempts (a hair under 15). Well, we have certainly documented the failures that resulted from blitzes in 2011 - but the fact that two premium corners were being brought in was supposed to free up the ability to leave them "on an island" from time to time.
But, we also have to factor in the injuries. Two starters down, and although Sean Lee has been written about at great length, perhaps the real issue here is the loss of the starting safety, Barry Church. However, it would seem to be disingenuous to claim they lost a top safety like Ed Reed, so let's look at it from another direction.
Right now, they are starting Danny McCray. McCray is this era's Sam Hurd, a player so good on special teams that they are happy to employ him just for that. He was never a great safety at LSU, in fact spent most of his time battling for a starting spot. Then, he comes to Dallas and is the 4th safety for his entire run here, an absolute last resort.
Entering camp this year, he was behind Brodney Pool and Barry Church for the vacancy at safety next to Gerald Sensabaugh, and likely also behind Matt Johnson, the rookie who has yet to demonstrate he can stay healthy.
But the road from August to October has been one where Pool got himself cut, Church was injured, and Johnson has been in the trainer's room.
So, enter the special team's pillar, McCray. In fact, they have even went and tried to replace him on special teams with Eric Frampton. And, McCray has had some moments of very impressive work as he appears to be a guy who is really good at the line of scrimmage when they sneak him up against the run. However, in coverage, it sure looks like the Cowboys are very reluctant to put him in spots where he is the last line of defense.
They tried on Sunday on the Falcons 2nd possession, blitzed 6 men for the first time in ages, and Matt Ryan immediately went up top to Julio Jones for a Falcons 38 yard gain. And that was the last time the Cowboys sent big pressure all night. They were willing to attack Ryan 1 time, got burned, and sat in relatively soft zones for the rest of the evening.
Let's take a quick look at that play:
Cowboys are sending both Carter and Sims to join the 4 up front to get to Ryan. The Falcons have a bunch formation with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez opposite Julio Jones. That is a lot of talent to worry about.
The Cowboys have Sensabaugh over Carr and Scandrick against the bunch, with Claiborne on Jones and McCray is your single-high safety who is shaded over the hash marks to Jones. But, he is leaning to the middle of the field and it won't take much to take him out of the Jones matchup.
Below, it is tough to see McCray, but you can see the top of his helmet. Ryan turns his hips to either consider Roddy White underneath if McCray heads out to Jones or to get McCray to watch White underneath and let Jones sprint past him down the numbers. What a tough spot for a safety who has not been doing this long.
Here is another view of McCray's dilemma. When you blitz 6, the guys in coverage are going to be compromised with decisions where both choices are less than ideal. Either Roddy White has tons of space to run or Julio Jones is running his 4.3 down the numbers with just a corner on his hip.
And now below, look at Ryan see his man. What follows is a long reception that is becoming a weekly occurrence in Atlanta. Also, not his pocket. The Cowboys sent 6, and Atlanta blocked them all without an issue. And behind this blitz, Claiborne concedes the reception AND gets called for pass interference.
And that, in a nutshell, is why the Cowboys aren't blitzing. They can't get there and it leaves giant chunks of yards for a QB who can manipulate a safety and find the right match-up with ease.
Let's take a look at the "Splash Plays" from Week 8 at Atlanta:
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?
This is where we see how well Bruce Carter played. 4 splash plays and his ability makes one salivate about a time when Carter and Lee are both playing together again. That should be magnificent.
Q-TimeDDYdPlayerPlay1-7:0431D27CarterRun Stuff 1-3:14110O47CarrSpencerTackle for Loss 1-0:1026D28WareTackle for Loss 2-8:5822D48Ware (2)Sack and Strip 3-11:42110O14McCrayRun Stuff 3-10:29110O32CarterTackle For Loss 3-9:39212O30CarterPass Defended 3-8:14110O35BrentWareSack3-7:20313O32CarterHit; 3rd Down Stop 4-12:38110O20HatcherTackle For Loss 4-9:12110D18ButlerSack4-3:2325D34ClaibornePass Defended
Up to date season standings - Since we are through 8 games, it is time to look at the season numbers from a per snap perspective. The PPS, or Plays-Per-Splash tells us how many plays it takes each player to find a splash play. This shows the differences in playing time - Snap numbers are courtesy of our friends at ProFootballFocus.com:
As we stated above, the Cowboys gambled early on a blitz, got burned, stopped blitzing, but continued to give up passes against a soft zone most of the rest of the night.
Q-TimeDDYdPlayRushers1-9:51210O26Ryan Pass to Jones, 386 1-3:36110O27Ryan Pass to Jones, 204 2-0:3735O17Ryan Pass to White, 204 3-9:39312O30Ryan Pass to White, 263 3-8:58110D44Ryan Pass to White, 204 3-1:2922O43Turner Run, 43- 4-11:57213O17Ryan Pass to Jones, 484 4-3:5736O24Ryan Pass to Rodgers, 314
And, here are the three sacks they found on Sunday night, none a result of bringing pressure.
Q-TimeDDYdPlayRushers2-8:5822D48Ware Sack and Strip4 3-8:14110O35BrentWare Sack4 4-9:12110D18Butler Sack4
Pass Rushers Against Atlanta- 37 pass rushblitz situations:
Pass Rushers1st D2nd D3rd D4th DTotal3 Rush111034 Rush121070295 Rush022046 Rush010017 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
Totals: 71266 - 27
The defense played well on Sunday, but could have played better. Now, their traditional tough match-up with the Eagles who have had great success the last 2 seasons getting the Cowboys in bad speed match-ups is waiting up next. LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson are both major threats against the Cowboys and nobody runs screen plays behind DeMarcus Ware's pass rush than the Eagles.
They will once again have a large challenge in front of them to get this back on the winning track.