|Dez drops Dallas’ best chance for a comeback.|
The Cowboys problems with pressure 3-4s continued yesterday. New Chiefs coordinator Bob Sutton, a long-time Rex Ryan assistant, used parts of Ryan’s philosophy, most notably Buddy Ryan’s Bears front, to frustrate the Cowboys rushing attack, holding Dallas to 61 total yards. He further mixed some of Rex’s signature overload blitzes and some aggressive coverage to frustrate Dallas’ passing attack.
What resulted was a replay of some hard road losses from recent years. The 17-10 loss in Denver in week four of ’09 was most typical. Sutton had the element of surprise on his side, and a strong interior front which made big plays at key points in the game. Nose tackle Dontari Poe contributed two sacks which short-circuited Cowboys drives The first put the brakes on Dallas’ opening drive and forced a field goal. The second, which I’ll review in detail below, stopped the Cowboys when they were ready to score a touchdown on their opening series of the 2nd half.
Two games is not a trend, but it’s the beginning of a trend, and the most concerning feature of the 2013 Cowboys has been their inability to muster a rushing attack. This week they faced a number of eight and nine man fronts, but the weak totals, combined with last week’s inability to get a push against seven man Giants fronts, has to be the main topic this week in the offensive coaches’ meetings.
Sutton used a common stem in the Ryan 3-4, one which Wade Phillips used in Dallas from time to time, which lets a 3-4 easily shift into a Bear 4-3. Here’s how it looks in diagram form and here’s how the Chiefs executed it on the first scrimmage play of the 2nd half:
Here’s a base 3-4 front, with the ends and the nose tackle two-gapping against the center and offensive tackles, playing head up against their offensive counterparts and looking for plays to either gap to their left or right. This look can be changed into a Bear by having both DEs slide one player inside, each going from head over a tackle to a guard. The strong side inside backer, the Ted or T, will line up in the C cap between the strong-side tackle and the tight end, while the strong outside linebacker, the S, steps outside the TE to bracket him. The strong safety, SS, will walk up and play the Ted’s role, as the second inside linebacker. The weak safety will drop into the deep middle. You go from this:
And here it is in the flesh:
Kansas City is in a 3-4 look with the strong safety creeping up to put eight defenders in the box. Notice both DEs to the NT Poe’s left and right are standing. They are lined up across from the OTs, but when the ILB on the near hash mark walks up, both DEs pinch over the guards:
This puts three men over your center and guards, while over-shifting towards the tight ends’ side. You’re facing an 8-man front with press coverage on the outside. Kansas City mixed this front with a 2-4-5 look with two down linemen and four linebackers and blitzed from it regularly. That heavy beef and movement gummed up Dallas’ inside runs. Only once, on a Lance Dunbar cutback, did Dallas get heavy push on a running play.
The game from the offense’s side became one-dimensional, with the passing game trying to beat corner and safety blitzes off one side. Here’s a look at one such overload, from Dallas’ first 3rd quarter drive:
The Chiefs are in their 2-4 look with Donari Poe and Tyson Jackson down. Dallas is three wide. The Chiefs are in a 2-deep look at the outset, but notice that the slot corner over Miles Austin is creeping inside, to blitz off the edge. He’s going to release Austin to the safety behind him.
At the snap, the stand-up DE over RT Doug Free and the ILB across from RG Mackenzy Bernadeau will drop into zone coverage, giving Bernadeau and Free nobody to block. Meanwhile, the three Chiefs to the right of NT Poe will rush with him. With Jason Witten running a pattern from the left TE spot, the Chiefs have three rushers coming at LT Tyron Smith and LG Ronald Leary. On the other hand, there’s only one deep safety and he’s shaded to Dez Bryant’s side. There’s nobody in the deep half to Dallas’ left, and that’s where Romo throws his pass.
Terrance Williams got a clean release off the line and Romo dropped a fade into his hands at the Chiefs’ 17.
The problem is that Sutton was not predictable in where he would blitz and whom he would cover. On this 3rd down play, he put two secondary players on Bryant’s side of the field. Three plays later, on 3rd and goal from the 9, Bill Callahan expected coverage to again be rolled towards Bryant and called for a flanker screen to Williams. This time, Sutton sent his coverage at Williams, and blew up the pass. There were howls the gallery about the play call, but a bigger execution sin was committed on 1st down, where the call was for Bryant, who got wide open, and never saw the ball. (Again, more below.)
On defense, Monte Kiffin’s unit played a much stronger, tighter game than they did against New York, but did their part to ensure defeat. Andy Reid beat them on an opening drive where he mixed a read option and a reverse to Donnie Avery with passes to his tight end and a successful slant to Dwayne Bowe. None of these plays fazed the defense, which created a 3rd and 15 on the edge of field goal range. Here, Alex Smith scrambled for 16, getting to the sideline ahead of Brandon Carr, who had trouble beating his receiver’s block. Smith got a second first down with an 11 yard scramble, setting up 1st and goal inside the five. The Chiefs converted two plays later when Reid faked a reverse left to Dexter McCluster, then rolled Smith right and had him throw to Jamaal Charles, who ran underneath protection off the left wing.
The defense controlled Smith the rest of the first half, sacking him three times with a twisting four man rush. That said, this defense counts on turnovers and had two chances to convert, but failed both times. Will Allen jumped a curl route to a tight end on the Chiefs’ opening scoring drive but dropped the pass. On the Chiefs’ last first-half possession, Alex Smith again tried to complete curl pass to his tight end. Here, Bruce Carter got both hands on Smith’s pass but failed to hold it. Carter had an open field in front of him and would have scored a game-breaking pick six had he held on.
Even with that, the defense had the chance to make a critical stop and give the offense the ball for a game-winning drive. The Cowboys had narrowed the score to 17-16 with a Dan Bailey field goal and had three time outs and nearly four minutes to play with. The defense let Kansas City grind out two first downs on the ground, and then gave up a 3rd-and-9 when Morris Claiborne was flagged for obvious interference on an Avery slant route. Kansas City finally surrendered the ball with 16 seconds left.
Defenses have a goal of holding an opponent to 17 or fewer points per week. The Cowboys met that goal, but Kiffin will probably tell you they could have done much better.
So could the entire team.
– Another disappointing game for the subs, who made critical mistakes at key moments of the game. Lance Dunbar entered the action as the backup running back this week and showed that he’s worthy of the spot, with some hard running. But Dunbar made the same miscue that Phillip Tanner did, fumbling the ball while struggling to gain a first down midfield late in the 3rd quarter. Kansas City returned the ball to the pre-red zone. They didn’t gain a first down but the field position let them score their final points of the day on a long field goal.
Fourth receiver Dwayne Harris committed a similar unforced error on Dallas last scoring drive. The Cowboys had moved methodically from their own 20 to the Chiefs 35 in just four plays: an 11 yard crosser to Miles Austin, a 12 yard fade to Dez Bryant, a four yard delay to Jason Witten and a 17 yard delay up the right sideline to DeMarco Murray. Here, he jumped offsides on 1st and 10, setting Dallas back to 1st and 15, killing the rhythm. Harris was promptly pulled from the game, but the no-huddle rhythm was killed. Dallas overcome the penalty after Jason Witten was held, but the offense didn’t gain another yard and settled for a field goal, creating the final score.
Trouble at Running Back?
It’s early, but nobody on the Cowboys running back corps is stepping up. Phillip Tanner played himself out of last week’s game with a fumble. Lance Dunbar helped the Chiefs to a score with his own bobble this week. Then there’s the question of pass blocking. Look at this set of stills from Dallas first series of the 2nd half. The Cowboys have a 1st-and-goal at the five yard line after Lance Dunbar ripped an 11 yard run behind Tyron Smith, immediately after Williams caught his deep fade. On 1st down, Romo takes the snap, looks right for Dez Bryant, and is sacked for an 8-yard loss.
The Chiefs sent end Tamba Hali, their best pass rusher, on an inside blitz up the left A-gap, between LG Ronald Leary and C Travis Frederick. Leary picked him up, and Frederick turned to his left to also block Hali, setting nose tackle Dontari Poe free. Poe charged up the A-gap to Frederick’s right and corralled Romo. The center erred, no? Or did he?
Look at DeMarco Murray in still one. He starts the play to Romo’s right, behind the RG Mackenzy Bernadeau and RT Doug Free. Murray slid right to left, then released very late on a delayed pattern. Murray was in position to block Poe and floated right past him:
I don’t know the call, but I have to wonder if the back missed his assignment? Whomever was responsible, hat missed block was harmful. Bryant was open, getting inside his CB. Slot WR Dwayne Harris had drawn bracket coverage inside, giving Dez a free run at the back of the end zone. Poe never gave Romo a chance to fire the ball:
Given the fumble woes from the backups, any missed blocking assignments from your primary, combined with a weak running game, means RB coach Gary Brown needs to rally his charges.
– The good on defense: Anthony Spencer made some plays in his limited snaps. He got consistent pressure from the right edge and looks like he can make more plays as he gets into game shape That’s vital because…
– Starting LE George Selvie had another good day rushing the passer. Let’s not forget that Selvie looked his best as a right end in training camp. If Spencer can get up to 40-45 snaps soon, Selvie can play 25-30 as a swing end, spelling both DeMarcus Ware, who has played a high number of reps, and Spencer. Selvie could be the defense’s version of Laurent Robinson, a sub who plays high-quality reps and lets the starters put in better reps themselves because they’re less gasses as the year wears on.
– What to do with Morris Claiborne? He’s a one-armed man at right corner. Orlando Scandrick was solid in his place and I wonder if B.W. Webb may be a better option as the 3rd corner? Claiborne can’t wrap up with his bad shoulder and probably would not have tackled Avery on that critical 3rd down pass had he not interfered with the Chief.
The screaming is probably still going on for the 3rd down call that didn’t go for Dez. Three series later, Callahan gave Dez his chance to tip the game. On a 1st and 10 from the Cowboys 20, the Chiefs blitzed. Callahan kept in seven to block, sending out just three receivers against man coverage, with a safety sitting in deep centerfield.
Bryant beat Brandon Flowers cleanly off the line and was two steps behind his defender up the right sideline. Romo led Dez perfectly towards the sideline, dropping the pass into Bryant’s hands. As this still shows, Bryant was well outside the safety. He would have been in a footrace with Flowers up the sideline. At worst, he takes the ball into Chiefs’ territory. At best, he puts Dallas ahead.
He dropped the pass.
Losing is a team effort, and nearly everyone played a part yesterday. The Cowboys have work to do, but their task seems more manageable today than the Redskins’, or Giants’ jobs, and no larger than the Eagles. Still, the work needs to be done.