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Breaking Down the Scoring Drive

I got a TiVo for this season, so I thought I'd put it to use. I went through the plays on that first scoring drive looking for how and why each play worked. I don't have any sort of football training. I only know what I read about it, and I think just about anyone could gain the information presented here by doing what I did (watching the plays in slo-motion several times each), but still: I think there's some value in it. It's the sort of thing I would read.

Romo to Witten, 10 yards:

There were three passing plays on this drive. The Chargers brought five rushers on all three of them. Such is life with the Chargers: they brought five rushers on 44.7% of defensive snaps last year, the most in the league. With the two outside linebackers blitzing, the inside linebackers both dropped back. They did so to such an extent that it appeared as if their main goal was to just keep everything in front of them. Given that, Witten had no trouble breaking outside of Stephen Cooper and catching his first pass of the night. In addition to playing back, Cooper was shading inside, so this was a completion waiting to happen. The only two hopes for the Chargers on this play is if the cornerback would have come underneath and broken up the pass or if the rush got to Romo. The cornerback was playing press, so he was nowhere near in position to do anything, and Barber neutralized Merriman with ease. This was about as easy a way to pick up ten yeards as there is. That was the beauty of this posession: all of it looked so simple. It was as if the defense had no choice but to let them score.

Barber rush, 4 yards:

At the start of the play, the line flows to the left, but Andre Gurode stops flowing and is pushed over by Jamal Williams. With the push, however, Williams loses balance. Colombo gives Williams a shove of his own, and he goes down next to Gurode. At this point, there are no holes to run through but thanks to Colombo, no immediate threats either. Flozell wasn't really in position to seal his man off for when Barber bounced outside (that was not, after all, the design of the play), but he had pushed him far enough upfield that Barber had the chance to pick up four yards. Barber deserves extra points for maintaining his balance after Gurode fell in to him.

Romo to Witten, 7 yards:

The offense lines up with two receivers right and two tight ends left. As the two outside linebackers blitz, the inside linebackers cover the two tight ends. Tony Curtis is the outside tight end while Witten is inside. Curtis starts upfield before breaking to the sideline and taking Cooper with him. That clears out space under Witten. Witten's route is pretty similar to the first one. He runs up the field before cutting outside to spearate from the linebacker. Since Curtis took Cooper with him, Wilhelm is starting out from pretty far inside, so when Witten makes his move outside, it's an easy completion. Wilhelm does manage to close towards Witten after his move better than Cooper did. That's why the play nets seven yards instead of 10, because Witten has no chance to make a move with the ball. Still, it's a first down and an unstoppable play.

Barber rush, 15 yards:

The offense sets up with one wideout, two tight ends and a fullback. The entire line blocks to the right except for Witten. Deon Anderson helps out to the right while Witten takes care of Merriman to the left. The line just smashes the opposition. Barber brings a lot of things to the table, but he didn't need any of them for the first six yards or so. Dominance. The interesting element of this play is Witten. He takes care of Merriman coming in from the left, disengages at the earliest possible time, and heads out in to the secondary. Barber follows Witten's blocks to 14 yards. Without a tight end who can take on Shawne Maerriman by himself before becoming the lead blocker, this play would not work. And those things aren't easy to do. Football Outsiders said that given Witten's combination of blocking and receiving skills, he is probably the best tight end in football. When he allows the offense to run plays like this, such a claim seems justified.

Barber rush, 4 yards:

To the extent that the blocking made the previous play, Barber made this one. Tony Curtis lines up as a fullback before motioning to the left side of the line. That puts the Cowboys in what Madden '08 tells me is an "Ace" package. From that, they run a stretch to the left. Jamal Williams gives Gurode trouble again, blowing by his right shoulder and to Barber. At the same time, Merriman defeats Curtis' block. They both try to tackle Barber and sort of brush each other off. Barber keeps his footing throughout. Had he not, the play likely would have gone for no gain. Merriman and Williams do, however, succeed in slowing Barber. On the other side of the play, Jacques Cesaire gets inside the block of Marc Colombo, letting him free to tackle Barber. Had Marion not been slowed, he probably wouldn't have had much trouble outrunning Cesaire. In this case, though, Cesaire is able to get Marion's legs and bring him down. Barber tries to step though the tackle. The effort does not succeed, but it does net him an extra yard or two. In the end, Barber scratches four yards out of blocking worthy of no gain.  I don't claim to know how getting beat by Cesaire affected him, but it's worth noting that Colombo was called for a false start on the next play.

Romo to Crayton, 16 yards:

As Mickey pointed out on the broadcast, Crayton really makes this play. He's taking on San Diego's first-round pick Antoine Cason. Crayton slants in and turns back towards Romo. Cason has good coverage to this point, but when Crayton turns in, Cason thinks he knows what is going on and tries to come in off of Crayton's left shoulder. Crayton has played him like a game: he breaks right, and Romo is ready with the pass. Eric Cooper has drifted towards Sam Hurd on the left side of the play, and he is in poor position to make the tackle. He does, however, slow Crayton long enough for Cason to catch up. The cameras caught a cool moment after the play where Colombo came up to Crayton, presumably thanking him for bailing him out.

Peter King had mentioned about a week ago that the focus of Romo's offseason was to stay back in the pocket. There is a tendency to shuffle towards the line of scrimmage when making reads, but a quarterback can give himself more time if he avoids that tendency. We only have three passes to work off of here, but it certainly seemed like the work paid off. The Chargers blitzed every time, and he wasn't bothered. After watching Rex Grossman move four yards up in the pocket during the Bears' preseason game, it is refreshing to see a quarterback do it right.

 

This is only one drive. Even the Dolphins had one good drive at some point last season (unconfirmed). Still, if the first-team offense could have done anything more to show they'll be as deadly as ever, I can't think of what that would be.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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