Last year Allen Ball had a tough go of it when he was moved from Corner Back to Safety. I think we can all agree that experiment was an epic fail. But, one thing we should all realize is that Ball was moved from CB to Safety because his play at CB gave cause to warrant taking the chance. Let’s also remember that Ball had made the Cowboy’s roster the year before as a CB who showed a lot of potential.
This preseason Ball has moved back to his natural position of CB but his reputation as a failed Safety has followed him. I think that’s unfair to a player who’s done a fine job as a fill-in starter at CB during Newman’s absence.
To be fair to those on BTB who are calling for Ball’s lynching I’ll admit that on first viewing of the San Diego Touchdown and the "expert" analysis offered by the NBC Crew, would lead one to think that Ball alone was responsible for blowing his assignment that allowed McMichael’s second quarter touchdown catch.
What the NBC Crew pointed to on the play was a slight hesitation from Ball when he recognized that McMichael was alone in the front corner of the end zone. Ball stops his coverage of Jackson, but the ball had already been released by Rivers and was in the air on its way to McMichael who makes a leaping catch in the front corner of the end zone. Ball takes the blame for the catch.
Closer review of the play indicates there’s another culprit whose blown assignment allowed McMichael to be all alone and uncovered in the corner of the End Zone.
The dead give-away for my analysis of the coverage breakdown was provided by the Big Robowski during an interview where he took the blame for the TD by being cute with his coverage. Although Ryan was cute, the execution or lack thereof, was to blame and the breakdown was not from any member of our supposedly porous secondary.
Here’s the breakdown of the play and the revelation of just who dunnit:
Rivers brings the San Diego offense to the line in a shotgun formation, single back and three wide receivers. The TE, McMichael is in the slot on the right side of the formation. The Cowboys counter with their standard defensive set having three down-linemen, two ILBs, two OLBs and four DBs; Ware’s on the weak side of the formation showing rush while Spencer lines up on the strong side over the TE. The DBs are showing man coverage with a safety over on the strong side of the Charger’s formation. For simplicity’s sake, only the strong-side of the field is going to be broken down at the snap of the ball.
At the snap, Jackson who’s split wide and covered by Ball, runs a skinny post. Ball has inside technique and has Jackson blanketed. Sensi has Jackson covered over the top as the second part of the double-team. Rivers’ first read appears to be Jackson, who’s not open. Simultaneously, Spears breaks through the line and forces Rivers to retreat back and to his right (the strong side of the formation).
The running back who had been to the strong side of the formation fails to recognize that Spears had come free and leaves the backfield running a short drag route across the middle that is picked up by James who absolutely blankets him.
McMichael, who had lined up in the slot to the strong side, is covered by Spencer. McMichael’s is engaged at the line of scrimmage by Spears who follows the TE. Here’s where things go wrong for the Cowboys.
At the same time that McMichael has run two yards down field, Spencer turns inside and pauses as the running back exits the backfield and begins his route. Recognizing that James has coverage of the Charger running back, Spencer begins to back into his zone, which is the strong side flat. However, his slight delay allows McMichael to get behind him. In all actuality, Spencer never drops more than 2 yards off the line of scrimmage when he should be about 5-7 yards deep. Had he been where he was supposed to be, he would have denied Rivers a throwing lane to McMichael and forced Rivers to either throw the ball away or take the sack from Spears.
So, who dunnit? Not the defender who has taken the blame on National TV; Spencer dunnit in the flat with his lack of execution by not getting any depth in his drop. But, it's easy to blame Ball after last year's failed experiment at Safety.
I might start a new controversy now but that was the third time this preseason that Spencer has failed to execute his assignment in pass defense and Ball took the blame. It appears to me that Spencer is terrific against the run but very susceptible when he’s part of the cover scheme in Ryan’s defense.
Will this weakness in Spencer’s game allow Victor Butler the opening he needs to overtake Spencer next year as the starting strong-side OLB?