Tracking: DeMarcus Ware And The Dallas Cowboys Front Seven

Get some.

While the bulk of the Dallas offense was spending time in the trainer's office, the defense closed its ranks and may be getting a bit overlooked when it comes to credit for Sunday's win. Over the 49ers final three drives, Dallas only relinquished 28 total yards to San Francisco. The Dallas offense had three consecutive three and outs before the late first-half touchdown, which means that the defense never got much chance to rest on an unusually hot day in San Francisco.

With 14:40 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, the Dallas Cowboys had to punt the ball away from inside their own 20, trailing 21-14. An injured Tony Romo had just returned to the game and led a fourth three and out. The 49ers returned the kick back to their own 44, and thanks to a holding penalty (unreported by the crack broadcasting team) on the punt, they started their next possession at the Dallas 46. DE Marcus Spears and NT Jay Ratliff stuffed a Frank Gore run for a short gain of two on first down.

On second down, the Niners used an eight-man line (seven linemen, an inline tight end plus a fullback for good measure) to gain five yards as ILB Keith Brooking was matriculated eight yards down the field by the pulling left guard.

The formation jumped out to me immediately when reviewing the tape, as I use it ALL the time in the Madden video game. Goal Line package, move TE1 to TE2(left side), substitute TE2 with OT3(next to RT) and TE3 with OT4(next to OT3).The formation was so unconventional, the referees didn't realize that one of the linemen failed to report eligible until they were back in the huddle. A five-yard penalty pushed San Fran back to 2nd and 13.

Before we get to the good, it must be mentioned that Brooking had what appears to be a disastrous game.

He was consistently being pushed backwards by linemen and running backs on rushing plays. The soon-to-be-discussed leverage penalty was just the icing on the cake. Dallas had flirted with the penalty several times over the course of the last month but had escaped the flag. On this occasion, Brooking didn't have enough athleticism to hurdle the line without using his teammates as a springboard and was caught for a crucial, potentially game-ending infraction.

Follow the jump for the good.

Following the penalty and with the help of Chuck Norris Sean Lee, Anthony Spencer snuffed out the next Gore run for no gain. On third and 13 with Alex Smith in the shotgun, Rob Ryan dialed up a 2-3-6 formation. Ratliff and Jason Hatcher were with their hands down with Spencer, DeMarcus Ware and S Barry Church in between them standing up. Lee is a few yards back with Mike Jenkins, Alan Ball and Frank Walker at corner. Safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam were in deep coverage. On the snap, the four man rush on the edges opened up a lane and Smith took off. He might have had a shot at the first if not for a shoestring stop by Lee.

That play would be Lee's tenth and final official tackle, eight solo and two assists on the game. Pro Football Focus credits Lee with six solo tackles and six stops, a perfect 100 percent. A 'stop' is as follows:

It’s when an offense fails to get:

40 percent of the required yards for another first down on first down
60 percent of the required yards for a first down on second down
A first down on third or fourth down

That's quite an impressive tackling exhibition by Lee and it earned him the highest rating by a Cowboys defender, +2.9.

The next play was the successful field goal attempt and the above referenced Brooking penalty. On a drive where the 49ers were obviously trying to run off time, the front seven played stout defense to force an elongated three and out. 24-14 San Francisco.

Romo returned to the field and pumped some air into the lungs (couldn't resist) of the offense; leading them on the first of three consecutive scoring drives. Now down three, Rob Ryan's defense returned to the field with 6:55 on the clock and the 49ers on their own 20.

Now, the final three defensive stands hold some good information to digest. First, the 49ers offensive line didn't give up a single sack in their victory over the Seahawks in week 1. On the last two drives, the Cowboys secured their fifth and six sacks of the game. A little discussed fact of the Ryan defense (Rob and his brother Rex in New York) is that they don't send the most pressure on third down; they actually dial it up more on early downs than third. Let's head to the play by play.

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POSESSION MARKER PLAY BY PLAY (via NFL.com) PLAY SPECIFICS NOTES (penalties, corrections)
San Francisco 49ers at 6:55      
  1-10-SF 20 (6:55) A.Smith pass short left to J.Morgan to SF 33 for 13 yards (M.Jenkins). Caught SF 33. 8-yds YAC P13 Cowboys line up in traditional 3-4, quick slant to Joshua Morgan on Jenkins.
    #68 and #75 report eligible, SF going with the 8 men on the line, but call a timeout. Timeout #1 by SF at 06:12.
  1-10-SF 33 (6:11) A.Snyder and A.Boone reported in as eligible. F.Gore up the middle to SF 35 for 2 yards (M.Spears). The Cowboys stay in the trad. 3-4, but have 10 men within seven yards of the line of scrimmage. Spears gets the official tackle credit, but he was being held up when Gore ran into him, Ware cleaned up the play.
  2-8-SF 35 (5:31) A.Smith sacked at SF 27 for -8 yards (D.Ware). SF swtiches up to 22 personnel (2TE, 2RB, 1WR). 3-4 defense, this time with Ware wide of the uncovered right tackle. Let's go to the screen caps!

 

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POSESSION (CONT) PLAY BY PLAY (via NFL.com) PLAY SPECIFICS NOTES (penalties, corrections)
  3-16-SF 27 (4:54) (Shotgun) PENALTY on SF-A.Smith, Delay of Game, 5 yards, enforced at SF 27 - No Play. The Cowboys switch to a four man line with Lee as the lone LB and an up safety. Confusion for the 49ers and a delay of game penalty.
  3-21-SF 22 (4:52) (Shotgun) A.Smith scrambles right end to SF 26 for 4 yards. Cowboys return to a 2-3-6 and Smith rolls right, immediately scrambling.
  4-17-SF 26 (4:15) A.Lee punts 64 yards to DAL 10, Center-B.Jennings. B.McCann to DAL 26 for 16 yards (T.Gooden).

 

Romo would then lead the team on the game-tying drive, punctuated by a Dan Bailey field goal with no time remaining in the quarter. Overtime. The Cowboys would lose the coin flip and have to defend their end zone one more time. David Buehler didn't mishit this kickoff and the touchback forces San Francisco to start at their own 20.

POSESSION MARKER PLAY BY PLAY (via NFL.com) PLAY SPECIFICS NOTES (penalties, corrections)
San Francisco 49ers at 15:00      
  1-10-SF 20 (15:00) P14 A.Snyder reported in as eligible. A.Smith pass short left to T.Ginn ran ob at SF 32 for 12 yards. Caught at SF 32. 0-yds YAC Cowboys lined up in trad. 3-4 and get good pressure, forcing Smith to step up in pocket. Ginn runs a 12 yd comeback as Jenkins slips trying to mirror his cut.
  1-10-SF 32 (14:32) F.Gore up the middle to SF 39 for 7 yards (K.Brooking). 3-4 again, Brooking meets Gore four yards past the line of scrimmage, then gets bowled over for an additional three and a half yards
  2-3-SF 39 (13:52) A.Smith sacked at SF 31 for -8 yards (J.Ratliff). SF lines up in a balanced 21 set, motion split end to the right slot. Cowboys in traditional 3-4, appear to rush 5. DeMarcus Ware however recognizes the play, and instead of attacking the back pedaling LT, flashes out to cover Gore in the flat. Alex Smith looks that direction and has no where to throw, and gets sacked by Ratliff who tossed the C away like a rag doll.
  3-11-SF 31 (13:16) (Shotgun) A.Smith pass short right to T.Ginn pushed ob at SF 41 for 10 yards (F.Walker). Caught at SF 41. 0-yds YAC Cowboys go 3-2-6 with Church covering the FB out the flat (as opposed to Spencer who couldn't keep up with Walker on the TD at the end of the 3rd qtr.) Smith tries to target Walker who's coverage would not have allowed the first down even without the bobble.
    The Replay Assistant challenged the pass completion ruling, and the play was REVERSED.  
  4-11-SF 31 (13:11) A.Lee punts 58 yards to DAL 11, Center-B.Jennings. D.Harris to DAL 22 for 11 yards (L.Grant).

 

We all know what happened next, Troy Aikman to Rocket Ismail Tony Romo to Jesse Holley and a Cowboys game-winning field goal. The offense gets all the accolades, but the defensive performance down the stretch was a hopeful precursor of everything we want to see out of Rob Ryan's defense and the Cowboys front seven.

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