I've finally managed to pull myself away from my inverse kinematics animation projects long enough to fully review the Monday night tragedy. I came away well-reminded of the pain I felt the first time around. The mistakes infesting the offense are bordering on obscene, but this week's story was the defense.
There were two large vacancies left on the Cowboys' depth chart Monday by Barry Church and Anthony Spencer. Spencer's impact is explained below, so I'll detail a bit of the frustrations caused by the loss of Church for the season.
Danny McCray doesn't have a good sense for playing either deep or intermediate zone coverage, and on numerous occasions he was out of position and allowing easy completions to slot receivers. He did seem to improve as the night went on.
More concerning to me was the frequent use of zone coverage by the Cowboys - something the Bears' offense sees every day in practice, likely done much better than our version. We had four capable man coverage corners available for the game, but we frequently had our fourth safety coming up to cover slot receivers. McCray was frequently called on to play single-high deep help, which is Sensabaugh's specialty, and Sensabaugh was pressed into occasional man coverage assignments (something he could use to improve on). I can't be sure if we planned for this to happen, or if the Bears forced it on us, but I wasn't happy at all with the matchups we presented in the secondary.
On to the review.
Our first play finds us with Kevin Ogletree trying his hand at the end-around. Not a bad idea, considering that the Tree is a true burner (one of the few reasons he stuck around the roster, his recent breakout notwithstanding). The circled player is John Phillips, blocking Brian Urlacher - which is really the individual effort that makes this into a positive play. Shae McClellin is in pursuit.
Phillips drives Urlacher back into McClellin, giving Ogletree the edge. Kudos to John Phillips for the tremendous effort.
Here we see Chicago lined up in their singleback heavy set (13 personnel), with two tight ends in line and a third motioned into a very tight fullback position. The heavy personnel give the Bears a numbers advantage to the left side of the formation (conveniently bisected here by the goal post). They're counting on winning their individual assignments on the right, and having a clean hole with a lead block on the left.
The actual play turns out to be a Belly run. The Bears ran this play all night, so allow me to explain. The counter-run concept is fairly well known, where the RB and QB both open up to one side, before circling back and executing a handoff to the opposite side of the formation.
A Belly run is a counter of sorts, but the handoff is made in the direction of the fake. Only after receiving the ball does the back bend his run back to the opposite side of the center into space now vacated by pursuing linebackers. You can see Forte's lead block in place, and Sean Lee already flying toward the fake. This play worked marvelously.
The inability of the Cowboys to win a single matchup on the strong side leaves the lead blocker free to pick up a safety and really blow this play wide open. This was the Bears' first play from scrimmage.
This is Tony Romo's first overthrow of the game - with the ball intended for Dez Bryant. I've highlighted the position of Bryant and the defender at the time of Romo's release. There was some contact at this point, which may have thrown off Dez's acceleration to the ball. Still, it would've been a tough grab (and judging by the rest of the night, far from a sure catch). While we're here, we might as well marvel at the appearance of a clean pocket. Won't see many of those this year.
This formation may appear familiar if you caught the last edition of Freeze Frames. Allow me to remind you:
In this play, we see the Cowboys in an unexpected alignment. Ware is playing as a wide rush end, but who's that opposite him? Marcus Spears is playing strong-side defensive end, in a 4-3 front. I honestly never thought I'd see the day. Just wide of him is Bruce Carter. The two tackles are Hatcher and Brent, with Sean Lee and Anthony Spencer showing a double-A-gap blitz.
The personnel have been shuffled however. I strongly believe this to be due to the absence of Anthony Spencer from the lineup. His big body missing from the front resulted in the need to shift a lineman over to that side of the formation, leaving the left side protected only by Victor Butler (formerly manned by a DE and Bruce Carter). I can't emphasize enough how much versatility Spencer brings to this defense, as a man who can play both linebacker and lineman.
The overwhelming weakness of the left side of the formation causes Sean Lee to overpursue to his left, and the backlog of big, not-so-mobile bodies filling Spencer's assignment are rendered ineffective by a single grounded offensive lineman. Spears gets a shot at the back in the backfield, but the lack of penetration by Dan Connor (blitzing the A Gap as Spencer did last week) left a gaping alley available on the cutback.
Ah, yes, I couldn't go the whole way without highlighting a Tony Romo interception, could I? Here is Tony Romo in the process of throwing the ball, with no indication yet that Dez is not going to make the play. The red line shows where he goes, the green line shows where Romo expected him to go. Those are the plays on which our receivers break tackles and take off. It's a crying shame.
If you're not the type that likes to see/relive offensive line failures, go ahead and scroll past this one.
Brian Urlacher is "sugaring" - faking a blitz - in the A Gap. I wish Ryan Cook was wearing a broadcast mic, because I have no idea what line call he made. Observe.
Urlacher bails, leaving both Cook and Livings blocking air. Bernadeau gives help to Free, and the defensive tackle in the A Gap, who should've been Cook's responsibility, is left with a clear path to Romo. The play is a completed pass to Murray, but if we don't want to see a lot more Kyle Orton in the near future, this can't keep happening.
I anticipate the return of Phil Costa, perhaps more than most.
This is - you guessed it - another Tony Romo interception. It really isn't his fault, as the ball popped skyward as a result of Ogletree making a bad play. What I wanted to highlight here, though, is Miles Austin's uncanny ability to track the ball through the air.
Every time the play goes bad - tips, fumbles - Austin locates the ball and goes after it. This shot is just after the ball deflects off of Ogletree, and already Austin has his eyes locked onto it and has begun moving toward it.
Austin is still in pursuit, at a dead sprint, and still completely locked in on the ball. I wonder if he can play Safety...
Yup. Seems he can play safety. How often do you see an offensive player make a hit like that on an intercepting defender? If the offense is truly lost for the season, we might want to see what Austin can do as a gunner on Special Teams. We can just onsides-kick every chance we get and watch him high-point balls.
The field position differential shouldn't be any worse than what we have now.
Speaking of Special Teams, I've been wondering: why haven't we been able to get any decent returns? Just at that moment, I see Felix Jones stuffed at the 15. What went wrong? All down the field, we see the makings of an effective play. A lane is forming, helmets are on helmets, and Felix is heading into the hole. Leading the way is Lawrence Vickers. Making the play is the man Lawrence Vickers is failing to block.
My frustration with our current level of production at the fullback position, in all phases of the game, is continuously rising. A starting, veteran fullback should not have trouble knocking a special team-er out of Felix Jones' way. It just isn't fair to the cat.
I almost ended with this play, because I felt it was so appropriate for the theme of the night. Danny McCray, the culprit of many of our blown assignments and completions allowed for the night, finally gets into position and makes a play on the ball. He's in front of the receiver (or tight end, in this case), and has both hands on the ball. He just isn't strong enough, and the ball is ripped from his grip, lofts into the air, and is caught by the tight end as he was lying on his back.
I hope you weren't too excited to get the real refs back for our games. This is the "busted coverage" Touchdown by Brandon Marshall, and a photo-revelation of how it happened.
We start off with illegal contact on McCray, who is covering Davis on the play. Carr is pursuing to Marshall, his assignment.
Or he was, until Davis makes a nice open-field tackle/block/blatant-violation-of-the-rules. We're ten yards downfield at this point, with the ball in the air. This is offensive pass interference at its finest.
In case you were skeptical, here's a close-up of the jarring hit Davis is laying on Carr (he drives him about 3 yards from that point).
The referees have never been friends of the Cowboys, whether real of fake. Not only do the Cowboys stay near the league-lead in penalties called against us, but we are also at the bottom in penalties called against our opponents. This is a good example of a flag that isn't thrown against a Cowboy opponent, something you can get used to seeing week in, week out.