In this installment of our X's and O's series I want to look at a play from the First Quarter of the Cowboys matchup with the Patriots. The Patriots have the ball at the Cowboys 8 yard line and it is 3rd down and 6 yards to go.
What I hope to show, is A, the pure amount of communication required to be a good defense, and B the fact that the person who actually makes a sack, isn't always the person who earns the sack.
Take the jump for the X's and O's....
As I said before the jump, it is 3rd and 6 at the Cowboys 8 yard line. Let's take a look at the pre-snap alignment, and talk motions, shifts, route combinations, and coverages.
Here we see the Patriots initial alignment, as well as Deion Branch (Z) beginning his shift toward the backfield. The Patriots are in what some teams call "Joker" personnel (0 RB, 2 TE, 3 WR), aligned in an empty set, with the Gronkowski (Y), and Hernandez (U) both split to the right, and Welker (X), and another WR (W) split left. Notice in the next still, that Branch has moved to the backfield, followed by a short "divide" motion by Welker to create a stacked look to the open side of the formation. The Cowboys have 1 DL 3 LBs and 7 DB's on the field, with Church playing essentialy a 2nd LB role with Lee, and Ware and Spencer working with Ratliff to set the defensive front.
This is the look from the Patriots immediately before the ball is snapped, I have drawn the routes as well as my best guesses as to what coverage responsbility each defender was playing. As you look at the difference from the previous shot you see that the Cowboys defense has shifted from their previous alignments to match the shifts by the offense. The words next to each Cowboys defender refer to the call they would have had to make to one another to communicate the assignments. Slice, as played by Newman and Elam on Hernandez, is your basic bracket coverage, Newman cuts under any out cut, and Elam does the same on any in cuts. Solo is 1v1 man coverage, Fist is 2 man technique, man coverage underneath with a trail technique & safety help over the top. Zebra is an alert call for Jenkins and Scandrick that they may have to swap men based on the release of the WRs, this call comes once Welker motions into the stack. Branches motion has removed Church from his man coverage on Gronkowski and allows him to play a robber type role in the middle. Nick Saban calls this a Rat call, as he is a "rat in the hole."
The route concepts as you can see are not very complicated. Flat-7 to the open side, (very common down here, especially against 2 high safeties, and with the motion to the reduced split), and Out-Post to the closed side. As has been said before when talking about the Patriots offense. It is likely that each of these are option routes with multiple possible outcomes, but these are the routes actually run.
As we see here, Brady has reached the top of his drop. Branch has stayed into protect which keeps Lee in the pile at the LOS. We see that Ratliff has pushed his way about 2-3 yards deep into the pocket, and Spencer has already completely blown by his man on the outside. Ware is basically contained at this point by LT Matt Light.
Here we see Brady stepping up into the pocket (the red dot is where his feet were in the last shot), to avoid Spencer. Had spencer not put immediate pressure on Brady, he very easily could have thrown the short out route to the open side, or probably hit Gronk at the goal line. However, because of the very quick pressure, Brady steps up, which then means that Light is no longer in position to keep Ware off his QB.DeMarcus Ware was credited with the sack, without Anthony Spencers ability to VERY quickly beat his man and get in the QB's face, it would have been a completion and possibly a TD. I have a feeling when Garrett, Ryan, Jerry, and Stephen were trying to decide whether or not they should give Spencer the Franchise Tag, this play, and others like it, are what made them look at him and think that he is the kind of player who can help them win games.