In the Oakland game, many were unfairly subjected to psychological trauma, as their fears that the offensive line would not hold up were thrust in front of them on national television.
It was painful, yes. For me, however, once the game is in the books, the sting leaves the wound. Time to look at things one more time to see what happened, learn from it, and move on to the next game (conveniently, that's tonight).
The plays we'll be analyzing are DeMarco Murray's pair of carries on the offense's first drive, which amounted to 0 yards and thousands of crushed spirits among those who follow the Star.
After the jump, we see what happened, why it happened, and how we can fix it...
Both plays were run from a double tight ace set. That is to say, two tight ends were lined up on the same side, and there was only one back (meaning two receivers are on the field, as well). I'm a big fan on this formation, for times when we don't have Lawrence Vickers on the field, and here's why.
The Cowboys occasionally employ a twins set (as they did on the first play we're covering) in this formation. This allows Tony Romo reasonable certainty as to whether the defense is playing man or zone coverage. If the defense is in man, the strongside corner will come to the weakside to cover the second receiver; if zone, the corners will remain on their respective sides.
If the opponent is playing man coverage, and brings the corner across the field to help, then we're left with Jason Witten and James Hanna matching up with a safety and a linebacker. I like those odds. If they're in zone, which typically leads to defenders stepping back at the snap, then we have four capable blockers on the strongside attacking linebackers who're on their heels - an obvious advantage.
Despite these positives, however, the ace formation itself is not without its flaws. Without the experienced lead blocking of Lawrence Vickers on the field, a fundamentally sound offensive line will need to make every block on the playside, or the running back will be brought down for a loss. There's no help on the weakside, nowhere to cut back.
Now let's talk about the first play. The Cowboys have the ball on the right hash, on their first offensive play of the game after Gerald Sensabaugh's interception of Carson Palmer and subsequent runback. The double tight is on the right side of the line, making for a strong right. Bryant and Ogletree are twins on the weak side of the formation.
Watch for yourself.
I've labeled the front 7 of each team for ease of explanation (please pardon my novice media work - I just learned to do this for this post).
The play is a zone stretch run to the strong side. The peculiar thing about a stretch run is that, unlike a conventional run, the blocking is done toward the playside. What this means is that everyone, down the entire line, is blocking the first man to his right, and driving him backwards. On conventional runs, the goal is rather to block away from the hole the back is intended to go through. On a zone stretch, there isn't a designated hole, but rather a side. The back reads the blocks along the line and looks for a lane to cut back through.
There are three clear losers on this play, among the offensive linemen. First, and most convincingly, was David Arkin, 62. The delay caused by snapping the ball allows Tommy Kelly, 93, to get into him and simply drive him backwards, into the path of the ballcarrier. The only saving grace for Arkin is that he didn't allow the tackle (which isn't saying much - his failed assignment blew up the whole play).
The next losing battle was fought by James Hanna, 84. He picks up 52, the strong outside backer, and attempts to open a lane for Murray. 52 wins the leverage battle, however, and is able to get around Hanna in order to make the stop.
The last loss is credited to Derrick Dockery, for simply not doing anything. Rather than offer much of any help on 77 or 93, Dockery gets washed down the line of scrimmage in the path of Tyron Smith's furious block. He should have gotten to the second level, and made a block on 56, in order to open up a lane should Murray break through the line of scrimmage. This isn't the worst of Dockery, either.
A (dis?)honorable mention here goes to Doug Free. He was able to get on his man, and didn't give up much ground, but, if you look at the hand positioning of the defensive lineman (clearly not visible in my graphic), Free would have been quickly shed had 52 not already made the play. 99 was simply "setting the edge," much like our own 93.
On a positive note, both Tyron Smith and Mackenzie Bernadeau executed their assignments well. Smith was blocking his man to the San Francisco Bay, while Bernadeau was the only lineman able to get downfield successfully and attempt a second-level block.
Now for the second and final play on today's menu. After a second down throw to Dez Bryant, the Cowboys once again came out in an ace double tight set on first and ten. This time, however, the double tight was to the left side, and, instead of twins, we had a wideout on each side of the formation. Prior to the snap, Ogletree motioned toward the weakside in order to execute a reverse fake and give us almost a mirror image of the previous run attempt.
You may notice there's a lot more movement in this play. Mainly, this is because I learned a new technique for animating, and applied it here, to give a more accurate representation of how the players were moving. Unfortunately, I didn't achieve the greatest precision, so bare with me.
Like the play itself, we'll work from right to left here. Free, 68, chips 99 on his way to his primary target, the outside linebacker, 56. Unfortunately, once Free gets a hand on him, 56 quickly spins away from the block, around Free, and toward the play. Of little consequence, but still not what we want to see from Free.
Bernadeau, 73, attacks Tommy Kelly, 93, with Arkin briefly before slipping to the second level and chasing after the middle linebacker, 55. Another good showing from what looks to be a solid right guard.
Arkin, 62, was again faced with 93, but this time stood his ground quite well. In fact, he managed to get a little push against the big DT, and in my opinion won his battle there. What's more impressive is that, after he finished with 93, he chased after the play. Remember that pesky 56 who got away from Free? Despite the play being essentially over, Arkin blasted him right before the whistle (watch 56 at the end of the animation - I tried to include the hit). I like this guy.
Next, Dockery. And what a shame, too. Our number 76 this time is the primary breakdown on the play. In fact, possibly the only breakdown. Against the DT number 90, Dockery is knocked into the backfield and easily shed as the big man grabbed hold of Murray and rode him until finally bringing him down. I'm looking forward to a healthy Livings greatly improving that left guard position. (Don't get mad at Jerry for not signing Montrae "Lumpy" Holland, either. He wants a very large signing bonus and likely won't see the field in the regular season.)
Last on the line is Smith, who was tasked with the slippery 52, who turned the corner on Hanna to end the previous run. Smith is able to get a hit on him, but can't get a solid grip, and chases him around the field. Still enough to get the job done, however, as 52 would not have been in the play if Murray weren't carrying an extra 300 pounds on his back.
To my surprise, Witten, 82, is tasked with taking on the strongside DE, 77. He holds up well, though, giving up some ground but fighting hard to finish his block, drawing the frustration of 77, who can do nothing but offer a shove after the whistle against our now-resting hero.
Ending with one last positive, James Hanna, 84, receives a more favorable matchup in the cornerback who was trailing Ogletree before the snap. He's able to stick this assignment and sustain his block for a reasonable amount of time before the feisty little guy wriggled free at the whistle.
In summary, when you're watching the Chargers game tonight, take a look at these players. You now have a baseline with which to compare their future performance. If 76 continues to be the biggest problem, you can exhale somewhat with the knowledge that he'll be replaced by someone more competent as the season nears. Nate Livings may not be the best pulling guard in the league, but he won't give up the ground or quit on the play like Dockery did this past week.