The Cowboys have long since forgotten the last game, learning from their mistakes and preparing for the Bucs this Sunday, so I apologize for the delay of these grades. Honestly, I had to do them twice, though the scores didn't change. When I first watched the game I thought the o-line played like an average unity, but unfortunately the skill players made so many mistakes they too did about average. Wow, was I wrong. Not about the skill players. DeMarco Murray did a commendable job, but he also had plenty of issues in pass protection and a few times incorrectly chose the cut back option on stretch runs that were developing. The receivers uncharacteristically dropped some clutch plays for big gains or first downs. But as I reviewed the tape, I realized that the offensive line did have more bad plays than good. In a game that seemed a testament to irony, whenever the line would break down Tony Romo would manage a big play, but when the line was doing a good job the offense would make a mistake.
But what I was most impressed by was a guy named Gus Bradley. He started as a defensive quality control coach in...Tampa Bay...quickly became a linebackers coach, and since 2009 has had his first attempt as defensive coordinator. The Seahawks defense was not only executing better than the Cowboys last week, they had more exotic pressure packages, blitzed more often, and confused a Cowboys o-line that had little time to gel. Stunts were the daily special, and the Cowboys had trouble with their blocking assignments. Half of their losses were just being beaten physically, but the other half were failed adjustments along the line.
To get an idea of this strange paradox last week, let's take a closer look at Romo's first failed third-down conversion on the first drive, as well as the converted third-down on the following drive.
A second into the play, Romo has taken the shotgun snap and settled in the pocket, but Mackenzy Bernadeau has already gotten beat by the defender. He somehow miraculously recovers and keeps the pressure away from Romo. Ryan Cook can't really help when a guard gets beat to his outside shoulder, but his head isn't on a swivel and he doesn't even notice the right side could use his help more than the left; not enough to warrant a negative play, but a sign of things to come. Doug Free and Nate Livings do their job. Tyron Smith might have made some people nervous at the start of the play, but as it develops he cuts off the pocket perfectly. In fact, I give him an above average grade for keeping Romo's blindside so clean. As you can see, the play is designed for a three second throw and Romo hasn't moved a step since settling into the pocket and has no real pressure as he makes the throw. Good grades for the line, all at the average (0) and a (+) positive grade for Smith, but it's an incomplete pass and the end of the drive.
We'll avoid the nasty special teams play that followed (and the one that preceded) and skip to the Cowboys second drive. On this third-down, the line got negative grades, yet Romo completed a twenty-six yard pass to Kevin Ogletree. Now, Romo does a great job of saving this play, but he also got tricked by the Seattle defense. This play is a great example of the irony paradox and the Gus Bradley genius that plagued the Cowboys all day.
More after the jump...
As the Cowboys line up, Romo talks to Bernadeau and points to the "blitzing" linebacker, at least who Romo suspects will be the extra rusher. You can see Bernadeau talking to Free and Cook and pointing to the designated man. However, before the snap of the ball, the Seattle defense shifts, and the corner Marcus Trufant lines up as the third rusher to the outside shoulder of Smith. Meanwhile, Romo has motioned Ogltree in on the right side, apparently wanting a hot route in case the Hawks blitz from the right side as he originally assumed.
The Seahawks seem to have taken a page out of Ryan’s chaos, and they have only two guys with their hands on the ground, both to the outside of the left tackle, but also have linebackers and a defensive back standing at the line of scrimmage. At this point, the defense is showing a six man blitz and the Cowboys seem to be concentrating on the right side. But at the snap everything changes. Suddenly, there is only a four man rush and the pressure from the Cowboys right proved to be feigned. By reflex, Cook goes right, chasing the defender that had lined-up across from him. This forces Livings to look right and block the inside defender freely rushing the A gap. At this point the Cowboys line has already fallen victim to the design of the pass-rush, but they still have a chance.
However, Gus Bradley had even more in store for this o-line still struggling to build cohesion. While the Cowboys have already taken the bait and have three linemen concentrating on a single rusher sweeping from the middle to the outside and Livings chasing another up the gut, Smith and Murray have a chance to save the Cowboys from the mess…but fail. Seattle not only overloaded the left side of the o-line, they also ran a stunt with the blitzing corner and the defensive end. The above picture is the nightmare scenario for a left tackle. Smith has perfectly worked his kickstep to block off the edge rusher, but he notices the stunt with the blitzer to the inside, and sees Livings is nowhere to be found. Murray has also noticed the breakdown and turned his attention from the outside pressure to work the inside. Unfortunately, both Smith and Murray go inside and leave the outside blitzer with a free run at Romo. Technically, Smith reacted correctly and Murray should have waited to pick up the outside rusher, but you can’t really blame either as the cardinal rule for pass protection is to pick up the inside pressure first.
Of course, Romo saved this play, but the line got only average and negative grades. I am giving Smith an average grade, having started his assignment correctly and then reading the mistake and trying to correct it. Free and MacB also get average grades (0), but Cook and Livings both get a negative (-) for misreading the pressure AND missing their blocks. You can see neither managed to turn back and pick up the inside pressure.
A quick look back at the Romo interception also shows this irony paradox and Seattle’s exotic blitzing defense. Here, Doug Free is left blocking no one on a five man blitz – something that happened too often due to poor line adjustments to creative pressure packages – but the pocket holds for Romo to make the quick throw. However, he pump fakes instead, perhaps worrying about Witten taking a big hit. With 20/20 hind sight, you would like Romo to roll to the outside, away from the pressure and hit Phillips who is going to be wide open. Instead, Romo locks onto Witten (possibly trying to correct his own mistake) and tries working to the middle of the pocket, towards all the pressure, and forces the throw across his body to Witten which is promptly intercepted. Gameday viewing could blame the o-line for the pressure, but they do a fairly good job picking up the blitz and the mistake seems to be Romo’s… at least to me.
For more info on my grading system please see the Week 1 post. As for Week 2, one better left forgotten, here are the grades:
|Halftime||+1 on 37 snaps||+4||-5||+2||0|
|Game||0 on 56 snaps||+2 on 56 snaps||-5 on 56 snaps||-1 on 56 snaps||-2 on 56 snaps|
|Bad Plays||9 negative, 1 penalty||7 negative||9 negative||7 negative||8 negative, 1 sack|
Everybody along the line had a worst Week 2 grade than in the opener. In fact, the best blocker of the day wasn’t even a lineman, so despite all the drops Jason Witten should be recognized for a heck a job as a blocker. The Cowboys o-line had a tough night, no one more than backup center Ryan Cook. Three linemen had negative totals on the day, but only one squeaked out a positive grade. It seemed most of the issues came towards the end of the first half and throughout the second. Not surprisingly, that was also when the Cowboys offense turned rather one dimensional to catch up on the score board. With a very well designed and executed defense, this o-line ended up having a terrible day in pass protection. The bright side is some of the run-blocking from our "new guards." My greatest concern isn’t that this line will play this poorly every week; it’s that Gus Bradley (who seems to be at the beginning of a bright career) just gave a blue print to other defenses. This o-line will continue to progress and build cohesion and play better. But they will have plenty of growing pains against defenses that confuse them with stunts and well designed blitzes.