I'm not an expert, just a fan. Please let me know what you think, and do not hesitate to correct or dispute anything in this article. I am here to learn.
You remember this play in the third quarter. The 49 yard pass to Miles Austin.
Let's see how Garret and Romo schemed to get Miles behind the defense.
Before the snap, notice the tight split that Austin (top) has to the formation. He is inside the numbers and not that far from the hash, and on the same side as Witten (on the line of scrimmage) and Phillips (outside of Witten). Dez (on the bottom) is much farther away.
If you notice from the first picture where Austin caught the ball - in relation to the hash marks - and compare it to the second picture you would think he ran a straight route (9 route) that he maybe bent in a yard or two at the end to make a really skinny post route. You'd be wrong.
He has "widened the stem" (I think that's what it's called) - he has taken his route outside the numbers.
As you can see, Miles is attacking cornerback Eric Wright, eating up the cushion between the two and widening Wright's backpedal. He is driving Wright to the sideline so that he has room to break his route back inside downfield and create separation.
Miles is making the transition at full speed, and his body is in a straight line. Look at how close together his legs are - he is accelerating like a sprinter. Look at Wright - he is transitioning out of his backpedal and his legs are wide apart - he looks almost flat-footed. He is already beat.
Wright is behind, and Austin has the position for an inside-breaking post route. And at the bottom, left hand corner of the picture, there's a blur. Who could that be? Why does he have a halo?
He's talking to someone off camera, pointing out that they were supposed to be behind him, in the area where Austin caught the ball. To find out who, we need to rewind a little bit and look at the coach's tape again.
1. Romo is already rolling out, because Doug Free got beat immediately by an inside move (more on Free later).
2. The coverage is man-to-man for the most part (blue circles). However, the two linebackers in Jason Witten's vicinity are either playing some type of combination coverage, or are just confused, because they are both in kind of no man's land, and Witten is already past them (more on these two later).
3. The safeties - Barber on the bottom and Mark Barron on the top (the rookie we were supposed to have targeted this draft) - have dropped back, and are playing a two-deep shell. They are helping on deep coverage on their half of the field. Wright knows where his help is, so he allows himself to be pushed to the sideline by Austin's route.
So what happens to Barron? Here's where the butter-fingered (as of late) angel comes in:
Witten has gained enough depth in his route to attract Barron's attention, so when Witten breaks to the sideline underneath Austin, Barron vacates the deep zone, and dives down to follow Witten. Miles is home free, or maybe I should say home Free. This is because Free has caused Romo to roll to his right, which probably helps distract Barron. Also, not many college quarterbacks can roll right, re-set, and make that deep throw to Austin.
Oh, and he may have seen Romo's feint - fooled by the savvy veteran. Below, I magnified part of the image above. Look what Romo is doing:
He's pointing - fake directing Witten to go right in order to fake out Barron! He also angles his head and shoulders in that direction.
So all goes according to plan. You know how I know? Look at Austin smiling as he's about to make the catch:
MORE CAT AND MOUSE WITH THE ROOKIE
So, two plays after this, Witten drops the wide open pass that he probably would have scored on. I'm not going to show an image of the drop - I'm sure it is emblazoned in your memory just as it is in mine. But do you want to know how Witten got so wide open. One picture will show you:
Just like before, the same two chucklehead linebackers are beaten off the snap by Witten. Romo is looking to his left to fool Barron, who goes in that direction, then spins completely around to chase Witten, who is bobbling the ball on the other side of the field. It looks comical.
So, finally Tampa Bay has had enough, and they decide on the next series to just drop Barron down to cover Jason Witten man-to-man.
As you can see above, Barron (bottom) drops down to guard Witten, while Barber rotates to the deep middle. Austin uses the exact same technique as before on a shorter route. He drives Wright out, then breaks back in to the open zone.
Result? First Down.
Doug Free had a worse day than you think. Doug Free has been victimized by bull rushes and inside moves all season, and in the image below you will see how he almost gave up a safety. Look at him - he gets bull rushed and gets lifted completely in the air. Both hands are straight up and both feet are off the ground.
First the coaches tape:
Here's the broadcast feed:
I watched the video several times. He is airborne for a split second. Pitiful.
You know what's almost as bad? Remember the play when he didn't help Witten to block Bennett, and Romo almost dies. Here's an image seconds before the snap:
That arrow is pointing to Doug Free's arm motioning to DeMarco Murray. When I re-watch the game, I listen with headphones - you can here a lot of Tony's protection calls at the line of scrimmage, and other things, like linemen. Doug Free is the lineman I heard most during the Tampa game. In this image, he is telling DeMarco "You got 5-6." You can hear it clear as day. 56 is the linebacker behind the nose tackle in the picture - who actually drops back instead of blitzing.
But here's the thing - If Demarco has 56, then what the hell is Free looking around for when he drops back, instead of helping Witten? People on the other side of the center, which he probably won't be able to reach anyway? Besides, if there's a free rusher on that side of the line, Romo has to handle that. He needs to take care of his own business first. Handle your business first before you start helping others!
No more images, just an observation. One of the story lines coming out of the loss in Seattle was that Dez couldn't handle press coverage. Now, while press coverage isn't necessarily very physical coverage, the impression that I think the fans got - and I heard stated plainly in a couple media outlets - was that Seattle's big corners were physical on the line of scrimmage with Dez, and that he couldn't get clean releases.
Simply. Not. True. Romo dropped back to pass 41 times - Dez was on the field all of those times. I charted how many times Dez was touched within the first 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Here's what I observed:
Untouched (not at all!): 33 times (I included twice when he was tackled within 5 yards, but not until he caught the ball without being touched beforehand)
Barely touched (no more than fingertips): 3 times
Touched (slightly affected get off): 3 times
Rough-housed (physically bodied, shoved, grabbed): 2 times
Though I didn't chart the techniques of the corners, there was a very significant number of times when there was not tight man coverage on Dez. The corners often zoned and used bail techniques.
Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.