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Cowboys Defensive Stats, Week Two: Rushmore, It's Not Just a Movie

We're going to try something novel this week. My DVR had a coronary yesterday and took my game recordings with it.  (Long live the DVR!) That means no comprehensive, spanking new stats today.  I'm going off my game-time notes, which are spotty.

Last week, I posted Tampa stats showing Wade Phillips had gone conservative, by his standards, in the rush department.  He's a default five-rusher kind of guy but he only sent 5 or more guys at Byron Leftwich about a third of the time.  I wondered if Wade had some special blitzes in the bag for Eli Manning?

I'm still wondering where the bltizes have gone?  Did the airlines lose them on the trip back from the Alamodome?  Did he leave them in the team's hotel in San Antonio?  Phillips again dialed an even softer blitz package against New York, rushing four men even more often that against Tampa Bay.

The results were no less despressing.  The Cowboys are still searching for their first sack, one season removed from leading the league.  With his secondary staggering out of the gate, I'm puzzled by Wade's reticence.  Effective blitzing got him the job.  Effective bltizing revived his defense at mid-season last year and blitzing appears to be a necessary ingredient for a revival of his defensive fortunes.

Teams are double-teaming, chipping and forcing all protection schemes Demarcus Ware's way.  It has fallen to Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer to take advantage and thus far they have not.  I wrote during camp that Spencer can overpower backs but has trouble tangling with tackles.  Rushing four matches Spencer up with tackles and the results have been underwhelming.

I'm not sure of the thinking here.  Dropping more people into coverage may help the corners in theory, but in practice that hasn't been the case.

Cornered by Poor Corner Play

And seriously, what has happened to these guys?  The strong reports from San Antonio were not lies.  Newman, Jenkins and Scandrick looked good there. Looked good in the preseason games too.  Dave Campo was the assistant of the year on this team in '08, getting Jenkins, Scandrick and Alan Ball ready for pressure games when the veterans all dropped out of the lineup.  And now? 


Let's begin with Orlando Scandrick.  He cracked the lineup due to his smarts,but he played a fundamentally dumb game Sunday.  New York tested him with smoke routes to Mario Manningham, and Scandrick whiffed on all of them, turning one yard tosses into huge Manningham runs.   Scandrick never came close to making a tackle.  Then, one play after Romo's third pick, Manningham burned Scandrick deep.

Let's move to Terence Newman.  He looked strong, aside for one last minute of the half play where he seemed to fall asleep.  His YPA was 10.  This week, his first half YPA against Steve Smith and Mario Manningham was somewhere between 17 and 18.  That's off the charts bad.  Top level corners post YPAs better than 7.0.   Average ones are around 8.5 and bad ones are around 10.0. 

The last time Newman had stats this bad he went in for hernia surgery two weeks later.  I don't welcome an injury. I'd rather he just had a bad game. But at the same time, I'm flummoxed by his late half meltdowns. 

Consider these three recent situations:

  • Pittsburgh, '08, week 14.  The Cowboys have a 13-3 lead.  They have the game under control.  Their defense has boxed in the Steelers attack and is pummeling Ben Roethlisberger.  On 3rd-and-16, Roethlisberger throws a bomb to Santonio Holmes, who has gotten behind Newman on a go route. The play gains 47 yards, and while Dallas stops this drive on its one, the play wakes up the Steelers, who move the ball consistently the rest of the game. In the locker room post game, Phillips, who never rips one of his players, goes ballistic when asked about the gaffe,asking the questioner how a corner can get beaten deep when he's starting the play 10 yards off the ball and defending a 3rd and 16?
  • Tampa Bay, week one.  The Bucs are running well, but have not passed on Newman.  They have the ball at their 25 with just 16 seconds left in the half. Again, Newman lets a a receiver get behind him when he's playing prevent.  Michael Clayton here burns him for 47 yards.  Tampa gets a field goal attempt to end the half.
  • Sunday:  The Giants are in 3rd and 4, at the Dallas 22, with 53 seconds left. They've thrown two passes at Newman just after getting a pick off Jason Witten's ankle.  The Giants are still having trouble scoring in the red zone.  They're 0-2 already in this game and 0-5 for the season. Keep the ball in front of you and make them grind.  Newman is beaten again, this time by Manningham, who gets into the back corner of the end zone.

We can debate physical skills till we're blue in the face,but I see an alarming trend.  Newman is getting burned in some of the easier situations of the game, when the opponent is in 3rd and very long and the call is obvious, or when time is very short and the play options are fairly obvious.

Teams are figuring this out.  The Giants threw their first three passes at Newman and on that final 1st half drive all their of their passes again went at him. 

What's the frequency, Terence?  Better yet, when does halftime begin?  Here's a hint -- when the clock says 0:00.

On the Plus Side

Dallas gave up 174 yards on the ground in Tampa.  It gave up 89 this week. It kept Brandon Jacobs bottled up, save for one big run at the start of the second half.  The Giants had 12 yards rushing at the half. They had a big rushing drive on that initial series, gaining 57 yards on two Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw runs, but they did nothing the rest of the game.  And Dallas wasn't stacking the box to slow them down. 

Getting the corners into the game would fix both halves of the equation.  But pass defense is symbiotic.  The corners can only cover as well as their front-line pressure allows them.  Until Phillips sorts his rush out, opposing teams will bomb away.  Jake Delhomme can be a turnover machine, but when he's given time, he's a gunslinger. He'll take his shots Monday night.  Count on it.

Just a hunch -- the heavy blitzing is back this week.

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