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Tracking: Cowboys Defensive Fronts On Monday's First 15 Plays

<em>Don't front... you know I gotcha open. </em>
Don't front... you know I gotcha open.

Let's take a look at how Rob Ryan rolled out his defense for the 2012 season with the following caveats. One, it was the first preseason game; meaning this is as vanilla a game plan as Ryan will use. Ever. Two, The Cowboys were without Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher; their two best penetrating defensive linemen. And three, starting linebacker Anthony Spencer was also out from injury.

If you remember this series from last season, "Tracking" focuses on one player or aspect of the previous game and tries to shed some light on the stuff you don't see in the box score and would take too much time (and effort) to be discussed by television analysts. I attempt to give a little more in depth look into the formations, personnel and matchups that are the game within the game.

"Tracking" posts are sometimes accompanied by screen shots diagraming a chosen play where I come of with comedic annotations (at least, to me) exploiting the opposition's failures; such as this one, and this one. The diagrams make their way into some of my other series, but they started with Tracking. Unfortunately when things aren't going well, Tracking will shine the light on issues that the Cowboys are having; like goal line play, or the protection of Romo.

So tonight, we'll take a look at how Rob Ryan called the first 15 defensive plays; which coveniently worked out to the first two series of the shutout he pitched in Oakland. Although you can never process game results from preseason action; there still is plenty to be learned from how the team approached certain situations.

Follow the jump for the skinny.

Dallas opened up the game with their (my) projected first-string defensive line at 1/3 capacity. Josh Brent started for Jay Ratliff and Sean Lissemore started for Jason Hatcher at right end. I expect Lissy to be the starting LE once the season kicks off, but that role was taken by Kenyon Coleman for this game.

The lineup remained for the four plays of the Raider's first drive; three plays of Darren McFadden dominance (38 total yards) and then a good pressure from Coleman on the deep interception by Sensabaugh to end the drive.

1st and 10 from the 14 - 1-gap 3-4 with Ware at LOLB. Sean Lee (ILB) is lined up outside Ware but is moving to standard position pre-snap. Bruce Carter is actually the ROLB and runs into Lee when the TE goes in motion as Connor drops back three yards. TE blocks Carter and McFadden goes off right tackle for four.

2nd and 6 - 2-gap 3-4 with Coleman shaded towards 7 tech. Ware at LOLB Butler ROLB on slot receiver, Carter LILB, Lee RILB. Raiders 3 wide send DMC in motion wide right, Lee follows. Quick strike where Jacoby Ford picks Lee, Kalif Barnes sprints to wipe out Brandon Carr; McFadden catches and races up field for gain of 18.

1st and 10 from the 36 - 1-gap 3-4 vs Offset I, Standard set TE left. Coleman is barely shading the C right shoulder, Brent is 3 tech, Lissy is 5 tech. Lee and Connor are four-yards deep on each side of RG, Ware (LOLB) & Butler on line. At snap C/LG double Brent, LT pushes Lissy out while the TE handles Butler. RG seals Coleman and the double on Brent seals off Connor. FB engages Ware on backside and DMC runs up left lane for a 16 yard gain.

1st and 10 from Dallas 48 - 1-gap 3-4 with Ware ROLB and Carter LOLB. Double on Ware slides protection leaving TE on Coleman. Coleman pushes him into backfield to pressure Palmer; bomb thrown and intercepted.


On Oakland's second drive (starting at their 9), the Cowboys broke out their 4-3 lineup. On the first two plays, Coleman and Lissemore were the DTs. . Ware and Butler were the DE's and Lee, Connor and Carter were the LBs. When Ware was on the left, Lee was on the left; when he was on the right, Lee followed. A good run stop on first and a holding penalty on the second run led to a 2nd and 12.

Dallas dropped Connor and went into a four-man-nickel front. An underneath pass to the TE was closed on quickly by Barry Church.

On 3rd down, Spears took Coleman's place at DT. Pressure from Ware at RDE forces Palmer to step up; he escapes a sack by a yard and a half. Punt time.

When Jamize Olawale ran into the kicker and gave the Raiders a fresh set of downs, they returned to the 1-gap 3-4. Coleman remained at LE, Lissemore slid to DT and Spears in at RE. Lee and Connor were the ILBs.

On second down, Alex Albright went LOLB with Butler right when Jacoby Ford dropped a first down pass. On third and three, the Nickel D came in with the D-line being (left-to-right) Butler-Spears-Lissemore and Alex Albright with his hand down. Another dropped Ford pass.

"Three and out", punt. Oh look, another penalty. Back on defense, Dallas brings Tyrone Crawford onto the field. Thinking about Crawford is how I originally started this article.


1st and 10 from Oak 32 - Dallas opens in a 1-gap 3-4 defense for fourth time, with Crawford as RDE, Brent NT, Spears LDE. Butler (LOLB) Wilber (ROLB) Lemon (SILB) and Albright (WILB). Lemon is actually outside of Butler and Wilber follows the TE to the defenses left leaving Albright the only backer at normal depth. The run is off tackle right and the Cowboys overload forces the back further out. Crawford pursues but the play is away from him (he continues pursuit though). Tackle by Spears.

2nd and 5 - same personnel, 2-gap alignment with Wilber LOLB and Butler ROLB. CB Teddy Williams crowds the line with Raiders going three tight ends (two right) and a run behind the LT that Crawford was lined up over. The LG gives Crawford an extra shove and attacks Lemon, opening the lane for Miller's run for 7 yards. Albright with the tackle. Crawford was moved from where the run was going and there was a seven-yard gain.

1st and 10 from the 44 - 2 gap 3-4 with Butler back at LOLB ; Raiders slide line right leaving Crawford blocked by TE. Run right, Spears slips between RG and RT to make a 2 yard stop. Crawford was next man in on play if MS didn't complete it.

2nd and 8 - same personnel/ formation. Butler is dropping into coverage on TE here, bad snap exchange that Josh Brent kicks while engaged. Leinart gets to ball split second before Spears can nab it.

3rd and 11 - Dallas lines up Crawford (7 tech strongside) and Spears (1 tech strongside) with hands down. Butler is over the slot receiver and Wilber and Lemon are 9 yards deep as Dallas appears to be in a 2-3-6 (only 9 players ever appear on the screen). Crawford bullrushes the TE and is a step behind Butler (who flew past LT) on the pressure, to force a quick completion that Church stops way short of first down marker.

Finally a fourth-down punt without a penalty. Dallas' defense gets off the field.



  • Dallas lined up in a 1-gap 3-4 on each of the first three first and 10 plays.
  • Dallas played Carter a few times at OLB instead of Butler on plays where that man was to be put in coverage; with Lee and Connor as the ILB. No question that Ryan is going to work to get him on the field in multiple positions.
  • Spears did perform better than we've seen him in a while. Although Coleman got the early pressure on the pick and had good push on another play, I think Spears outperformed him. With the bigger cap hit if released; I'd say that Spears has the inside track on that roster spot after one meaningless but indicative game.

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