Barry Church is an enigma to me. He never really pops when I'm watching the game, but he's always among the leading tacklers and is tied for third on the team in "stops" according to PFF. Looking back through the game threads their was a lot of talk about how bad Church was playing, especially on the two touchdown plays. So what really happened? Let's go to the tape to find out.
The Lions come out on their first play in a pretty funky formation; shotgun, with four receiving options, in mirrored positions, (meaning the line is even, two receivers on each side), in really close splits. Dallas counters with a base defense, J.J. Wilcox playing single high, and Barry Church lining up just past the linebackers, (yellow circle).
The Lions run a kind of screen play with the outside receiver blocking the CB, (red circle), and the inside receiver running a (very!), shallow out route. No idea if it's man or zone coverage, but that leaves Church one on one with the receiver.
Church, (yellow circle), does a good job of coming up on the play then breaking down, all before the line of scrimmage, (red line).
Church makes a good open field tackle, stopping the play for no gain.
Here's a play that everyone is mad at Church about, the long touchdown pass to Golden Tate. But please notice a few things pre-snap. First you see Church (yellow circle) about 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. See the blue circle though? That's Kyle Wilber lined up over Golden Tate. The red circle? That's Bruce Carter and just above him out of frame of the picture is Orlando Scandrick, lined up with the linebackers. From the beginning this play is a hot mess.
This is one of the two blitzes we used against Detroit. WIlber (red circle) comes in on a blitz, giving Golden Tate a free release, and leaving Church in man coverage.
Church (yellow circle) is giving Tate a big cushion, and we can see Brandon Carr covering Calvin Johnson one-on-one to the outside, (J.J. Wilcox is playing single high). It looks like Golden Tate (red circle) is running an out route. See the blue circle? That's Bruce Carter and Orlando Scandrick in the same exact spot, covering nobody.
Let's start with the yellow circle. Golden Tate is running an out and up route, and Church has done a good job of not biting on the double-move and initially has good coverage. Right above that you see that Carr still has good coverage on Megatron and to the top left of your screen you see Wilcox is starting to slide over to help over the top. In the red circle you see Carter and Scandrick covering nobody.
And this is where it all breaks down. Church is in the yellow circle, and expects help over the top. But there is no help, because Wilcox, (correctly), is helping with the deeper threat in Megatron. Both Tate and Megatron have begun post routes, slanting in to the middle of the field. Wilcox is actually in pretty good position to make a play on the ball, if it's aired out.
But the ball doesn't have to be aired out. See the big red circle? The entire middle of the field is open, giving Stafford an easy throwing lane. Bruce Carter, (blue circle closest to midfield), has finally recognized the huge whole and is coming over to help, but it's too little too late.
Tate gets the ball in the middle of the field with Church trailing (yellow circle) and a blocker in front (blue circle). Be mad at Church for stumbling and not being able to keep up with Tate but he expected help, and that never came as you can see from the huge red circle in the middle of the field. It was a bad play design exacerbated by bad underneath coverage that caused this TD.
After a penalty on a punt, followed by a 3rd and 8 conversion the Lions are driving down the field. Here we see the Lions in a running formation, and Dallas counters in their base 4-3 with Church playing about 10 yards deep.
Right at the snap Barry Church is attacking downhill.
Lot going on here. There are three possible lanes for the running back to take. The most obvious is to go right, where the line has opened up a huge gap (red lines). Dallas has a linebacker right at the end of that gap however (blue circle). It looks like the running back wants to come left to hit the backside lane (black line). You can see Church has started to break down to cover that lane (yellow circle).
Church (yellow circle) has the backside contained. And a defensive lineman has done exactly what Marinelli wants; penetrate and get into the backfield (red arrow). This should be a blown up play and a loss of yards.
Except it's not. The lineman misses the tackle, which opens up a new lane right in the middle of the line (red lines). Church (yellow arrow) sees the running back commit to a gap and begins to flow towards the play. He gets in on the tackle, but not before a nice gain of yardage for Detroit.
Very next play and we something really interesting. Kyle WIlber (blue circle) is lined up as a fifth man on the line as an edge rusher, and Church (yellow circle) is lined up like a linebacker. Notice the H-back circled in red.
The H-back goes into motion across the formation. In response Wilber and Church switch alignments; Wilber moves back to the linebacker position, and Church is now lined up directly on the line.
At the snap the four "true" linemen all crash inside, and Church is supposed to set the outside edge on the strong side.
To his credit Church (yellow arrow) does a good job of taking on the lead blocker. However the running back comes in right behind the action, and picks up the two yards needed for a first down.
2nd and 10 in the redzone. Detroit comes out three wide, Dallas counters with a nickel cover two look with Church back (yellow circle).
Detroit runs out of the passing set, but it looks like Dallas has it covered fairly well. Church (yellow circle) is coming in run support. There is a lane (red lines) but Rolando McClain is unblocked. We've also got two unblocked players (blue circles) in Hitchens and Scandrick to seal off the backside.
Does this look familiar? It should again we have a lineman (Crawford, red arrow) getting good penetration to the running back in the backfield. On the downside, this leaves the two blockers occupying Crawford to move to the 2nd level and attack Hitchens (blue circle). Church is watching the play-side gap (yellow circle) Scandrick is still unblocked and now has contain responsibilities.
Crawford misses the tackle (red arrow) and Reggie Bush bounces the play weakside. Anthony Hitchens (middle blue circle) has been blocked out of the play. Scandrick is right there to seal the edge and turn the play back inside, (bottom blue circle). Church is attempting to navigate the trash and make it to the play (yellow circle).
Neither Church or McClain can get through the clutter (yellow circle). Wilcox has come up in run support (red circle) and is starting to break down because he can see that Scandrick (blue circle) has lost contain. Reggie Bush makes it outside Scandrick and runs it in for a touchdown. There was a lot of talk about bad safety play on this snap, but I really don't see it. Church never had a chance to make a play, and did his initial responsibility by controlling the play-side edge. You could say that Wilcox cshould have been more aggressive in run support, but it was Scandrick's responsibility to funnel Bush back inside towards Wilcox. Once Bush gained the edge, this was a busted play.
This is the play where Carr breaks up the long pass down the sideline. You can see Dallas is playing the deep ball, as they're in a pure cover 2 formation.
There's a lot going on here, so bear with me. Dallas should be in a Cover-2 man coverage. That means that the corners are playing man on the outside receivers, with help over the top from the safeties (yellow circles). The linebackers meanwhile are playing underneath coverage, except the middle linebacker, who should drop deep middle (making it a Tampa Cover 2). The Lions have the perfect play to bust this coverage, with both WR's running vertical routes, along with the TE.
We blow the coverage. No linebacker (black circle) drops with the TE (red circle) and both safeties key on him (yellow circles) but they are too deep. The Lions could have hit the TE on this play but failed to take advantage. Instead they look at their original play design which is one-on-one coverage on both their wide receivers down the sidelines (blue circles).
This is what the coverage ends up like. In the middle of the field it's too late for Stafford to hit the TE and he ends up being double-covered by our safeties (yellow circle). In the red circles you can see that both wide receivers have a step on the corners, with no help over the top. Brandon Carr makes a good play, but if Stafford throws this ball sooner tot he TE they have a big play, or if he throws it up to Megatron singled on Scandrick this is probably a touchdown.
Lions come out in three wide and Dallas counters with a nickel look with Church (yellow circle) playing off the line.
This is actually the first time I've ever seen this coverage. Dallas is playing man, but double-teaming Calvin Johnson (blue circles), leaving Church one-on-one with the slot (yellow circle), and Wilcox in single high coverage over the top. Scandrick has one-on-one at the bottom (blue circle)
The slot receiver runs a little curl route. Church comes up and breaks down (yellow circle);
And makes a nice open field tackle after a short gain (yellow circle). This play is the essence of Barry Church. There's nothing flashy, but he does exactly what he's supposed to do.
What's It All Mean?
Barry Church epitomizes the Dallas defense. He doesn't have great physical skills, but he overcomes that by hustling, playing with good technique, and playing smart. You can ask Church to do a lot of things, especially in run support, but he shouldn't be left one-on-one with a deep receiver. He's good in giving help over the top, (there's a reason Megatron was a non-factor this game), and he can come up in support on screens and curls. However he tends to lose players on crossing routes, especially in man coverage, and doesn't have the athletic ability to consistently make plays from across the formation. He's a good steady player, but you have to protect him in pass coverage, especially against quick players are long developing routes.
Well that's my take BTB! What do you think? Is Church a player that we should look to upgrade, or can he be a fixture in our secondary?