This a look at the Cowboys defense from last year. Iíve taken highlights from 3 games (1 before Ellis injuries, 2 after), but Iíve watched all of them, and I can tell that these are the tendencies of our defense, the plays we used more often and the tendency of the defense in general. Iíve looked at both the run and the pass defense. Everyplay is preceded by a title so you can recognise which play iím referring too.
Iíll start with the pass defense. Hereís the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eilLXjN8P80
OLB Blitz - This is the play we used more often last year. Itís a very basic and simple play: both the OLBs blitz, thereís no movement before the snap and the players simply engage their assigned players. The OLBs take care of the tackles and the D-line of the interior lineman. Here, Jacksonville line forgot to block Ellis and the result of the play is a near-interception by Roy Williams. This play is based on the fact that every player needs to beat his man, theyíre not in a favorable position, they just have to face 1 on 1 (with the possibility to face another blocker, the RB or the TE) their man and beat him. This play doesnít expose the defense, itís very conservative and if the rushers fail to beat the OLs, you still have enough men on the field to cover the eligible guys. You can see that coverage is man to man, Ayodele on the FB, James on the HB, infact when the HB stays to protect the QB, James blitzes. On the other hand, this play doesnít create miss-matches, here the miss-match is created only by a bad play from the opposite OL. The conclusion is that if you still have a good pass rusher opposite to Ware (Ellis) the play could work, if you donít have it, the QB will have much more time to throw the ball. When Ellis went down opposite teams just doubled Ware, and Singleton/Carpenter werenít able to put enough pressure from the strong side. When Carpenter finally ďbroke outĒ we had a good pressure on the QB again, and that was during the WC game. Too bad in that game Wareís performance wasnít very good.
OLB & 1 ILB Blitz - Before the snap you know what is going to happen. One of the ILB lines up on the line of scrimmage, to the right of the OLB. Jacksonville leaves six men plus the RB to protect the QB, and that creates a miss-match, because Ware faces the TE. Chris Canty makes a great play on the OT forcing the RB to block him and leaving Ware the opportunity to run free at the QB. From the other side doesnít come pressure as the OT dominates the blitzing LB, allowing Leftwich to throw the ball downfield. As we can see, thereís no movement before the snap, and the blitz is very predictable. The result is that the OL is able to recognise the blitz and block it effectively.
WOLB blitz - Very basic scheme. Ware is the fourth rusher, he beats his man but thereís no pressure from the inside, so Leftwich can he escape from him. Ferguson and Spears had to face both the guards and the center, while Canty was one on one with the RT.
Nickel Package - Thatís one of the nickel packages we used last year. There 4 DLs and 2 LBs. Only one (James) stays in coverage, the other (Ware) just plays as heís the 5th DL. James fakes the blitz, and this is one of the few times we saw a fake blitz from our D.
WOLB blitz - Ellis is on the injured reserve, opposite teams know that the guy who was gonna blitz was Ware. NY stays in max protection, doubling both the NT and the DE. Ware is one on one against the OT, Canty against the guard. In the Chargers defense you could see the DE dragging the OT allowing the OLB to face the G, but once again, our defense was pretty basic, and this play was used very often and without any movement. That play was very predictable and very easy to block, especially once Ellis went down.
ILB blitz - Ayodele blitzes without showing it before the snap. Usually you were able to see the blitz before the snap, this time the ILB waits until the ball is snapped and then runs to the QB forcing him to throw.
Delayed Blitz - 5 men rush from the moment of the snap, the other 2 waits until the play develops and then blitz. The pressure doesnít arrive early on the QB and he has the time to throw the ball, but Newman has a good coverage on his man. Itsí a very basic blitz, even if there are 7 men rushing, they just run straight up to the OL, they didnít stunt or do changes of position.
Dime Package - In the dime package there are 4 men with their hands on the ground. Here thereís a blitz from James and Roy Williams, but itís pretty easy to recognise for the OL, and they block it. Good coverage downfield doesnít allow Vick to throw the ball and Ware just makes a great play forcing Vick in the arms of Jason Hatcher.
ILB Blitz - Once again, the blitz is recognisable before the snap, Ayodele has a good penetration, James stays to spy Vick and when he tries to escape Coleman caughts him.
These are my thoughts:
Our defense was very conservative. There werenít many fake blitzes, there were basically zero stunts. The players just needed to rely on their ability to beat their assigned players. The defense wasnít built to create miss-matches. Imo, we can see this philosophy in two ways:
1) Zimmer/Parcells wanted to prevent the big play and so they decided to stay conservative.
2) Parcells philosophy came from an era when his defensive players outweights the opposite OL. In today NFL he didnít have this type of miss-match anymore so he tried to replace that with a good rotation of players. But that wasnít enough. OLs today are too big, you have to create miss-matches to help your players, you will loose if you just let your players run straight up to them all game long.
This year weíll see a very different philosophy. A philosophy based on the idea of create miss matches, with a lot of movement and fancy packages. Wade Phillips tries to put his players in the better position to win their battles. He doesnít rely only on their talent and ability to beat the blocking guy, but he moves them all around the field, putting them in the position where they can have more success. So you can see our defense finally put some pressure on the opposite QBs. On the other hand weíll have a defense more vulnerable to the big plays. We just can hop the blitzes will work, because if they wonít a big play will be coming.
A post scriptum: Ayodele was way better than James when blitzing. James was a mediocre blitzer, Ayodele wasnít bad at applying pressure from the inside.