Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Our 2015 Version of "Annual Playoff Reminders"


With just 9 days until the first game of the 2015 NFL season, perhaps we should take a minute to identify some things to consider when putting your NFC playoff field together.

Here is a fancy grid below which keeps a rolling 10-year grid on NFC playoff participation.  Below, you can see that 7 years in the last 10 is the high total for playoff appearances for Seattle and Green Bay, while a sad squad hasn't been in the post-season in the last decade - those St Louis Rams.  

Dallas, strutting around with new-found confidence is at 4, which is out paced by 5 NFC organizations (Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans, New York Giants, and Philadelphia), but finally broke its 5 year drought with its berth last winter.  You can see by looking at the grid how it seems everyone gets a turn in the playoffs every few years.  Only 3 teams have not been in the playoffs since 2011 in the entire NFC - Chicago, Tampa Bay, and those Rams.  Parity!  

Green Bay has been to the playoffs 6 consecutive years which is the highest for any NFC team.  Seattle has now been to 3 straight playoff years - and 2 Super Bowls in a row - and then the only other team that has put consecutive years together would be Carolina.  San Francisco's streak was stopped last season.  

Team 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 Total
Sea X X X X X X X 7
X 7
NO X X X X X 5

X X X X X 5
X X  X X X 5
Dallas X X X X 4
X X X X 4
Car X X


X 4
X X X 3
Minn X X X 3
Arz X X X 3
X X 2
Det X X 2
St L

(a Bold "X" denotes a Super Bowl appearance)

So, now you know who has made it and how many times.

Here is the AFC -

Team 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 Total
NE X X X X X X X X X 9
Ind X X X
X X X X X X 9
Bal X
X X X X X X 7
Pit X
X 6
Cin X X X X

X 6
Den X X X X

X 5

X X X X 5



X X 3



X X 2






The AFC is actually way more top-heavy.  New England and Indianapolis have 9 berths each in the last decade?  So, yeah, having a franchise QB definitely seems to help.  Meanwhile, 7 AFC teams have gone 2 or less times, so the bottom of the conference is quite awful.

But, what about this annual game where we try to project who the participants in the 2015 Playoffs will be? We all enjoy it every August, but most of my research seems to show that most of us just pick the same 6 teams who made the playoffs last year. They just look too good to reel in.
But, if you are planning on picking the Seahawks, Panthers, Packers, and Cowboys to all win their divisions and then the Lions and Cardinals to grab the Wildcards, then you need to know about this number -


What does the number 5.7 represent? Well, that is the average number of new teams that make the playoffs each year since the playoffs expanded in 1991.  Now, if only 12 teams make the playoffs each year and 5.7 (or pretty much half) are going to be teams that were NOT there last year, as history tells us, then who is going out of these 12 teams?

NFC: Seattle, Green Bay, Dallas, Carolina, Arizona, Detroit
AFC: Denver, New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore

So, at this point last year, most of us had Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New Orleans returning to the playoffs.  None of them made it.  Same with the Chiefs and Chargers on the other side.

By the way, although we do believe this to be a truth that will stand the test of time, obviously if 5.7 is the average, there are years where we go to the high end and the low end of this. In 2003, we actually had 8 new teams enter the playoffs in a year that seemed completely upside down and random. Then, in 1995 and last year, only 4 new teams made the tournament - just 1 new team in the AFC - making some believe that this thing is determined before the season even begins.

Here is the chart for your examination of the year-by-year progression:

Year# NewNew Teams making Playoffs
20145Dal, Arz, Det, Pit, Bal
20135NO, Phi, Car, KC, SD
20124Was, Sea, Min, Indy
20116NYG, SF, Det, Cin, Hou, Den
20105Sea, Atl, Chi, Pitt, KC
20096Dal, GB, NO, Cin, NE, NYJ
20087Phi, Atl, Car, Min, Arz, Mia, Bal
20076Was, TB, GB, Pit, Ten, Jac
20067Phi. Dal, NO, SD, Bal, NYJ, KC
20057Was, Car, TB, NYG, Chi, Cin, Jac
20045Min, Atl, SD, Pit, NYJ
20038Stl, Car, Dal, Sea, NE, KC, Bal, Den
20025NYG, Atl, Ten, Cle, Ind
20016SF, GB, Chi, Pit, NE, NYJ
20006Phi, NYG, NO, Den, Bal, Oak
19997Det, TB, StL, Was, Sea, Ten, Ind
19985Arz, Dal, Atl, NYJ, Buf
19975NYG, Det, TB, KC, Mia
19965Min, Car, Jac, Den, NE
19954Phi, Atl, Ind, Buf
19945Chi, Mia, Clev, NE, SD
19935Det, GB, NYG, Oak, Den
19926Min, SF, Phi, Mia, Pit, KC

Last year when I did this study, I wrote, "Is that your greatest case for Dallas getting into the 2014 playoffs?  The fact that every year the NFC seems to put 3 new teams in the tournament?"

I am still working on my picks.  But, the annual reminder of 5.7 certainly makes this exercise more complicated than we are willing to admit.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cowboys Roster Report - August 27


Congratulations, football fans.  You have made it to the 14 day mark.  In 14 days, the NFL will kickoff its next season with real football of great significance when the Steelers visit the Super Champion Patriots (with or without their QB) for the NFL's kickoff.  This means we are 17 days from the Cowboys hosting the New York Giants.  It is finally within sight.
But, the teams still have plenty of work to accomplish in that they have 2 more games and countless more employment decisions to work through to determine who makes it to the final 53.  September 1 - next Tuesday - will be the cut down day to 75 players and then September 5 - next Saturday - is the day teams drop to 53.
Since the last time we did this study on August 11th, the Cowboys have been pretty busy. It is a bit of a simplistic misnomer to claim that the team simply drops from their original 90 players to 53.  In reality, every day the scouting staff is trying to find the right 90 players and if someone is an "easy cut", then shouldn't we just cut them today and bring in someone else to examine?  32 teams are cutting players periodically, perhaps the discard in Houston or Atlanta is better than player #89 on the list in Oxnard.  If you spend time at training camp, you can often see the team working out men who hope for just a chance to suit up.  It is quite amazing to consider the full player pool that teams cast their nets into to fill out their roster.
Anyway, since August 11th - just 2 weeks ago - the Cowboys have signed 9 new players and waived 10 - because one of their new players, Brandon Smith, was then waived 9 days later.  But, since we last did this chart, the Cowboys have bid farewell to Chris Whaley, Jason Wilson, Ray Vinopal, George Farmer, Lache Seastrunk, Deontay Greenberry, Reggie Dunn, and Cody Clay.
New to the chart below are Ben Malena, Michael Hill, David Porter, Rod Sweeting, Dakorey Johnson, Clyde Gates, Phil Bates, and Carlif Taylor.  All of them will go directly to the longshot column for now.  So let's see how the chart looks, divided into 3 categories - "Made the Team", "On the Bubble", and those who are the "Longshots".
PositionAlready Made TeamOn The BubbleLongshots
QB(2) Romo, Weeden(2) Vaughn, Showers
RB(4) Randle, Dunbar, Clutts, McFadden(1) Johnson(3) Agnew, Malena, Hill
TE(2) Witten, Escobar(2) Hanna, Swaim(1) Barden
WR(5) Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Street, Whitehead(6)  Jenkins, Porter, Harwell,  Goodley, Gates, Bates
T(2) Smith, Free(2) Weems, Gibson(2) Wetzel, Dill
G-C(5)  Leary, Frederick, Martin,  Collins, Bernadeau(2) McDermott,  Patrick
DT(4) T Crawford, Hayden, T McClain, J Crawford(2) Bishop, Coleman(1) Taylor
DE(4) Lawrence, Gregory,  Hardy, Mincey, Russell(3) Boatright, Gardner, Edwards(1) Obada
LB(6) Lee, Wilber, Brinkley, McClain, Hitchens, Wilson, Gachkar(2)  K SmithNzeocha(4) Brown, Baggs, Glaud, Johnson
CB(5) Carr, Claiborne,  Jones, White, Patmon(3) Steeples, Ross, Sweeting
S(4) Church, Wilcox, McCray, Heath(1) Scott
ST(3) Bailey, Jones, Ladouceur(2) Hornsey, Kreiter
Totals46 + 21426
(Bold names in the middle column are my picks for the team that I have added to the 46 players on the left if I had to pick the 53 this morning).
Chaz Green and Orlando Scandrick have been taken off the chart.  They will not count on the 53 now because of injuries.  Also, Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain will not count immediately because of suspensions.  So, for the original 53, you can take them off, too.
Mark Nzeocha, the draft pick LB who has yet to really make an appearance is more of a practice squad consideration at this point.
Technically 46 (but 48 with the suspensions are locked up).  I confess that of the 26 "Longshots", I may be misreading a few of the new signings, but until I get a better handle on those new 8 names, I will leave them over there.  Let's just say a big game against Minnesota may not be a horrendous idea for those guys.
Let's go position by position:
QB - You likely have heard my riffs about the 3rd QB spot.  For what it is worth, I think Showers is the most interesting of the 3 men behind Romo.  I can't tell you how impressive his interest and willingness in special teams work generally is to the front office. He literally is doing anything he can to stay.  With Weeden and Vaughan, there are strengths, but also considerable weaknesses.  But, Weeden has the Cowboys affection, so he is safe.  For me, I think if you really like Showers, you would prefer the practice squad, but you also realize that if you try to slide him through, he might get grabbed.  This is a tough call, but I think PS for Showers is my call right now.
RB - I moved McFadden off the bubble, because let's be honest - they aren't cutting him for now.  They believe he can really make a difference this year and until they have a better option, I am not going to argue.  There are simply no upgrades.  Gus Johnson has separated himself from the others, but I also think his ultimate home is the practice squad in 2015.
TE - Again, this is one of the real either/or decisions of camp.  James Hanna is a NFL player for sure and if the Cowboys don't employ him, somebody will.  But Geoff Swaim has been featured plenty in the preseason and they like what they see.  Swaim is under contract through 2018, Hanna through December.  That might make the difference, but in this case, it might not be either/or.  It might be both.  They could keep 4 Tight Ends and dedicate the back 2 to special teams.
WR - I think Lucky Whitehead is in and off the bubble.  The other 6 WRs who are in the longshot column are going to have a tough time convincing the team to keep 6.  PS is a real option for a few - especially TCU's Porter.
T - You have your 2 starters.  But, is the best reserve tackle La'el Collins or Zack Martin?  If so, do you dare keep only 2 tackles?  No.  Darrion Weems or Gibson stay.  Weems on the 53 and Gibson to the PS seems likely.
G-C - Easiest spot on the team.  The 5 are clear and easy.
DT - It is pretty clear now that the Cowboys see Jack Crawford as the best replacement for Tyrone Crawford at the 3-technique (leaving Greg Hardy out of the discussion for now). I think Jack has flashed quite a bit at every opportunity this year and has made the team after trying to find the right fit positionally.  Hayden and Terrell McClain are both on at the 1-tech spot and I believe the final spot will go down to Davin Coleman and Ken Bishop.  Personally, I would lean towards Bishop because I love his style and motor, but Coleman does offer a little more flexibility.
DE - I think Ryan Russell has made the team since we did this last.  That leaves Ben Gardner and Lavar Edwards fighting for the last spot.  If Gardner can prove he is a special teams option, the edge goes to him.  Otherwise, this is a photo finish.
LB - 7 Linebackers are in.  But, Rolando McClain being suspended makes it 6 on opening day.  Keith Smith is interesting for sure and squarely on the bubble.  I see he is being used on all special teams so they might go heavy there to save him.
CB - With Orlando Scandrick's news hurting the team, this is a real job opportunity for the next man up.  Tyler Patmon and Corey White are on the squad for sure and now, you wonder if there is a spot for one of the long shots through special teams.  Is that Joel Ross or Rod Sweeting?
S - The two starters and the two special teams leaders in McCray and Heath.  I think all 4 are locks.
ST - Bailey, Jones, Ladouceur.  Easy as can be.
For reference, here is a chart I have used since 2007.  It is the final 53 man roster for the Cowboys based on the numbers they have used at each spot.  Of course, you should be aware of the scheme affecting this as when they went from 3-4 to a 4-3, the DL/LB numbers were impacted.  Otherwise, this might be useful if you choose to try to make your own roster.

2007: 26 Offense/24 Defense/3 Specialist
2008: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2009: 25 Offense/24 Defense/4 Specialist
2010: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2011: 26 Offense/23 Defense/4 Specialist
2012: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2013: 24 Offense/26 Defense/3 Specialist
2014: 24 Offense/26 Defense/3 Specialist
Ok.  46 are locks (not including Rolando or Hardy).  Let's add the final 7 names as of this morning:  Hanna, Swaim, Weems, Gibson, Bishop, Gardner, and Smith.  Of course, the fact is the Cowboys will sign a handful of players in early September that will make their 53 that are on another roster right now, but using the info we have, those are my 53 as of this morning.
Set me straight with your comments below.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mailbag - 1 Technique, 3 Technique, DL Terminology


Here are a few emails that are similar that I have received recently from readers just like you:

#1 - Hi Bob I know that occasionally you will do a series that helps us lay football fans better understand some of the nuances of the game. In that same vein I have a question for you regarding the defense of line. What is the five technique, And what does he do? I sometimes hear media types like yourself referred to that position but not go on to explain exactly what it means. Love the show thanks for all that you do in educating football fans like me who want to understand the sport better. 


 #2 - Bob, Since you are currently breaking down the Defensive Tackles, I would like to hear your philosophy on what YOU look for in a 1-technique and a 3-technique. Also, could you shed some light on why the Cowboys operate with such undersized interior linemen and seem to have such a low regard for the 1-T. This has bothered for years. If your 1-T can be single blocked, then your leading tackler is probably a safety because your LB’s are fighting guards and centers every week. If you find a 1-T that can split double teams and wreck havoc in the backfield, well, then you’ve got a monster. But, I've heard Bryan Broaddus and others talk about how this staff doesn’t value spending a high pick on a 1-T, and they’ve proven it, not only passing on Sharrif Floyd(not a 1-T in my book) or Sylvester Williams in the first round of ‘13, but taking at TE with Johnathan Hankins on the board in the second. Wouldn’t Hankins look pretty good next to Crawford in the middle of this thing. To me, not spending a high pick on a 1-T is crazy talk, along the same lines as taking a guard in the first round will get you 8-8 every year. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks. -Rich in Euless


And #3 - Sturm - Please show me the alignments of the 1-techniques and the 3-techniques so I can spot them on television.  Thanks!  Steve


Ok. 3 emails about similar topics. So, I decided to put together a little visual aid to help us along this morning.

Above, please find the alignment locations of a typical NFL defense. Yes, there are several slight variations in this chart through the years with different systems, for instance, several utilize a "2i" and a "4i" inside the 2 and the 4, and then move the 3 and the 1 technique's closer inside still. They also will have the TE as the "6" technique in some systems, but for this one, we will go with the traditional charts that are used in several places.This chart shows that if you line up directly on the center, you will get the "0", directly on a guard would be the "2", and for somewhat confusing reasons, straight up on the nose of a tackle would be called the "5" (of course, in the 3-4 the 5-tech is the DE, but here the 5 is actually to the outside of the T where I placed the #6 - 

Again, this is all minutiae that varies from coach to coach). Basically, in the Dallas offense, the two most talked about alignments which you will want to learn are the "1-technique" and the "3-technique".

1-Technique: This DT is there to occupy. In the pass rush, it is his job to make sure that he makes the guard and the center on his side to go to him off the snap. He does that by lining up in the A-Gap in such a way that neither has the necessary leverage to leave him until he has done his job. His job, by the way, is to make sure that center cannot go help on the 3-technique AND that the guard cannot go help against the Defensive End. The idea here is that you would like to take the 4th best pass rusher on the defensive line and have him occupy two interior offensive linemen. In any 4 vs 5 matchups, if you can accomplish that, you have won. Then, in running situations, this man is able to stand his ground against a double team and "keep the linebackers clean" so that they may scrape off him and make the tackle. If he is easily moved or handled by one guy, then a guard can move onto a LB and the defense is in big trouble if that happens on runs. Nick Hayden has been the Cowboys 1-technique since the scheme change and has always been a topic amongst fans for replacement. Yet, through it all, the Cowboys have stuck with him because in the right role, he can accomplish much of these two main objectives and seldom is blown off the ball. He plays the ultimate thankless position, but he clearly is not as easy to replace as the fans believe. Because to this point, he hasn't been replaced. And to Rich's point (above), the Cowboys do not value this in terms of draft pick or pay check. So, if Hayden is "good enough", then the Cowboys are fine with that unless they can find a better option at a similar price (no pick, minimum money). 

3-Technique: Warren Sapp, Tommie Harris, Jason Hatcher, Henry Melton, and now Tyrone Crawford. All of them are terrific players (at wildly different levels), but all of them excelled at this position under the mind of Rod Marinelli (and Monte Kiffin). In some ways it makes you wonder if the player makes the position or the position makes the player (or what percentage of each should be considered). The 3-technique lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard. Which guard depends on which front the Cowboys are running, but in the 4-3 Over, he is on the strong side (TE side) and in the 4-3 under he is on the weak side. You might recall the 2013 season saw Hatcher and Ware on the weak side in the 4-3 under which insured that both were going to be singled up with the guard and tackle. Either you give them help or that duo was going to get home, and Hatcher did for 11 sacks and $27.5 million. So, the 3-technique is outside the guard where the center can't help and the tackle has his hands full with the defensive end. This allows this player to attack a guard in a 1-on-1 situation and often in space as they try to create for him a lot of space to have a "2 way Go" against the guard. This means that he has clearance to attack either side of the guard in pass rush. They want strength, but even more quickness. Lots of athleticism and a guy who can live in the backfield is coveted. 3-techniques are what this whole defense is trying to feature. They are where you would spend big money or a big pick (or both) to secure. You must have a difference maker here. Now, Chris wanted to know about "5-technqiues" and while Rod may refer to his DEs as 5-techs, they aren't really that. In today's NFL, a 5-tech is usually the 2-gapping DE in a 3-4 defense. Marcus Spears, Hatcher, and Igor Olshansky here. Those guys were never rushing the passer, but rather staying head up on a tackle and trying to stand and steer to help corral the rusher. In this Cowboys 4-3, the alignment is actually often a 7 (a step outside the tackle), 8 (head up on the TE), or 9 technique (outside TE). 

You will hear broadcasters say a "wide 9" stance, which is well outside the tight end and incredibly wide angle to rush the passer. But, being out that far is a mess against the run. When you are out that far, you are trying to set the edge and also make the tackle kick-step fast to cut you off on your way to the QB in a pass rush. On 1st down, you will seldom see DEs out wide, but by 3rd down, they will get way out there to improve their angle and to give more space to the DTs to try to get the guards in trouble. Like I admitted earlier, there are some variations of the numerical alignment positions, but you get the idea above. I hope that photo helps as a reference tool when you need it. 

Any other football terminology questions can be directed to sturm1310@me.com