Monday, August 13, 2012

Splash Plays - Part 4

This is the final blog entry for 2011 Splash Plays as we view every single defensive snap of last year to evaluate who was making plays and who was just taking up space for the Cowboys' defense. There is no question that what we saw in December was far less a dominating defense and far more a part of the problem when it came to asking the question of "why did the Cowboys miss the playoffs?"

Before reveal the new data, let's catch those up who are just now being introduced to this new blog feature that we plan to maintain throughout the 2012 season in this space.

Part 1 - Splash Plays 2011 - Games 1-4
Part 2- Splash Plays 2011 - Games 5-8
Part 3 - Splash Plays 2011 - Games 9-12

What is a Splash Play?

In a short answer, a splash play is a term used in some franchises to describe a defensive big play. For our purposes, it is an interception, a sack, a tackle for loss, a strip of a fumble, a recovery of a fumble, a stuffed run, a defended pass, a batted ball at the line of scrimmage, or a hit that disrupts a play or a player. Essentially, a play that matters from the defense.

Here is the longer answer as we have used in the first few entries:

What is a splash play? Well, for purposes of this blog I believe a splash play will include the following: A sack, a pressure that forces a bad throw, and big hit on the QB, and a batted ball that may lead to an interception opportunity.

Again, you can see how this leads to subjectivity, but a subjective breakdown is better than no breakdown at all, I have decided. In addition, a splash play will include tackles for loss, a big hit for a short gain, or a stop which is an open field tackle where a player is pulled down on 3rd down short of the marker because of an exceptional effort from a defender.

An interception is clearly a splash play, but so is a defended pass that required a great effort. A major hit in the secondary could be a splash play, but I believe that the outcome of the play will determine that. Sorry, defensive backs, but standing over a guy who just caught a 15 yard pass because you think you hit him hard will not generally pass the test on this blog. So, stop doing it.

I am trying to be careful about handing out too many splash plays per game. I am trying to be picky, but too extreme in either direction. When I log a splash play, I will put time of the game on the chart so that if you want to review the same game and challenge my ruling, you are welcome to do so. Also, if multiple players deserve recognition on a single play, we will try to see that as well. Basically, we are trying to assign a value to making plays on the defense. We don't want to just see sacks and interceptions. We want to see broader definitions of splash plays to assign credit to those who help the Cowboys get off the field in important situations.

These rankings will not deduct for negative plays at this point. There are simply too many occasions where we are guessing, and for now, I want to avoid that for this particular idea. A splash play is a play that makes a major difference in the game. And by keeping it all season long, we will see which defenders are play makers and which are simply warm bodies. We already have our thoughts on both categories, but let's see if we can dig a bit deeper and actually have numbers to back up our claims.

The Cowboys played 1,053 defensive snaps in 2011. And we have now looked at each and everyone in detail. And, in our logs, we have given chapter and verse of each of them. This way, we invite your reviews if you would like to throw the challenge flag on my system and either ask for one to be added or one to be given to another player. One reader last week actually got a splash play to be re-issued to Victor Butler that had been erroneously given to DeMarcus Ware.

Now, please find the list for every single splash play that we have recorded for Games 13-16:

So, for this segment of games, we found 55 splash plays from the defense which is the lowest production for the season. The final total for the entire season arrived at 242 splash plays, which averaged out to a per game total of 15.125 per game.

It is interesting to note how many plays Anthony Spencer was in on. Over the course of the segment, he led the Cowboys with 9 splash plays. Further, over the course of the year - as you can see below - Spencer trailed only DeMarcus Ware on the entire defense.

When hearing his name discussed amongst Cowboys fans and media, I always hear his name positioned as a huge disappointment. I have always been willing to concede that his sack numbers and overall pass rush skills need to be better, but when you add in all of the other splash plays available - and he seems to blow up more run plays than anyone on the team - Spencer doesn't take a back seat to many.

His full body of work make him very useful. It can be said that the position of outside linebacker is going to always yield more of these plays than other positions in a 3-4 defense and I believe that is true, but still, to reduce Spencer to an anchor who merely holds you back is just not a fair assessment of his play.

Now, let's examine the full season totals:

PlayerWks 1-4Wks 5-8Wks 9-12Wks 13-16Totals
1. Ware10138839
2. Spencer848929
3. Lee1055525
4. Ratliff2610624
5. Scandrick058316
6. Hatcher323513
7. Coleman514212
8. Newman135211
9. Butler232310
10. Elam15039
T11. Lissemore22228
T11. Spears02248
13. Ball40217
14. Sensabaugh12306
T15. Jenkins31015
T15. Brooking10315
17. Walker10304
T18. Church00303
T18. McCray10203
20. James01012
T21. Brent10001
T21. McCann10001
T21. Carter01001
T24. Albright00000
T24. Geathers00000

HTML Tables

And now, let's make this post extra long by finding a splash per snap ratio for each Cowboys defender in 2011.

Since every defender can only make plays if they are on the field, let's see how many plays it takes each man to make a play:

PlayerSplashesSnapsSnaps Per Splash
1. Ware3991323.4
2. Spencer2996333.2
3. Lee2586834.7
4. Ratliff2475031.2
5. Scandrick1668042.5
6. Hatcher1342832.9
7. Coleman1242535.4
8. Newman1182875.2
9. Butler1023323.3
10. Elam91050116.6
T11. Lissemore828235.2
T11. Spears840050
13. Ball749971.3
14. Sensabaugh61004167.3
T15. Jenkins5607121.4
T15. Brooking540881.6
17. Walker433283
T18. Church317257.3
T18. McCray33210.6
20. James2415207.5
T21. Brent1137137
T21. McCann13535
T21. Carter14141
T24. Albright0450
T24. Geathers0310

HTML Tables

Snap Count numbers courtesy of

Pretty interesting numbers here.

I would love to track a whole season of Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu to see how many big plays a safety can make, because it sure looks like the Cowboys have a few safeties who never impact the game. Of course, that is what we thought before we ever did this project, too.

Bradie James was amazingly quiet at a high impact position and Jay Ratliff rallied as the season went along. As for the young guys, Victor Bulter needs to see the field more and Danny McCray took the most of his chances, too. Jason Hatcher needs to keep developing because it seems he might be a sleeping giant in all of this.

So, what did this project show us? Ware is who we thought he was. Lee and Ratliff are terrific, but so is Spencer. But, then the drop off is substantial. For the Cowboys to be great, they need those 4 impact defenders to be joined by 3 or 4 more. Can Hatcher, Carr, Claiborne, and Lissemore or Church or Crawford join those ranks who make 20 plays of substance every season?

That is the test.

I welcome your feedback in the comments below or through email:

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