Examining the final Cowboys defeat of the season is no fun, given that they were a rag-tag bunch hanging on for dear life with those spared the season-ending injury. Almost no contenders can say that they had a unit like the Cowboys defense that had the combination of so many players hurt and so many others in the line-up who were not even on the roster 2 months ago.
This, of course, is part bad luck - which we all like to point at - and part of their own doing. The part of your own doing would be the difference between the Cowboys in 2012 and other "good franchises".
Everyone gets injuries. That is true. But, as you look at the Cowboys opening day roster, they had 53 players just like everyone else. The issues, obviously, all along have been the assertion that the Cowboys do not have much quality depth.
That is speculation and chatter until it is tested. When Sean Lee gets hurt, is the fix on the roster? Barry Church? Bruce Carter? Kenyon Coleman? When they all get hurt, can you fill their spots with guys who made your team?
And that is where the Cowboys clearly still lack the quality to compete as the best teams. I have cited the roster depth of a team like San Francisco as an example of a perfect situation. They lose a WR late in the season to a bad injury, and in steps their 1st round pick. They lose a RB, and in steps their 2nd round pick. Their top 2 picks weren't even playing - they were waiting their turn.
The opposite is what we had late in the season on the Cowboys depth chart. Guys on the field who were just signed, but now forced to play significant roles in a huge game. As Alfred Morris is running 32 yards for a touchdown, there is Brady Poppinga - nearly flat on his back - being blocked out of the way. Poppinga was just signed after 4th round pick Kyle Wilber could not play inside. Dan Conner was limited. Ernie Sims was not the answer. Alex Albright played some. Orie Lemon was hurt. Caleb McSurdy was gone in camp. They never were covered in case injury hit.
Same for safety; Matt Johnson was picked to solidify. Brodney Pool was signed to start. Danny McCray was not capable of playing safety it was proven. Mario Butler didn't work out. Mana Silva was a short term idea. Charlie Peprah was brought in. Eric Frampton was signed.
If you have a proper roster, you don't have to play 5 or 6 guys who didn't break camp in significant spots. They might be on your roster as deep reserves, but only the thin teams have to find street free agents and put them right on the field. And that is where the Cowboys see how far they must go in roster building.
It sounds like some years there is just no solution to injuries. And then you read that the Packers won the Super Bowl 2 seasons back with 16 players on injured reserve including many starters. But, it takes a strong roster that is not top-heavy. And that is something for the General Manager to consider moving forward.
Every roster spot matters. Every situation must have a fix ready. And that is why people point at spots on the roster that are not wisely used and accuse Jerry Jones of being wasteful and irresponsible with roster spots 41-53. Because in December, you are going to need those guys to play. But, in Dallas, many of them don't play, and you bring street free agents in and they immediately pass all of the reserves and go right to the field.
When looking at Washington's big demolition of what was left of the Cowboys offense, we are reminded of something that was surely not Jones' fault - the very poor decision Josh Brent made about a month ago.
In breaking down the film, as Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin sliced and diced the Cowboys defense, I kept coming back to the feeling that if Brent was out there, this would not have been nearly as bad. Jay Raliff has been hurt and when Brent was filling in, interior runs were not happening nearly as much. He was having a fantastic year against the run.
But, with Ratliff and Brent unavailable, the Cowboys were getting by with Sean Lissemore and Tyrone Crawford playing over the center. This is a poor plan, but the best the Cowboys could hope for. And they battled, but were over-run by the constant combo-blocks from the Center-Guard in Washington. Against New Orleans and Pittsburgh, this was not as evident as neither launched much of a ground attack.
But, that bill became due on Sunday night. The interior getting blown off the ball forced the linebackers to crash down to protect the middle. And then when Ware and Spencer crashed down, there was no cover at the flanks and you saw the damage done by the outside runs. It was a total disaster, and I feel that Josh Brent could have changed plenty of that.
We can blame the Cowboys for lack of depth, but it is tough to criticize when they lose both the starter and his reserve during the year. 2 injuries at the same spot is too much to over-come generally.
All season long, we have shown you Tony Romo throw charts. This week, I had Tim draw up a few for RG3. I thought it would be revealing to show how much the Redskins accomplished, despite how little he had to throw downfield. Blue is complete, Red is incomplete.
1st Half for RG 3:
2nd Half throws for RG3:
Amazing, but that performance actually won the game.
Let's take a look at the "Splash Plays" from Week 16 at the Redskins:
Splash Plays are key impact plays from the defense. Usually, they are obvious, but there are some that blur the line. I have listed time and play of each one for those who want to double check my work.
For more, read a detailed explanation of this study here: What is a Splash Play?
WEEK 16 at Washington
Very little resistance on Sunday night, but here is what we saw. And typically, they were led by Anthony Spencer. DeMarcus Ware was just not fit enough to play, it appears. As he injured his arm against the Bengals and kept playing, but was not nearly the same player.
|1-7:35||3/2/O19||Spencer||3rd Down Stop|
|3-4:25||1/10/D20||Albright||Tackle For Loss|
|4-12:49||1/10/O40||Spencer||Tackle For Loss|
|4-7:35||2/7/O27||Spencer||Tackle For Loss|
Here are the season totals for 2012:
|Carter - OUT||15|
|Lee - OUT||10|
|Brent - OUT||9.5|
|Ratliff - OUT||6|
|Scandrick - OUT||5|
|Coleman - OUT||2|
|Lewis - GONE||1|
|Church - OUT||1|
The blitz played almost no role on Sunday. The Redskins hardly passed and the Cowboys clearly do not want to blitz Griffin. In 2 games, they have blitzed 7 times in 49 attempts.
|4-10:41||1/10/D32||A Morris +32 yards, TD||--|
|3-5:51||1/10/O40||A Morris, +22 yards||--|
|4-4:01||3/8/D37||Spencer Sacks Griffin||5|
Pass Rushers Against New Orleans - 52 pass rush/blitz situations:
|Pass Rushers||1st D||2nd D||3rd D||4th D||Total|
And, here are the full season numbers to date:
|3 Rush||22 -|
|30 - 15%||35 - 21%||1- 12%||88 - 16%|
|4 Rush||123 - 66%||114 - 59%||87 - 53%||5 - 62%||329 - 60%|
|5 Rush||37 - 20%||43 - 22%||32 - 19%||2 - 25%||114 - 21%|
|6 Rush||5 -|
|9 - 5%||0||20 - 4%|
The game by game pressure numbers:Wk 1 - NYG: 11/37 - 30%
Wk 2 - SEA: 10/26 - 38%
Wk 3 - TB: 12/32 - 37%
Wk 4 - CHI: 12/27 - 44%
Wk 5 - BAL: 10/27 - 37%
Wk 6 - CAR: 9/39 - 23%
Wk 7 - NYG: 2/31 - 6%
Wk 8 - ATL: 5/37 - 14%
Wk 9 - PHI: 7/43 - 16%
Wk 10 - CLE: 4/36 - 11%
Wk 11 - WAS 3/30 - 10%
Wk 12 - PHI 6/36 - 16%
Wk 13 - CIN 11/37 - 30%
Wk 14 - PIT 13/42 - 31%
Wk 15 - NO 15/52 - 29%
Wk 16 - WAS 4/19 - 21%
In the end, the team just collapsed defensively due to personnel issues - some were bad luck and some revealed poor roster construction.
But, there is a belief that this defense is close when they get all of their pieces back. But, that success will hinge on finding quality reserves in a hurry, because injuries will happen every year in this violent sport.