Eye in the Sky: Week 14 – Dallas Cowboys

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With the announcement before the game that Mike McCarthy would be taking back playcalling duties, I was looking forward to seeing how the offense would perform.  Would they continue to sputter, or would they put together a competent offensive performance?  Would this game restore my hope in the offense with the end of the season (and the playoffs) fast approaching?

After this game, I still have some concerns, but it’s hard not to be impressed with how the offense looked in this game.  They had some lulls, but they ended the game with 435 yards of total offense, their second-best offensive yardage output of the year (their best performance came way back in week 3, when they rolled up 448 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs).
Again, they had some lulls, but they looked better than they have since the bye week.  I may not be overflowing with hope, but I definitely feel better than I have in a while (especially if they ever get Ty Montgomery back).

So welcome back to the world of playcalling, Mike McCarthy.  We’ve missed you.

Let’s get to the film.  As always, stats and ratings from Pro Football Focus.

THE BAD

BAD-D-01_mcfadden_run_1

As a whole, the defense played pretty well.  The run defense did not play well on at least three of the snaps.  This is one of them.

Following the flow of the line will give you most of the story.  The defensive line flows from the left side pretty well.  Pulling guard Zack Martin [70] is able to seal off Clay Matthews [52] on the outside, providing a nice lane to run through.  La’el Collins [71] follows Jake Ryan [47] down the line.  Ryan overruns the running lane by a step, and is unable to get back into position with Collins on his back side (I don’t think Ryan would have made this play even without Collins on his back, but Collins makes absolutely sure Ryan is out of the play).

It’s a tremendous job of blocking by the Cowboys offensive line, and it could have all ended in a 2 yard gain.  Ha Ha Clinton-Dix [21] is the single-high safety.  He follows the play to the hole well, but then overruns it by a step.  Just a step.  A little cutback and shoulder-tuck and Darren McFadden [20] is off to the races.  Micah Hyde [33] was eventually able to run him down, but not before he was able to gallop for 50 yards.

Clinton-Dix has gotten much better as the season has gone on, but he is still prone to moments like this.

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Speaking of poor run defense, let’s take a look at this little beauty.

First of all, look at the Packers pre-snap alignment.  With B.J. Raji [90] and Mike Daniels [76] split wide at the line and Jake Ryan [47] and Clay Matthews [52] split wide at the linebacker position, the middle of the field is wide open.

With a line as good as the Cowboys, they make this look easy.  It’s essentially the same blocking scheme to both sides of the line.  On the Packers right, Raji is turned out by Travis Frederick [72] and La’el Collins [71].  Ryan gets caught up in the mix.  When Frederick comes off the Raji block, Ryan is already there, and Frederick easily pins him back to the line.
Ditto the left side of the Packers line.  Daniels is turned out by Zack Martin [70] and Doug Free [68].  Martin comes off the Daniels block and easily handles Matthews.

Robert Turbin [23] gives a little move to his right before he realizes he can walk right down the middle of the field.  And that’s exactly what he does.

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The Bad didn’t always come from the defense.  While the offense looked much better with Mike McCarthy calling plays again, they still had some moments that just left with me shaking my head.

I’ve made this point time and time again, yet they continue running these plays.  Eddie Lacy [27] had a great game, but he works best when he is able to sit back from the line a bit, get up a head full of steam and read the blocking.  He thrives in those situations.  I’d be perfectly fine never seeing him take a handoff out of the shotgun formation again, especially when that play is a delayed handoff.

There appears to be room to run to Lacy’s right, but he is unable to get over there.  By the time he takes the handoff and takes a beat to figure out where to go, Tyrone Crawford [98] is already on top of him.

Crawford getting behind the line isn’t even a blown assignment.  Josh Sitton’s [71] assignment is to chip Crawford then move down the line.  Because of this, there is a very small window for Lacy to break towards the line.  I don’t know if James Starks [44] would have been able to do anything with this play, but it fits his style more than it fits Lacy’s (something we will witness shortly).

If you’re going to handoff to Lacy out of shotgun, at least have him coming across the formation to get a little speed up before he gets to the line.  A play like this was destined for failure.

THE GOOD

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During the stretch of poor play by the offense, one of my key complaints was the routes being run.  The line has endured injuries all year, yet they opted for running 3-4 routes 20 yards down the field and just assumed Aaron Rodgers [12] would make something happen.  Another main issue was that they didn’t seem to be using their players in roles they could excel in.  Randall Cobb [18] is a perfect example.  Instead of running him on a lot of quick-hitting routes, he was running a lot of deep routes, not looking back until he was past 10 yards.  This, of course, is not true on every play, but it happened more than I would care to see it.  (Richard Rodgers has also been misused for most of the season, but, since I have covered that ad nauseam, I won’t get into it here.)

Needless to say, I’ve been looking for plays like this for a long time.  Not only did I love watching the result of this play, but I am madly in love with the entire play design.

Let’s start with where the ball goes.  To the left of the line, we have Randall Cobb, James Jones [89] and Richard Rodgers [82], in that order.  Jones and Rodgers have off-coverage, while Cobb is uncovered at the line.  Aaron Rodgers sees this, so, after the snap, he takes a quick look at the linebacker coming over to cover Cobb, and fires a bullet to Cobb for a quick and easy gain.  James Jones runs the same exact route, so Rodgers could have just as easily gone there with the ball.

But here’s what I love about this play.  Look to the right of the line.  It’s a package play, with the Packers running a curl-fly combo to the left and a screen to the right.  It’s up to Rodgers to decide what to do.  If he didn’t like his match-up on the left, he can do a quick pump to that side and go back to the screen to the right (which, by the way, is set up extremely well).

This is what the Packers have been missing.  This is a play designed to allow Rodgers to read the defense and go with the best option.  It puts the entire offense in a position to succeed.  It’s a beautiful play, and I hope to see more of this kind of thing now that McCarthy is calling the plays again.

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Speaking of beautiful plays, here’s James Starks’ [44] touchdown reception.  It’s a simple swing pass on third down.  The play starts pre-snap, with Randall Cobb [18] motioning into the backfield, drawing Tyler Patmon [26] away from the edge.  At the snap, Cobb runs across the formation, taking Patmon with him, and making Sean Lee [50] hesitate in the middle.

On the right side, both James Jones [89] and Davante Adams [17] run slants, drawing their coverage inside.  Meanwhile, J.C. Tretter [73] and T.J. Lang [70] break downfield, looking for people to block.  But, with everyone drawn inside – either by rushing the passer or being in coverage – they have a hard time finding anyone.  I love that they try, though.  Tretter goes for a block at the end of the play, while Lang was actively seeking out Byron P. Jones [31].

Yet another well-designed and well-executed play.  This has been severely lacking this season, so it was great to see this again.

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This was also great to see.  The run itself is great.  Terrific blocking up front (I love watching Richard Rodgers [82] blocking Sean Lee [50]), a great read/cut by James Starks [44], downfield blocking and good open field running.

But here’s what I really love: the run game was working in the first half, so they kept going to it in the second half.  They didn’t abandon it like they have at times this season.  Here is the breakdown for rushing by James Starks and Eddie Lacy by half:

First half – 17 attempts, 68 yards, 4.0 yards per carry
Second half – 18 attempts, 127 yards, 7.1 yards per carry

When the Cowboys were tired in the second half, the Packers just kept hitting them.  Lacy had 13 of his 24 attempts in the second half.  It can’t be easy trying to bring down a guy his size when you’re gassed.

Speaking of trying to bring down a guy his size…

GOOD-O-03-lacy_run

Look at Eddie Lacy [27] expertly navigate the running lane and drag a tackler a couple yards before going down.  Rumble, young man.  Rumble.

In this game, Lacy had 73 yards after contact, his second-highest total of the season (his best game was 75 yards after contact against Minnesota).

Before I look at a couple defensive plays, I wanted to point out something the Packers do on kickoffs.

GOOD-ST-01-hype

This is after the kick has gone for a touchback.  Look at the guys running down the field.  They do this pretty much every time, regardless of whether they’re home or away.  From the time a touchback has been called, they raise their hands and run towards the stands.  Some of them like to jump around.

I love this.  They’re showing a lot of energy this season, and this is just a small part of it.  Even when the team hasn’t been playing well, the kickoff team is always hyped.

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I showed some poor run defense earlier, so I wanted to point out them doing it well in this section.  Look at the Packers defense.  From the point of the handoff to the sideline, there is nowhere to run with the ball.  Every gap is filled.  The backside is cut off.  The defense runs Darren McFadden [20] down the line and offers him no escape.

GOOD-D-02-matthews_sack

Let’s close with a brutal display by Clay Matthews [52].  He starts the play standing absolutely still, not tipping his hand at all.  At the snap, he runs full speed and destroys Matt Cassel’s [16] will to live.  If you look very carefully, you can see the exact moment when Cassel’s soul leaves his body.  It’s thrilling.

Two things I love about this play:
1. Robert Turbin [23] holding his head in his hands and jumping as he sees his quarterback’s lifeless body.  Since Matthews didn’t look like he was blitzing, Turbin went to his right to help with Julius Peppers [56].  “It should have been me,” he screams.  (He probably did not scream this.)
2. The camera begins to move away directly before the moment of impact.  The cameraman didn’t want to witness this crime, but he turned his camera back, because that is his job.  What a pro.

For the record, I can’t think of many things scarier than this.  Clay Matthews running with a full head of speed directly at me, with no escape.  I believe you’re just supposed to curl up into a ball and lay motionless.  Or maybe that’s when you’re attacked by bears.  Or maybe both.  Yeah, it’s probably both.

Random Thoughts:

– When throwing to Randall Cobb, Aaron Rodgers was 8/12 for 81 yards, for a QB Rating of 85.8.  Obviously I’d like that QB Rating to be higher, but I like that Cobb got 12 targets in this game.  Of those 12 targets, 8 of them came within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage.  He caught a lot of passes in space and on the move, and was able to rack up 52 yards after the catch, his highest total of the season.

– Sam Shields left the game after only 12 snaps due to a concussion.  That meant Damarious Randall matched up on Dez Bryant for most of the game.  As he has for most of the season, Randall performed well.  When covering Bryant, Matt Cassel was 0/3.  Randall also had a great pass defense on a jump ball to Bryant in the middle of the field, playing the ball perfectly in the air and knocking it out of Bryant’s hands.  I feel like I say it every week but it’s not enough: I’m a huge fan of Damarious Randall.

– Quinten Rollins also got a chance to get on the field quite a bit, seeing 35 snaps.  He performed well.  When targeting Rollins, Cassel was 2/4 for 19 yards for a QB Rating of 63.5.  With Shields likely missing the upcoming Raiders game, we’re going to see a lot of Randall and Rollins.  I’m excited (and nervous) to see how they perform.  I have faith in them.

– I love that James Jones went back to the hoodie, but it was too hot to wear the whole thing, so he cut the sleeves off.  I really enjoy that look.

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– Jeff Janis isn’t seeing any more snaps on offense, but as long as he keeps destroying people as a gunner, I think I’ll be okay with it.

– We’ve all been imploring Ted Thompson to pay Mike Daniels, and he finally did.  Daniels got a 4 year, $42 million extension.  Not only is he a tremendous player having a great year, he also seems like a really good guy.  I love this deal.  We’re happy to have you in Green Bay for another 4 years.

krampus poster

– Please go see Krampus.

Albums listened to: Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s – The Bride on the Boxcar: A Decade of Margot Rarities

Thank you for reading. Dusty Evely is a featured writer for Titletown Sound Off. You can follow him on Twitter @DustyEvely. For even more Packers content, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

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By Dusty Evely

Lover of sports, horror movies & good music. Below-average second baseman.

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