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Sturm: Marinelli Report - Big Play Night From The Defense Ends Losing Skid

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  • Sturm: Marinelli Report - Big Play Night From The Defense Ends Losing Skid

    By Bob Sturm, Special contributor

    The defense has needed to make plays for this team to be successful. We know this. In some ways, you would suggest they have done an "about-average" job in 2017 with 16 takeaways through 12 games in a league where the average team is at 16.4. The problem has been that they go through substantial droughts without any sort of big plays at all.

    From Weeks 3-5, the team went through a stretch against the Cardinals, Rams, and Packers where they were able to generate just one takeaway. That, as you may recall, was a fumble on the chaotic final desperation play where Green Bay picked up a Dallas fumble and fumbled it back. In essence, a takeaway, but not really one of any substance. The team went 1-2 in that stretch.

    Then, there was a surge of takeaways again as 7 turnovers in the next 3 games spurred on a 3-0 stretch against the 49ers, Redskins, and Chiefs and all was right in the world.

    Unfortunately, things would turn back in the other direction again at just the wrong time. Perhaps for reasons attached to Sean Lee's health or morale attached to Ezekiel Elliott's presence (a real stretch), or just the randomness of football, the Cowboys played their next 3 games with just one takeaway again. Nobody would suggest it was meaningless as the Xavier Woods interception in Atlanta turned into the only touchdown the Cowboys would score that day, but just 1 takeaway in 3 games would doom them to a 0-3 stretch at just the wrong time.

    Thankfully, on Thursday night, with the offense again stuck in neutral, they took the ball away from the Redskins with great regularity. 4 takeaways and numerous other big plays helped the Cowboys with the season sweep of the Redskins and put their season total of takeaways against Washington at 7. So, to date, 43.7% of their takeaways have been at the expense of their rival.

    To dig deeper, the Cowboys have 16 takeaways, but only 7 interceptions. The majority of NFL takeaways are interceptions (60% interceptions/40% fumbles is about normal) and the average team in the league this year has nearly 10 (13 is the average of the league last year). This is something the Cowboys have not done particularly well - or to league averages - in ages. In 2016, the Cowboys picked off just 9 passes and in 2015 it was just 8. Especially under Rod Marinelli, it has always seemed the Cowboys have acquired low-aggressiveness in their player selection in the secondary and then deployed them at a conservative spot in the secondary to insure nothing gets behind them, but that takes them out of spots to make plays.

    Thursday night against Washington was the first time the Cowboys have intercepted multiple passes in the same game all year. They had 2 in this game, one because Jamison Crowder let a ball bounce off his hands and another because David Irving tipped a ball to Anthony Brown late. In fact, if you would like to break down the Cowboys interceptions in the last few years, you would be amazed at how many came off Irving's hands at the line of scrimmage on tipped passes.

    The last time the team had multiple interceptions was last December against Tampa Bay. That was the only occasion last season to pick off more than one pass in a game. There were just 2 such games in 2015. The secondary doesn't make plays and hasn't seemed to employ those who aspire to do so. The 24 interceptions since 2015 ranks only above Chicago in the entire league.

    But, wait, there could be hope on the horizon. The 2017 draft class includes 3 players who appear to have futures in the secondary and they all appear to want the football - Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods. They all seem to have good ball instincts and skills and perhaps have what it will take to turn this around.

    Awuzie played his first game of significance on Thursday night, so when he was able to get in on several splash plays, that was notable for sure. He was in on 53 snaps and his performance reminded me of all the characteristics we enjoyed so much in his draft profile from his time at Colorado.

    They tested him plenty.

    Here is a play across the middle that looks like he had too much of a cushion against Josh Doctson, but his closing speed and his ability to get his hand to the ball were nice. I didn't know if he got the ball until we saw this replay.

    This is what I really like. This deep shot to Doctson - where he has been great this year - tests Awuzie's ability to find the ball and show some skills there. He knocks this ball free and really makes you think he knows what he is doing and has great awareness. Well played.

    And then this in-breaking route where the ball could be thrown better, but again Awuzie gets his hand on the ball. How many DBs get their hands on 3 passes in a game? Now, how many do it as rookie's in their first real test? Very pleased with his early returns. Well done, now stay healthy for a while and keep doing it, young man.


    Everything is great here. All of it. Yardage. Splash Plays are high. YPP are low. Takeaways and Sacks, where have you been?


    As you can see, Cousins is a real QB who uses the whole field and stretches you. It is never easy dealing with him, but his OL isn't right and the Cowboys did a nice job of applying lots of pressure.




    More Videos of note:

    I continue to be impressed with Anthony Hitchens. I wanted to show you this run stuff and tackle for loss because he really attacks the play with good patience. He doesn't charge right in there and get blocked. He picks his angle, sets up the pulling tackle, and then works around him to make the play. This is slowing your pace to make a better play. Very difficult for young LBs to learn, but very indicative of progress. He is a nice player now.

    The thing about DeMarcus Lawrence is that, to me, he is a better DE against the run than he is at getting to the QB. Not sure the average fan knows how good he is against the run. Now, this is a play that if he doesn't get the legs of the RB, he is potentially allowing a big play. He is jumping inside the block when he has the edge, so he has to get this guy down or the Redskins are off to the races. But, if you are going to gamble, make sure you get him down. He did it, but you don't want this to be tried by younger players who don't have the skins. Nice play. Don't learn from that, Taco.

    Here is more of the Lawrence show. This is that play where he is stunting to take out David Irving's guy, but once the stunt happens, he sees his clear path to the QB. Good gracious, these two are good together. So impressive how powerful they both are and looks at Lawrence wipe out the RG and the C on his way to the QB. And the ball comes loose, too. How many times will he do this in 2017? So good.

    Here is unintentional comedy as Samaje Perine helps Taco Charlton get a sack and fumble. Watch the Redskins RB impede his tackle from moving as he is trying to stay in front of Taco Charlton around the edge. Sometimes, it is good to have a little luck. There is no question that Taco can really move for a big guy and look how defeated 79 is when he sees what just happened to him.

    I know some of you have been waiting for this - a holding penalty on Washington! Trent Williams has his hooks into 93-Benson Mayowa and the flag flies. Holding.

    Here is Lawrence again. If you want to see what $60 million looks like, I am guessing this is it. That closing speed off the edge is elite. Pay that man his money.

    Speaking of, here is David Irving. Sometimes, you want your QB to step up in the pocket. But, here, Cousins steps right into the path of a freight train and Irving flattens him. That is a violent way to end your night.

    2 snaps later...

    Irving deflects a pass right to the waiting arms of Anthony Brown. He is so tall and gets his hands in traffic consistently.

    They made the plays and won the game on Thursday. Now, they need to get on a role and keep making these game-changing plays to help the offense along through the slump.
    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

  • #2
    If he keeps it up, Awuzie might be my new favorite player and it makes me wonder how much better the D might have been earlier in the season if he and some other guys were available. Irving and Lawrence have both picked it back up, I wonder if we'll be able to keep both of them.


    • #3
      Dlaw fittn get paid.
      defense wins championships


      • #4
        Originally posted by DLK150 View Post
        If he keeps it up, Awuzie might be my new favorite player and it makes me wonder how much better the D might have been earlier in the season if he and some other guys were available. Irving and Lawrence have both picked it back up, I wonder if we'll be able to keep both of them.
        I'm really excited about Lewis and Awuzie as our future starting corners (Well I guess they may both be already). Lewis flashed a bunch earlier in the year and has been solid since. Awuzie looks really good as well. Would be nice to have the continuity of a couple really good corners for the next few years. Let Brown play the slot and suddenly corner is done with and we don't need to worry about it.


        • #5
          Originally posted by p1_ View Post
          Dlaw fittn get paid.
          As well he should. And, if itís with some other team Iím going to be pissed. We finally have a pass rush. We have to spend some money to maintain that.
          2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion


          • #6
            It seems like since forever that we've had a playmaking DB.


            • #7
              Originally posted by skidadl View Post
              It seems like since forever that we've had a playmaking DB.
              But....but.....Byron Jones is the savior. His SPARQ score was really high, and stuff.
              No Pat McQuistan = No Super Bowl. It's that simple.


              • #8
                The secondary changes seemed to be working. And I mean all those rooks playin. Finally, some corners that play the ball.

                F Byron Jones.
                defense wins championships