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Sturm: The 2017 Cowboys OL Sack Register – Volume 2 (feat. Adrian Clayborn’s big day)

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  • Sturm: The 2017 Cowboys OL Sack Register – Volume 2 (feat. Adrian Clayborn’s big day)

    The 2017 Cowboys OL Sack Register – Volume 2 (feat. Adrian Clayborn’s big day)

    By Bob Sturm Jun 18, 2018

    Today,​ we​ continue our study​ of the sacks the Cowboys​ allowed in 2017. Hopefully, you have read Volume​​ 1 that basically covers all of September and October – a period of time where the Cowboys offensive line was acclimating to two new starters. Despite bringing in a new left guard rotation (Chaz Green and then Jonathan Cooper) and a new right tackle (La’el Collins), the line was doing a fine job of protecting Dak Prescott’s efforts to move the team through the passing game. In my estimation, only five of the nine sacks through the first seven games could be blamed on the offensive line. Additionally, that total meant the Cowboys had allowed the fewest yards lost by sacks (36) and the second-fewest overall sacks (New Orleans allowed fewer) through the end of October.

    This is all important to keep in mind as we judge the 2017 offense. There was a clear line of demarcation where the Cowboys offense fell off a cliff. But it’s important to remember the eight games played before that line – and during those first eight games, the Dallas offense was still the unit everyone loved in 2016. I have said this over and over in pieces this offseason, and I don’t sense the fanbase believes it. But by all measurable statistics and even the eye test of a careful review, it is true. The Cowboys’ offense through the Kansas City game was the same power from the year before.

    Then, it all changed the week of the Atlanta game.

    We know why it changed. Ezekiel Elliott began his suspension and perhaps, more importantly, Tyron Smith suffered his injury at the end of the Kansas City game. At first, there was hope it was just a small issue and that he might not miss a game. But Smith missed several and never looked the same. Elliott and his left tackle would play only three snaps together the rest of the season. Not three games. Three snaps.

    Last week, I offered the actual statistics about sacks allowed. But to show you how catastrophic the Atlanta game was, consider this hypothetical statistic. Five times in 2016-2017, the offensive line never conceded a sack. What would the 2017 season have looked like if the Falcons game turned out that way? The actual season sack total shows a team that regressed in 2017:

    2017 featured a massive drop in pass attempts per sack from 18.3 to 16.4. What gives? The Atlanta game. Without that disaster, the Cowboys would have actually have improved to one sack every 20.3 pass attempts. That’s right. If not for what happened that day, we would all be sitting here today saying that the transition of the offensive line without Ron Leary and Doug Free was going great. Alas, the line’s perception changed due to one Adrian Clayborn.

    Don’t you think you would feel different if the chart looked like this?

    Even if the Cowboys gave up two or three sacks that day, they still would have been improved from 2016 and there would be much less panic about the state of affairs. But, as they say, it is what it is.

    Since sacks became an official stat 40 years ago, here are all of the games in which the Cowboys have surrendered eight sacks (Courtesy

    To the surprise of nobody, the team never enjoyed a 200-yard passing day when they were so poor at keeping their QB upright. However, to the surprise of just about everyone, they actually won a game in 1986 against San Diego when they were sacked 11 times! November 16, 1986 was a rough day for Steve Pelluer, but the Cowboys brought home one of their seven wins that season.

    But the Atlanta game – one that Jerry Jones has referenced throughout the offseason as a day that sticks with him – shaped everything about the 2017 downfall. Without Zeke and Tyron (and Sean Lee about 8 plays into that day), the Cowboys’ depth was shredded and there is a good chance their QB was damaged for the next month because of the beating he took.

    Therefore, Volume 2 of this exercise is almost completely about that day; the day their depth was exposed. Injuries happen in the NFL. When they do, is there a competent second option?
    The Cowboys’ spotlight panned to third-round pick Chaz Green, who was in his third year. Surely, he would be capable of providing at least a replacement-level performance. Right?

    Let’s get to work.

    The first of these sacks is not against the Falcons; it is the lone sack allowed on what might have been the high-water moment of 2017 – the win against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs.
    Sack #10

    #10 KC 2/1:38 2/10/18 4 Zombo Cooper/Frederick

    The Chiefs are in a Cover 1 – Robber with the middle LB looking to drop into a shallow spot and get on Witten underneath after he appears to be spying Dak. The Cowboys are in an empty set so they have five targets out in route. It won’t matter as the pocket is breaking down immediately and Dak has no chance to get the ball out in time.

    #95-Chris Jones is lined up over #64-Jonathan Cooper at left guard at the snap and gets off a great inside move at the snap. Travis Frederick looks like he is there to help but then gets caught watching the middle linebacker and really doesn’t help at all here. I believe if he just chips a shoulder, Jones isn’t going anywhere, but Frederick tried the left arm and it appears Cooper was expecting help. We will blame Cooper for losing inside so badly, but I think Frederick could have done much better to help with the DT. Anyway, once that happens, the play is dead, even though Dak escapes for a moment. Zombo gets the sack, but Tyron had him secured until the chaos began.

    Ok, on to Atlanta for the rest of this write-up:

    Sack #11
    #11 At ATL 1/10:31 2/9/37 5 Clayborn Chaz Green

    The Falcons brought a trail blitz from the MLB and allowed the Cowboys to work against a simple Cover-1, but there is no time for the routes to develop. The mesh underneath with Witten and Bryant was not very tight so neither came free.

    From behind, this is easy to see. Clayborn destroys Chaz Green, who stops moving his feet altogether and is off-balance with a flailing arm. Green’s technique was poor and he just couldn’t get back on his vertical set with any ability. You can see he almost jumped the snap, too. This was a sign he was in trouble on the first drive. Clayborn looks like Von Miller against Green.
    Sack #12

    #12 At ATL 2/12:47 3/8/37 5 Clayborn Green/Prescott

    Here is 2017 in a nutshell for Dak Prescott. Where do you want him to go with the ball? Who is open? It is 3rd and 8, so the Cowboys need the 30-yard line. The Falcons flooded the underneath routes and nobody beyond there was open. They drop Clayborn off the line to get into the path of Beasley, in hopes of deceiving Prescott.

    Meanwhile, Green is giving up the outside again and this forces Prescott to flush right into the waiting Clayborn. It was still judged a sack, but more importantly a third-down stop for Atlanta early. You could argue the first sack spooked Prescott, but this play offers very little for the QB again.

    Sack #13
    #13 At ATL 2/6:09 3/9/49 4 Poe Zack Martin

    On this 3rd and 9, Prescott cannot even complete his drop before he is on the ground again.

    You won’t see this much, but Zack Martin is beaten to the inside by #92-Dontari Poe. He gives up one sack a year and here Martin oversets to the outside and Poe swims him back inside. Did Martin think Frederick was going to help him? Either way, this is proof that things were so bad that even the best guys were losing once in a while.

    Sack #14
    #14 At ATL 2/0:15 1/10/39 4 Clayborn QB Holds Ball Too Long

    We are right before halftime here. The Cowboys call a vertical to Cole Beasley and he is definitely open up top. Does Prescott have a chance to get the ball out?

    It is tough to judge how much of this is on the QB, but you can see that Chaz Green is being destroyed again by Clayborn and holding on for dear life. It is at this point of the game where we all wondered why the coaching staff insisted on leaving Green alone on an island by himself. He clearly could not block Clayborn. More on this in the second half, unfortunately.

    Sack #15
    #15 At ATL 3/5:02 1/10/12 4 Clayborn Chaz Green

    This is perhaps the most upsetting play of the year. The Cowboys are bravely trying to rally in the second half. Down just 10, they now have the ball with five minutes left in the third quarter on a 1st down at the Falcons 12. So, logically, they put Chaz Green on an island against Clayborn. That should work.

    It took Clayborn 2.3 seconds to jump on Prescott’s back. We assume Green slowed him down a little bit but wonder how much time it would take Clayborn to get to Dak if there was no left tackle there at all. Again, Green is off balance and it is now clearly in his head that he cannot block this man by himself. Were the coaches being stubborn? Were they trying to get their QB hurt? Here is what I wrote the next day last November:

    “The coaches did Green no favors. You can’t hide a left tackle, but you can help him. In the third quarter, the Cowboys are still in the game. They take their first drive of that quarter right down the field with great power on the ground. Down just 17-7 with much of the second half to play, they marched all the way to the Falcons’ 12-yard line after Alfred Morris had runs of 14 yards, 20 yards, and 11 yards. They have actually salvaged the situation and now have a first down in the red zone. Why then, Mr. Linehan, would you decide to hop back into shotgun on first down and ask Chaz Green to pass protect — on an island — against a guy who already has four sacks against him? It is first down and your offensive line and power personnel groupings had just moved all the way down the field in a few short plays. And now, you want to take those tight ends off the field and get back into shotgun on first down? Predictably, the play ended in a sack and that drive was killed, too. In fact, when Mike Nugent even missed the chip-shot 38-yard field goal, the game effectively ended.”

    Sack #16
    #16 At ATL 4/13:11 3/13/22 4 Clayborn Chaz Green

    Another third and long. Another moment where Green is given no help. And, as you can see, Atlanta drops into 2-Man and nobody is close to open unless Prescott wants to take a shot to Brice Butler right into the teeth of the safeties – while being hit by Clayborn.

    This might actually be Green’s worst play. Look, Cooper has nobody to block. Atlanta is having a laugh and Cooper is trying to help. All Green has to do is over-set to the outside and push Clayborn back into his help. There is one direction here for Chaz Green: YOU CANNOT GET BEAT OUTSIDE. But that’s exactly what happened, and Green gets his QB slammed yet again. This could possibly be his last play as a Dallas Cowboy. He wouldn’t play another snap in 2017.

    Sack #17
    #17 At ATL 4/4:17 4/6/20 4 Reed Byron Bell

    Here is a fourth down with the game long-lost and the Cowboys insistent on leaving Dak out there to prove something to someone. Byron Bell has replaced Chaz Green. This is the guy they did not choose to play LT during the week. And he promptly demonstrates that he isn’t much of an improvement on Green.

    Brooks Reed sets him up to go outside-in on the spin move and Bell gives up the sack and the holding penalty. Again, the Cowboys insist on no tight end or RB help to their left tackles.

    Sack #18
    #18 At ATL 4/3:33 2/3/34 4 Clayborn Byron Bell

    And finally, the sack that made this the worst pass-protection day since 1991. The left tackle has no help and Prescott has no chance to get the ball out.

    Bell gives up the sixth sack to Clayborn, who earned $750,000 in bonuses almost entirely from this game as part of the seasonal incentives in his contract.

    Back to what I wrote the next morning:

    “Even though the game was over in the fourth quarter (after a few more sacks), the staff that evidently had their brains suspended for the game are calling timeouts down 27-7 to try to get the ball back so they can call more plays in shotgun and get their star QB blindsided a few more times by Clayborn and friends, who have savaged the left tackle spot long after Chaz Green was gone and Byron Bell (their other idea) was being served up on a platter.

    “They should have been running the ball or even taking a knee — not calling timeouts to prolong the destruction — but Jason Garrett is going to never stop being Jason Garrett. They never really helped out Chaz Green, nor did they modify their strategies to protect him from getting Dak killed, but instead wanted to get the ball back to rerun their same poor strategies. Madness.”

    Prescott would play some of the worst football of his career over the next several games. If it was because he was injured, concussed, or just shell-shocked, it is all because of this day in Atlanta.

    The entire season changed on this day in Atlanta. Most fans thought it was a product of life without Ezekiel Elliott, but it turned out to clearly be about life without Tyron Smith. The offense ended up playing a three-game stretch with the worst production of any Cowboys team in 50 years. The depth – or, lack of depth – was exposed in the most humiliating of ways.

    Pass protection has not been a major issue in Dallas over the last five years or so. But, on this day, nobody looked prepared for what the Falcons offered. I suppose it would feel differently if elite pass-rushers were the perpetrators of this onslaught. Instead, Clayborn and friends destroyed an entire season of Cowboys football on one unforgettable afternoon.

    And you could easily argue that it is amazing the head coach and offensive coordinator did not ultimately lose their jobs for this display.
    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

  • #2
    Just more evidence that Garrett has Jerry where he wants him.
    defense wins championships


    • #3
      I listened to the Atlanta game on the radio on the road. I was sure that Dak was being murdered by the tone of the compassion the announcers had on him.


      • #4
        I'm not going to bother reading all this but long story short, Collins was playing RT for the first time maybe since high school, maybe ever, Cooper was a downgrade from Leary and Smith was out a bunch of games and was less than 100% in many others.

        There is a lot of room for the OL to improve and bounce back to its 2016 or 2014 form, or even better honestly depending on Smith's health, how much Collins improves and how quickly Williams catches on.


        • #5
          I'll never forget that game. I know the OL had issues but Dallas made Atlanta's D look like the Purple People Eaters.


          • #6
            Garrett made Clayborn an All Pro that day.
            defense wins championships