The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

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Breaking Down A.J. Green’s 56-Yard Score

At the New York Times, I took an in-depth look at the A.J. Green touchdown that set the tone for the Bengals’ Week 10 win over the Giants.

With 12 minutes 44 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Bengals lined up in an I-formation with their base “21” personnel of two running backs, one tight end and two receivers. Wide receiver Brandon Tate motioned across the formation.

As Tate motioned, cornerback Prince Amukamara — originally lined up over top of Tate — didn’t follow him. In most situations, that would suggest the defense planned to play a zone coverage. It’s rare that a defense would allow a cornerback to sit over top of the tight end and let the receiver move across the field to be covered by a safety in a true man coverage. Below, you can see Amukamara’s position as Tate settled down next to right tackle Andre Smith.

Just before the snap, Giants free safety Antrel Rolle (aligned just outside of Tate) and the Will linebacker Michael Boley showed blitz. Both defenders did indeed rush after quarterback Andy Dalton, meaning the Giants had only five defenders in coverage: Amukamara, the Mike linebacker Mark Herzlich, the Sam linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, safety Stevie Brown and cornerback Corey Webster. As you can see above, Webster was lined up over Green to the boundary.

See the entire analysis at the Times.

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The Slant That Beat the New York Giants

At the New York Times, I broke down the 51-yard Mike Wallace touchdown against the New York Giants.

Down by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers needed a spark on offense. Facing a critical third-and-5 at their 49-yard line, the Steelers called for “11” personnel — one running back, one tight end, and three receivers — and lined up in a Shotgun Tight End Trips formation. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, held to two receptions for 15 yards to that point, was isolated to the boundary against Giants cornerback Corey Webster.

The Giants originally lined up with four down linemen and seven men in the box, but they rolled safety Stevie Brown down to the line before the snap. As Brown snuck toward the line, safety Antrel Rolle simultaneously trickled over to the deep middle of the field. Combined with both outside cornerbacks playing in a press position, the Giants showed the traits of Cover 1: one deep safety and man coverage underneath.

The Giants were indeed in Cover 1, rushing six defenders on the play (marked above). They did a good job of disguising the look, dropping linebacker Michael Boley into coverage and rushing linebacker Mark Herzlich. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a difficult read for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger; anticipating blitz, he threw hot to Wallace on a slant.

Check out the entire analysis.

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New York Times: Dealing With Victor Cruz

The Cowboys’ biggest challenge in Week 8 will be defending Victor Cruz. At the New York Times, I broke down Cruz’s game-winning score against the Redskins in Week 7.

Facing a second-and-10 from their 23-yard line, the Giants had 1 minute 23 seconds left on the clock to drive down the field for what figured to be a game-tying field goal. Eli Manning and Victor Cruz had other plans. The Giants called for “11” personnel: one tight end, one running back and three receivers — and lined up in Shotgun Trips Right.

Cruz, lined up in the middle of the Giants’ Trips look, was matched up on Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson: advantage, Giants. Before the snap, the Redskins didn’t show blitz and lined up in a Cover 2 shell with both safeties deep. With man coverage underneath, Washington’s Cover 2 Man Under defense was really a safe call built to limit the potential for a big play.

Head to the Times to check out the full breakdown.

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New York Times: Drew Brees and the Record-Setting Touchdown

At the New York Times, I analyzed the pass that gave Drew Brees the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown throw:

On a third-and-6 at San Diego’s 40-yard line, the Saints lined up in a Shotgun 5 Wide Bunch formation with “11” personnel: one running back, one tight end and three receivers. Running back Darren Sproles and receiver Marques Colston were split out to the boundary, and Devery Henderson and another Saints receiver were paired up with tight end David Thomas to the wide side.

When the Saints lined up, safety Atari Bigby (circled below) was lined up 10 yards off the ball.

As Brees called out a dummy snap cadence, Bigby began to creep toward the line of scrimmage. He got as far as three yards off  the ball, signaling to Brees that a blitz was on the way. When Brees made a check, Bigby backed up a couple of yards.

The Chargers did indeed call a blitz. Above, I’ve marked the pass rushers with a green star and those defenders who stayed in coverage with a red star. You can see that, in addition to Bigby, the Chargers rushed four more players: two interior defensive linemen and both inside linebackers.

Read it all at the Fifth Down.

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New York Times: Breaking Down Giants-Eagles

In my weekly film study column at the New York Times, I took a look at the Ramses Barden pass interference penalty in last night’s Giants-Eagles game that pushed the G-Men out of field goal range.

The Giants’ offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, called for “11” personnel: one running back, one tight end and three receivers. In a Trips Left formation, wide receivers Domenik Hixon and Victor Cruz lined up to the boundary with tight end Martellus Bennett. Ramses Barden (circled below) was isolated on the wide side of the field with cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

You can see that Asmougha was the only defender lined up in a true press position. With free safety Nate Allen lined up deep in the middle of the field and strong safety Kurt Coleman stationed just seven yards off the ball to the wide side of the field, I think Eli Manning recognized that the Eagles were in Cover 3.

Cover 3 is characterized by three deep defenders — the outside cornerbacks and the free safety — each playing with “deep-third” responsibility. The job of Allen, Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the play was to make sure no receivers beat them in their deep section of the field. If the receivers lined up in front of the cornerbacks were to threaten them vertically, their responsibility would basically turn into man coverage.

Read the whole analysis here.

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NY Times Film Study, Week 3: LaRon Landry Pick Six

Almost everything I post here is Cowboys coverage. This isn’t. Deal with it.

In my weekly film breakdown series at the New York Times, I posted analysis of LaRon Landry’s pick six against the Dolphins.

One of Ryan’s creative schemes was on display to start the third quarter in the Jets’ overtime win in Miami on Sunday. On the second play coming out of halftime, the Dolphins faced a second-and-10 at their 6-yard line. They lined up with base 21 personnel — two running backs, a tight end and two receivers — in a formation known as Weak Right.

Above, I’ve labeled the Jets defenders who were in coverage on the play. Those in man coverage — cornerbacks Revis and Antonio Cromartie — are labeled in red. Those in zone coverage — safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry, inside linebacker David Harris, and outside linebackers Garrett McIntyre and Calvin Pace — are in yellow. The unmarked players — the three down-linemen and inside linebacker Bart Scott — rushed the quarterback on the play.

Read the entire breakdown.

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Breaking Down Victor Cruz’s 80-Yard TD

At the New York Times this year, I will be posting a weekly breakdown of the week’s top play. This week, I broke down Victor Cruz’s 80-yard touchdown in the Giants’ win over the Bucs. Why should you care about Victor Cruz, you ask? Well the Cowboys do need to play the guy at least one more time, and I have a feeling he won’t drop 25 passes in the second matchup.

Down by 27-19 with 6:59 left, the Giants faced a third-and-2 at their 20-yard line. They lined up in a shotgun spread formation with “11” personnel: one running back and one tight end. Tight end Martellus Bennett was lined up in the slot to the boundary and Victor Cruz was in the slot to the wide side of the field.

Before the snap, the Bucs showed a blitz despite their two-high-safety look. As Eli Manning progressed through his snap count, the Bucs’ linebackers continued to creep toward the line, as did safety Ronde Barber.

Let’s take a step back and examine Manning’s cadence. I think it’s essential to understanding what happened. Before the snap, you could catch Manning’s verbiage on the television broadcast: “Red 19, Red 19, set hut. 59’s the Mike, 59’s the Mike. Bingo. Omaha, Omaha, set hut.”

When the Giants run a play with a traditional snap count, they snap the ball after Manning’s first “set hut.” If Manning had called the play and then uttered “on one” in the huddle, the ball would have been snapped following the first “set hut.”

Read the entire breakdown at NY Times.

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Predicting Career Outlook of Second-Year Running Backs

We all know DeMarco Murray has immense potential in Dallas, but it’s always nice to see some extra evidence that he is likely to fulfill that potential. I wrote about Murray awhile ago at DallasCowboys.com, and I recently did a piece on predicting the careers for all second-year running backs over at the New York Times.

I think the best way to predict the career success of second-year running backs is to assess both their rookie YPC and rushing yards. Even though YPC is probably superior to yards in terms of determining running backs’ talent, yards are still strongly correlated to future success. You always want talented players, but there’s no substitute for a heavy workload.

When drafting second-year running backs, here is what to consider (in order):

  • Rookie YPC
  • Rookie rushing yards
  • Draft spot

All other things being equal, I’m going to select second-year running backs who were extremely efficient in their rookie seasons. Rushing yards should also be a consideration, and you can really use a combination of the two stats. Finally, look at where each back was drafted. You can put up with a lower YPC a little bit more if a player was drafted highly because you know his team will stick by him longer. Trent Richardson could struggle wildly in 2012 and he’ll still be the Browns’ starting running back in 2013, while the same isn’t necessarily true for a guy like Ronnie Hillman in Denver.

Read the whole post here.

Cowboys fans might point to Felix Jones as someone whose career path hasn’t followed that which is outlined above, but I wouldn’t label Felix a bust just yet. His problem has been remaining healthy, but he’s been really, really efficient when he’s been on the field.

Meanwhile, Murray’s second year will be telling. I recently projected Murray at around 4.7 yards-per-carry in 2012, and people asked me if I’m crazy. Look, there’s almost no chance that Murray averages nearly 5.5 YPC again this season, and 4.7 is a really good number. If both he and Felix are in that range, the Cowboys coaches would be quite happy.

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2012 Ultimate Fantasy Football Draft Guide

Jonathan Bales

I’m going to be posting a lot of fantasy football content at the New York Times this summer, and my first article is up today. It is manifesto for 2012, if you will. If you play fantasy football, I highly recommend you check it out here. It is about 3,500 words, and there are a lot of similarities to my book.

Rounds 2-4

Whereas first-round draft strategy is all about minimizing downside, you can begin to seek upside in the second round. Your primary concern should still be acquiring a safe player, but missing on, say, a third-round pick is a whole lot less debilitating than whiffing on your first-rounder.

  • Best Values in Rounds 2-4: Rob Gronkowski, Mike Wallace

It wasn’t long ago that I would have said never, ever draft a tight end in the second round. Nowadays, I’m promoting it. Gronkowski is the perfect example of why selecting the best player available can be very disadvantageous. Gronkowski won’t score as many points as the players selected around him, but the drop from him (and Jimmy Graham) to the second-tier tight ends is monumental. Targeting either Gronk or Graham in the middle or back of the second round is a wise move in 2012.

Everyone is scared to draft Mike Wallace, but there’s really no reason for it. Wallace isn’t going to hold out, and I’m actually projecting him to league the lead in receiving yards. Wallace will most likely improve upon his 16.6 YPC (yard per catch) from last season. If he matches his career mark of 18.7 YPC, he’ll simply need to repeat his 2011 reception total to check in among the league’s receiving leaders.

  • Worst Values in Rounds 2-4: Fred Jackson, Michael Turner, Isaac Redman, Demaryius Thomas

Jackson, Turner and Redman are all examples of owners getting antsy for a running back when they should really wait it out. Remember, the gap between elite running backs and second-tier running backs is vast. The scarcity among second- and third-tier running backs, however, isn’t nearly as great. Running backs in the third and fourth rounds, in particular, are providing horrible value. Redman’s average draft position in the fourth round, for example, is ahead of that of Miles Austin, Percy Harvin and Dwayne Bowe.

I really like some of the wide receiver value in this range, but Thomas isn’t one of those guys. Yes, he has amazing upside with Peyton Manning in town, but don’t forget this is a player with 834 yards and 6 touchdowns in two seasons.

  • The Bottom Line

In Rounds 2, 3 and 4, your goal should still be acquiring safe, consistent players, although there’s more room for error. In the second round, there isn’t much in the running back department. If you’re comfortable gambling on Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles, that’s your call. The quarterbacks and tight ends represent the most value, however.

The third and fourth rounds are great areas in which to select wide receivers this year. If you miss out on a running back early, you might as well wait it out. Andre Johnson is dropping into the third round in some drafts, and A.J. Green sometimes slips into the fourth. Don’t reach for Darren Sproles in the third round when you can grab Julio Jones (same average draft position) and still draft Reggie Bush in the fifth and James Starks in the seventh.

By the way, some people on Twitter have been pointing that I made a typo when I wrote “league the lead” (or so they think). It’s actually a new phrase I’ve been thinking of using, and I figured I’d give it a shot on a small publication like the New York Times. Pretty obvious, guys. Definitely, definitely not a typo.

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2012 NFL Mock Draft, Version 3.0: Upshaw, Jenkins Out of First

Jonathan Bales

My third mock draft and second for the NY Times is live.  Here’s a snapshot of the first 13 picks (hey, you didn’t think I’d show you the Cowboys’ pick here, did ya?):

1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

  • Other than the occasional unwarranted rumor, there isn’t any information suggesting the Colts will pass up Luck.

Other: None

2. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

  • RGIII is already signing autographs in D.C.

Other: None

3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT, U.S.C.

  • Kalil is the top tackle prospect I have watched in years. There has been speculation that the Vikings will trade down with a team that covets Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but for now I’ll assume they stay here and select the best available player.

Other: Morris Claiborne, CB, L.S.U.

4. Cleveland Browns: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

  • Tannehill might not be on the board, but I’m gaining confidence that the Browns will select him if they can.

Other: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

5. Tampa Bay Bucs: Morris Claiborne, CB, L.S.U.

  • The Bucs are said to have interest in Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson.  One of them will be available.

Other: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

6. St. Louis Rams: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

  • Moving Tannehill to the No. 4 spot shakes things up a bit, and it could result in Richardson or Justin Blackmon falling some.

Other: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

  • I originally had the Jags choosing between offensive tackle Riley Reiff and the pass rusher Melvin Ingram, but they could easily see Blackmon as the top available player left on the board.

Other: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

8. Miami Dolphins: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina

  • If the Dolphins want a quarterback, they’re in a poor spot.  Tannehill is unlikely to fall here and they would need to surrender a king’s ransom to move up for him.  Ingram is a no-brainer at this point.

Other: Quinton Coples, DE, UNC

9. Carolina Panthers: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

  • I originally had Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe here, but teams must be concerned about his lack of college production.  Gilmore is rising up boards faster than anyone.

Other: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

10. Buffalo Bills: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

  • Coples will be an option if he’s on the board, but with Demetress Bell to the Eagles, the Bills have a hole at left tackle.

Other: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

11. Kansas City Chiefs: David DeCastro, G, Stanford

  • Guards aren’t normally top-15 picks, but DeCastro is worth it.

Other: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

12. Seattle Seahawks: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

  • Kuechly’s surprising combine performance proved he’s the real deal. Athleticism and incredible production.

Other: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

  • I don’t think this would be a smart pick for Arizona, but they reportedly have interest in DeCastro and Floyd.

Other: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Click it on over to the Times for the full mock draft.  I’ll tell you I have Courtney Upshaw and Janoris Jenkins completely out of the first round in this one.  Both players could certainly go in the first 32 selections, but a lot of teams will be scared off by the risk surrounding each player (Jenkins with drugs and Upshaw with, you know, not being good and all).

For those interested, I’m finishing up my Big Board and should have it up by the end of the week.  I will also be attending the first two days of the draft in New York.  Anyone interested in another live blog?

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