Monday, October 15, 2012

Rob Ryan's defense hasn't been all that creative

Rob Ryan has been all bark and no bite.
Coming into this season, all the talk was about how these mercurial Dallas Cowboys needed to address the secondary to give Rob Ryan the tools necessary to improve a laughable defense into something possibly great.  For the most part, the pass defense has been drastically improved.  However, there is one problem, Rob Ryan's defense still hasn't been as creative as we all thought it would be.

You look at the Cowboys stats so far this season, and they are sitting pretty at 4th in the league in total defense, and 2nd in pass defense.  Only there are a few problems with these misleading stats; they are giving up nearly 24 points per game and they have exactly four turnovers in five games.  That is putrid.  In a way, it completely negates the fact that they have a top 5 overall defense.  Sure, you can blame it on Carr seeing as he has zero interceptions.  Claiborne has zero interceptions.  As a matter of fact, nobody in the secondary has a single interception.  Only Sean Lee has an interception for this defense in five games, and that was only because of a dropped pass by D.J. Ware that popped up in the air right into Lee.  So in other words, this defense hasn't legitimately gotten one interception all season.

If you are going to point fingers, why not start at the head of the snake?  Let's talk about the great Rob Ryan, son of Buddy Ryan, and brother of headstrong Rex Ryan.  All Cowboy fans have heard about Rob since his hiring was that he was a creative defensive mastermind that has never had as much talent anywhere as he does in Dallas.  He made his presence felt immediately by taking a jab at the "dream team."  Exemplifying what Rob Ryan's D has been all about.  All talk and not much to show for it.

The Cowboys would proceed to get absolutely destroyed by the Eagles in Philadelphia, and then the Eagles would complete the sweep in Dallas just before the Week 17 showdown in MetLife Stadium for the divisional crown against the eventual SB champion New York Giants.  A lot of talking and a lot of doing nothing.

Many wouldn't hold him accountable for contributing to last season's five 4th-quarter-collapses because he didn't have the right players.  Maybe that's true to a degree, but we are at the point now where there is no more excuses.  Here we are in 2012 and Dallas has forced all of just four turnovers in five games.  In-game adjustments by Ryan have been questionable in almost every game.  Not blitzing Russell Wilson or adjusting to what Seattle was doing in the 2nd half.  The blown assignments in the 2nd half against the Bears.  Letting Baltimore get whatever they wanted when they needed it. Where is this defensive mastermind that I've heard so much about?  He's got the guys that he needs.  They spent 50 million dollars to bring in Carr.  They traded up to the 6th pick in the draft to get an elite cornerback prospect in Morris Claiborne.  They cut aging Terence Newman, Bradie James, and Keith Brooking while Bruce Carter is paired with Sean Lee.   Yet here we are and the defense has yet to force any type of big plays.

As much flack as Jason Garrett has received for not being creative with his playcalling, getting too cute, and being highly predictable, Rob Ryan has gotten a pass for the same thing.  Nobody is being fooled by his defensive looks.  Eli Manning wasn't fooled.  Russell Wilson wasn't fooled, Freeman wasn't fooled, Jay Cutler wasn't fooled, Flacco wasn't fooled.  One of those guys is a 2x Super Bowl champion and one of them is a rookie, but the other three are very turnover prone quarterbacks.  Yet Ryan's looks forced one single interception against them.

Yards per game for and against are meaningless in this league if you hardly do anything with it.  That was evident today in the loss at Baltimore.  The Cowboys gained nearly 500 yards of total offense and 40 minutes of time possession while Baltimore barely eclipsed 300 total yards and just under 20 minutes of time possession.  Oh by the way, no team rushed for more yards against the Ravens in their franchise history than the Cowboys did today.  To Garrett's credit, the offense did its job but you can't say the same for Ryan.  All it took was one big defensive play and Dallas likely would have won that game.

Today's game was a microcosm of Rob Ryan's defense playing it safe, getting too cute, and not making big plays.  Think back to the 3rd and long just before the half a few plays after Romo's interception.  Joe Flacco converts a 3rd and 14 to Boldin simply because Rob Ryan dropped 8 men back in coverage and Flacco had ample time to sit back in the pocket and pick them apart.  Somehow, Bruce Carter got stuck on Anquan Boldin.  Showing how Ryan just likes to get too cute.  It's 3rd and long.  How about a blitz to force the ball out of Flacco's hands quickly?  How about making sure that a great WR like Boldin doesn't end up on a linebacker?  3rd and 14 is not that insurmountable in today's pass-happy league so playing it safe can do more harm than good.  The Ravens would eventually go on to score a TD just before half, which was the worst possible thing that could have happened.

Ryan likes to get too cute in confusing the opposing quarterback.  He loves to rotate as many guys as he can.  He loves to show all types of pretty-looking formations, but it's translating into nothing.  Say what you want about Romo, Garrett, the receivers, and all the other problems they have offensively, but Rob's unit is not getting it done.  The yards are nice and I'm certain many will point to where the Cowboys are ranked defensively, but it's meaningless if they aren't forcing turnovers and making big plays to give Romo and this offense a little push.  Where is this creative pressure I'm supposed to be seeing?  I'm not seeing anything special.  I'm seeing a bunch of presnap movement, but only satisfactory results.  I'm not seeing any type of special blitzes.  I'm not seeing disguised coverages that fool QBs.  I'm not seeing anybody outside of Ware getting to the quarterback.  I thought improved secondary play was supposed to improve the pass rush because this defensive guru would dial up his mastermind blitzes because he finally had the cover corners necessary to do so?

All I'm seeing is a team who can get some stops on 3rd down, but can't make any game-changing plays and are giving up too many points at the worst times.  The Ravens had the ball for all of 19 minutes yet carved out 24 points from it.  Partly because of a collapse at the end of the first half where the Ravens marched 80 yards down the field in under two minutes to go up 17-10, and another drive that resulted in a touchdown in the 4th quarter where they marched the ball 73 yards down the field in under four minutes when the score was 23-24.  Characteristics of the same things we saw a year ago in those comical 4th quarter collapses.

And who knows just what the Cowboys record could be had Victor Cruz not dropped critical passes, had the replacement refs noticed Scandrick holding Cruz in the endzone, or if Romo and Ogletree hadn't connected on the 3rd and long to seal the game.  Was there any indication that the defense would have stopped the Giants had Romo and Ogletree not converted the 3rd down?  The Cowboys led 24-10 and the Giants marched right down the field to make it 24-17.  Had they gotten the ball back, there is a good chance that the game is sent into OT, and all the good that Dallas had did within the game would be erased. 

Why the Giants marched right down the field was because Rob Ryan played it safe instead of bringing pressure.  Why he was doing that in the first place was questionable with over five minutes left in the ballgame.  Nobody could forget that debacle against these same Giants in Cowboys Stadium in the previous season where they squandered a 12 point lead with just over five minutes remaining. 

Who knows if they escape against Tampa Bay if not for Tampa's own suspect playcalling or a missed call that wiped away a Tampa Bay defensive TD.  And right on cue, when Tampa was desperate for points late in the game, they drove right down the field on Ryan's D and kicked a FG to make it a six point game.  By then it was a little too late, but it's yet another example of how Rob Ryan's D can look good for stretches of the game yet seemingly give up huge chunks of yardage to allow the opponent a fighting chance in the end of games or in last year's case, win the games.

Yards clearly don't tell the whole story with Ryan's D.  The Cowboys haven't been an elite defensive team this season, even though stats may suggest it.  The turnovers are few and far in between.  They give up too many points whenever the other team needs it most.  How can Carr or Claiborne make plays on the ball when Ryan's blitzes aren't hitting home?  Or how about the lack of blitzes?  It's clear that nobody is being fooled by these different looks that Ryan shows.  Maybe it's time to get back to the basics.  Maybe it's time to blitz more and more to allow this secondary to prove their worth.  Maybe it's time to take some chances and stop worrying about not giving up the big plays.  You should only play this super-conservatively when you are up by 3 TDs, not when you are in a dogfight.  They may give up big plays if they take more chances, but they will also make big plays.

Just maybe if this defense starts making some big plays and helping out this offense, you'll see the Cowboys win more games.  Maybe Cowboy fans will have a reason to get noisy in Cowboy Stadium if the defense can start making some plays.  Jason Garrett is taking all the heat and Ryan is getting off easy.  His defenses haven't been all that was advertised.  Ryan hasn't shown that he is capable of confusing the opposing quarterback on a game-to-game basis.  He has proven to not be all that creative with his scheme.  He hasn't really been any better than Wade Phillips.  His posturing fits perfectly with a franchise owned by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.  He's just one problem of a long list of problems in Valley Ranch.  Ryan's D has done a lot of barking but no biting.  Not even a little nibbling.

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