A look at the upcoming week in the NFL, from the players on the field to the fans in the stands

Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Walkthrough: Secret Identity
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

Football Outsiders productions ...

In conjunction with Mirimax, Fox Searchlight, Pixar, and Vivid ... presents ...

In a small New England town where nothing dangerous ever happens ...

Wes: Hey, let's cut across the middle of this football field.

Randy: I don't think we should.

Wes: You never want to do it. C'mon, it's safe. I must've done it 346 times in the last three years.

Something dangerous ...

Tom: (on cell phone from locker room): I think I am just going to hang in the pocket a little longer today.

Gisele (at home): Oh honey, I don't like it when you spend that much time there.

... is about to happen!

Randy: What's that noise? I hear footsteps.


Directed by Spike Jonez ...

Detective Belichick (examining an MRI of a knee): There's a serial killer out there somewhere, and he's targeting Patriots. You're only chance to survive is to go out and give 100 percent on every play.

Randy: Then just paint a bulls-eye on my chest right now!

Based on the confusing and grossly overrated horror film by Hideo Nakata ...

Gisele (crying): Tom, the baby keeps watching that creepy DVD and saying Drallop Dranreb. Who is she? Who is this Drallop trollop?

Tobey Maguire is Wes Welker.

Wes: He somehow injured me ... without even touching me!

Adrian Grenier is Tom Brady.

Tom: My knee is fine. I swear. (whispering) Doctor Nakagawa, prepare the robot knee.

Megan Fox is Juliana Edelman.

Juliana (in a Patriots halter top): This isn't a knock on Edelman's manhood. The producers just thought the film would be more marketable with a little extra T 'n' A.

And Mike Epps as ...

Wes (reeling in pain): Pollard!

Tom (firing rounds from his robot knee flamethrower): Pollard!

Juliana (looking obscenely hot, barely emoting): Pollard.


This film is not yet rated.

Identity Crisis

Close your eyes and picture the Eagles offense. After Sunday's game, you may have to use your imagination a bit. Anyway, what do you see?

You probably pictured DeSean Jackson running a deep route, with a double move, catching a bomb from Donovan McNabb. Maybe you pictured a screen to one of the backs, or the Eagles' latest innovation, the single-back dive by Leonard Weaver. Most likely, though, you pictured the bomb.

Let's do the same thing for the Packers, Patriots, Titans, and (to throw a bad offense in there) the Bears. Picture each team's offense for a moment.

For the Packers, you probably had Aaron Rodgers in shotgun, with a spread formation and a blocking back aligned behind the guard, throwing either a slant to Donald Driver or a deep pass up the sidelines to one of the other receivers. For the Patriots, you pictured Wes Welker running a short get-open route over the middle, right? You either had Chris Johnson taking a pitch or Vince Young and Johnson running their little counter option for the Titans. For the Bears, you had Greg Olsen running a 10-15 yard route from the slot, though you probably imagined that the pass was intercepted.

All of those teams have an "offensive identity." You've heard that phrase before, but it is usually used as a meaningless buzzword. If a team isn't scoring, an announcer may say they "lack identity," though they usually just lack personnel. But offensive identity is real. It's much more than a play, a formation, or a player. It's more like a philosophy.

Teams game plan for each opponent, but game plans aren't built from scratch. They are built from a set of principles that the offensive coach emphasizes from the moment he starts installing his offense. Norv Turner builds his offenses to be able to throw deep from I-formation type sets. Jon Gruden ran slants-and-flats from a hundred formations. Sean Payton, once you strip away the zillions of formations and packages, designs pass packages with multiple crossing routes; he likes to use traffic to get receivers open. These principles become, when everything clicks, the offensive identity. The identity is the type of play the team wants to be good at, no matter what defense it is facing. It's the type of play the team falls back on when things aren't going according to plan.

We know the offensive identities of most of this year's playoff teams. We've mentioned the Saints, Eagles, Patriots, Packers, and Chargers already. We've watched the Colts for a decade, so we all know what's coming. The Bengals are a power running team with one great receiver; they try to control the ball, overpower opponents, and wait for defensive mistakes. The Cardinals don't spread the field as much this year as last, and they run more than they used to, but they still build their game plans around isolating Larry Fitzgerald outside the hashmarks and getting Anquan Boldin open in space. The Vikings mix power-running with old-fashioned West Coast slants-and-flats principles. The Jets are trying to protect a rookie quarterback, but they still have a clear identity, with their six-linemen formations and Brad Smith options. Picture the Ravens, and you see the Joe Flacco play-action fake to Ray Rice (Flacco has to bend at the knees and waist to reach him), followed by the long, long bomb.

That brings us to the Cowboys. They have a secret identity.

Show Some ID

What do you think of when you close your eyes and picture the Cowboys offense? A breathtaking Tony Romo highlight? That's freestyling, not an identity. Felix Jones in the Razorback formation (their Wildcat)? The Cowboys don't run that very often. You probably think of some Jason Witten crossing route, which is appropriate, as Witten is their leading receiver. But when you watch a Cowboys game, they don't seem to be scheming to get Witten open. They also don't seem to be featuring Jones or Marion Barber; in fact, for all their effectiveness, the running backs sometimes disappear from the game plan. Their top wide receiver is Miles Austin, but he isn't their go-to guy in the way Fitzgerald is for the Cardinals. In fact, he isn't on the field in most of their one-receiver sets; Roy Williams gets that honor, for some reason. When the Cowboys offense is playing poorly, as it did against many opponents early in the season, it almost looks like they are selecting their plays at random.

I watched footage of the Chargers game from Week 14, trying to determine what the Cowboys were trying to establish. As it turns out, the Cowboys do have a signature type of play that they run very well. Against the Chargers, it took them almost three quarters to find it. Now that they know what works best, NFC opponents have a real problem.

In their first drive of the game, the Cowboys drove 41 yards in 10 plays, running just three times for seven yards. Their second drive was a three-and-out, all passes. Their third drive consisted of 13 runs and one incomplete pass. It was the famous drive that ended with four straight handoffs to Barber from the 1-yard line, all fruitless. Still, the Cowboys drove 72 yards without a single passing yard, facing just one third down the entire drive before the final stand.

The next drive: incomplete pass, short run by Barber, incomplete pass, punt.

The next drive, at the start of the third quarter: incomplete pass, short run by Jones, incomplete pass, punt.

Do you see a trend? The Chargers have not had a good run defense this season, allowing 4.5 yards per rush entering Week 17. The Cowboys' most successful drive of the game was built entirely out of running plays. Yet they opened their next two drives passing the ball, switching to the run on second-and-10. The Cowboys averaged 3.7 yards per gain on second-and-long (6-10 yards) this season, so those runs all but guaranteed third-and-long. The Cowboys only trailed 10-3, so they weren't abandoning the run. They just mysteriously gave up on what was most successful for them in that 72-yard drive. This is an example of a team lacking "identity:" a run-first team like the Titans would have spent the next two drives slamming the ball down the Chargers throat, but the Cowboys looked like they wanted to do something else. What that was isn't clear, because they didn't do it.

The Freeze Draw

Figure 1: Cowboys Freeze Draw

Jason Garrett finally figures things out with the Cowboys pinned at their own 1-yard line. Barber gains 10 yards on a simple "iso" run from the I-formation. Then, Garrett begins to rely on a play that I think defines what the Cowboys do best: the freeze draw.

Figure 1 shows the Cowboys in first-and-10 from their own 11-yard line. As you can see, they are in a power formation and personnel grouping: two tight ends, two backs. At the snap, Romo drops one step and looks to his left to receiver Roy Williams. The Cowboys linemen appear to set for short pass protection. This pass action freezes several defenders, who have blue halos in the diagram. None of those three defenders move to fill run gaps until Romo turns back to Felix Jones. By then, the frozen linebacker (Stephen Cooper) is already in trouble: Andre Gurode (65) has peeled off his brief combo block and is already in position to attack on the second level. Leonard Davis (70) turns his defender inside, while fullback Deon Anderson (38) attacks the other inside linebacker. Jones makes a fine cut into a wide hole, and the outside linebacker doesn't make contact until Jones is already five yards downfield.

Plays like these take advantage of the quality of the Cowboys running backs, the power blocking of interior linemen Gurode and Davis, and the threat of Romo's quick release on short timing routes. The Cowboys routinely win the battle right over the ball at the snap, and Romo is at his best in the short passing game when he sets and throws immediately.

Figure 2: Witten Hot Route

Just two plays later, Romo demonstrates his quick-read, quick-strike ability. The Cowboys start in an I-formation, but rookie tight end John Philips motions wide. The Chargers' response to the motion reveals that they were in man coverage with a deep safety. Witten and Romo both guess, correctly, that outside linebacker Shawne Merriman will rush the passer. That makes Witten the hot receiver: once Merriman slips past him, he turns for a short pass. Sure enough, his defender in man coverage is Cooper (54), who is in no position to stop such a quick throw. Witten gains nine easy yards.

Note how these plays complement each other. In the first, the short pass action sets up a draw play. In the second, motion out of the run-oriented I-formation sets up a quick rhythm pass. Most importantly, these plays gain 8-10 yards on early downs, keeping the Cowboys out of third-and-long, where Romo's weaknesses (an inability to read defenses and throw from the pocket on a deep drop) can hurt them.

The Cowboys continue to mix runs and passes on this drive. They run for a short first down, and later produce a big play when Romo hits Roy Williams on another hot read. On first-and-goal at the 9-yard line, the Cowboys again execute their freeze draw. Figure 3 shows them in a bunch formation to the right. Romo again turns and stares down Williams for a quick slant, and again several defenders freeze, including the inside linebackers. The Cowboys lineman do an excellent job setting to pass protect on this play, making the Chargers linemen fan out to rush the passer. Davis again catches and steers his defender, and Gurode once again gets into great position to flatten Cooper. Philips folds into the B-gap to block the other inside linebacker, while Austin (19) stalks the safety. It's another combination of great blocking and great design, and Barber takes the ball to the one yard line. A false start penalty later, the Cowboys score on a play action pass and quick throw.

Figure 3: Cowboys Freeze Draw II

The Cowboys had a clear identity on this drive. They used quick passes and power runs to set each other up, maximizing the strengths of their personnel. They can be very effective running out of power formations, and Romo's skills as a quick passer and ball handler allow them to threaten opponents with draw plays, even on running downs from running formations.

Follow Up

The freeze draw was a major part of the Cowboys game plan against the Eagles. The Cowboys used plays nearly identical the ones diagrammed three times in the first half alone. I would diagram them, but that would require watching the game film over and over again. I am just not up for that.

The draws themselves weren't very effective, gaining a total of six yards. But the Cowboys I-formation running game was excellent overall, and the Eagles blitz was beaten several times on short set-and-throw plays, the kind the complement the draw game very well.

The bad news for the Cowboys is that they don't get to face the Saints run defense unless they reach the conference title game. Despite what we saw Sunday, the Eagles have a solid run defense. If the Cowboys win, they face the Vikings, who have a very good run defense, though it isn't as good as many of us thought it would be.

Still, the Cowboys enter the playoffs as a hot team with a clear identity. They aren't the team that loses in December. They aren't the team whose quarterback just returned from a tequila tasting tour. They're the team that mixes quick passes with I-formation runs, many of them draw plays designed to freeze the defense. That ID proved good enough to get them in the door, and it could take them further.

And Finally ...

Brett Favre!

Favre. Favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-favre-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre.

After four months, you have to expect an outburst like that.

It hasn't been that hard to avoid you-know-who. I had plenty of opportunities to write about him for other outlets. And he snuck into Walkthrough a few times, like when I mentioned the Vikings three-drink press conference in late December without ever mentioning the participants.

Avoiding the most overexposed player on earth for an entire season taught me a lot. First, I learned how automatic some of my go-to jokes are. I must have come up with 20 Favre jokes over the course of the season, many of which weren't New York Times appropriate (I quickly repurposed those that were). Most of those jokes were more convenient than funny. I realized how easy it is to keep going back to the well, talking about the same dozen people instead of digging a little deeper. It turns out that David Garrard can sometimes be funny, too. That being said, I didn't over-learn the lesson, as this week's intro proves.

I also realized just how many stories go unreported. Football journalism consists of ten thousand people all writing and saying the same things about the same 20 people. Instead of Favre, I broke down Packers corner blitzes before their defense became one of the best in the league, and I looked at Chris Johnson's rushing splits before he started chasing 2,000. The "Say Something Nice" column I wrote in November came as a result of my effort to avoid the same-old stories, and being forced to write about Ryan Longwell and Percy Harvin was more liberating than restricting.

Of course, the Favre-atorium is lifted, because it makes no sense to avoid a playoff quarterback during the playoffs. I will still only mention him in the course of on-field and statistical breakdowns: no gratuitous King Brett jokes, no matter how badly I want to tell them.

The Farve moratorium was so successful, however, that I want to introduce something similar for the offseason. If only there was some player who is likely to be over-exposed and over-analyzed in March and April.

Are we thinking of the same guy?

Starting today, Walkthrough is a No Tim Tebow Zone. The former Florida quarterback will not be mentioned in this space at all. No jokes, no scouting reports, and no speculation.

This may be the only no-Tebow zone in the entire Internet. Come April, you'll be thanking me.


98 comments, Last at 13 Jan 2010, 4:39am

1 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I immediatly thought about that draw when you started writing about Cowboys identity. I was shocked to see that they ran it "only" 6 times in this game. It seemed like 10 at least. The power running used by the Cowboys was also very useful on the "Flip 90" play in which Felix scored, it fooled Trent Cole and the whole defense big time.
I guess we'll see a lot of I-formation power running again if the Eagles start Jordan at MLB again. Jordan is a good young WLB, but seemed completely lost at MLB.

"Drallop Dranreb" and the whole piece in general was as always really funny and well-written.

Thanks for the no-Tebow zone.

2 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I've never heard of anybody calling a draw a freeze draw.

Tony Romo has done very well audibiling this year. He's one of the "thinking" quarterbacks that points out the MIKE linebacker before everyplay to get his protection set, and you'll hear the "kill kill kill" before plays. It's not just about audibiling and "fixing" pass plays, he'll change pass to run and run to pass. That is hard to quantify and you'll have to assume those audibles were better than the original play called in the huddle.

There was a good piece on the NFLN where (possibly Billeck), showed Romo in his presnap read looking for tells on London Fletcher (who was bailing), and then (correctly) audibiling to a run play right at the spot Fletcher was vacating. By calling the (right) play it will help the teams RB's and teams rush stats, but of course the QB won't get credit for rushing stats...

Of course the QB's that call audibles and help the run offense are usually the better passers anyway... Smart wins.

6 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

NO, and not every quarterback audibles either and not every quarterback is mentally ready to do so either. Some OC's are dictators and want THEIR play called, and some quarterbacks don't put forth the work/film study to properly assess and understand what's going on.

ID-ing the Mike shouldn't be that difficult, and it's really to help your lineman know who they are going to block and not get confused. Audibiling to run plays right where a MLB is going to run away from because you picked up a tell before the snap impresses the hell out of me. It's a valuable skill and it's hard to quantify. You won't see it in a QB rating or anything like that.

13 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Tarkenton was the best I ever saw at that. I swear, he could anticipate a defensive player's movement by looking at his eyebrows. Of course, he called his own plays, and like most skills, the more your practice an activity the better you get at it.

I think coaches are missing the boat, with a lot of qbs, by not giving them more play-calling and audible freedom. No, they can't all be Peyton Manning, but a lot of them could add to their offense's explosiveness and efficiency if they had more play calling responsibility.

31 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

You also need a smart QB that can read formations and defense player tells. In all reality you can probably look at how the defensive player is standing ( where is he shifting his weight) and use a judgement call as to where his first movements will be... Is this guy on the balls of his feet ready to backpedal, does he more look like he's going to charge forward etc. Guys like Manning, Manning, Favre, Brady are also big fans of the fake snap, check out a guys first movements, see what's going on, and then fix your play pre-snap accordingly.

I don't think it's a fact that coaches are "missing out" on not letting their guys call audibles". If you have a Donovan Mcnabb who puts in the time in the film room and understands his offense, the defense, he can call audibles. Let him run around and pat his helmet and change plays when he thinks it will benefit his team. If you have a Michael Vick back there who has no idea what the hell is going on, doesn't study, isn't a leader that wants to just show up on gameday and "make plays", then it's not worth it.

Look at the guys in the league that call audibles and look at the guys that don't. The better and smarter QB's call audibles... There is probably even more of a gap between their true value to their teams compared to weaker/average QB's than simply QB rating alone. I really don't think you could look at the QB ratings of Mcnabb, Romo, Eli, then look at Jason Campbells rating and conclude he's anywhere close to as good as those three.

I do think Romo has audibled better this year than in the past.

10 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Yes. Even if the gentleman in question is not the de facto Mike, the quarterback points out the Mike so the linemen can get on the same page and don't leave an oppposing player unaccounted for.

3 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Was Ron Turner's identity the same as his brothers? As I Bear's fan who doesn't get to watch many games, I'd like to know.

15 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I think Ron Turner's PHILOSOPHY might be similar to Norv. But his personnel is so subpar, I don't think his teams identity was. A good coordinators identity is going to be dictated by what his personnel are capable of IMO.

Personnel goes a long way toward how "stupid" or "smart" a coordinator is perceived. I have no idea how good a coordinator Ron is, but I have a feeling he's not as incompetent as his Bears tenure has made him look.

16 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

And on another note, I'm not sure what Norv would do with a QB who likes to move around like Cutler. I think his philosophy is based on a pocket passing QB. If Ron's philosophy IS similar to Norv's then Cutler was just a complete mismatch.

The fact that the Bears were so eager to bring in Cutler just SCREAMS out that this team had no cohesive plan AT ALL.

89 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I believe the Bears though Cutler was so talented he could work in any system. He might be too, but he still needs time.

I do think Ron Turner's philosophy is similar to Norv's, vertical passing matched with power running.

93 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I'm not very familiar with Norv's offenses, but Ron likes his vertical passing game combined with short timing routes. The big problem was that, in Chicago, he only had two receivers that fit this offense: Muhsin Muhammad, who had to catch passes from Kyle Orton v. 2005 and Rex Grossman, and Devin Aromashodu, who didn't see the field until the end of this season.

Ron's biggest weakness is that he's slow to make necessary adjustments, both in-game and in-season.

5 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Yeah, Garrett should be credited for doing a good job of accentuating his personnel's real strengths, while hiding their non-trivial weaknesses. This is less common that one might suppose.

The Vikings post season will largely depend on offensive line performance, and whether Pat Williams can summon his youth for three games. He's still good, but not the earthquake in human form he has been since arriving in Minnesota. If he can get back to that for 12 quarters, Frazier can have other personnel overplay the pass, confident that the interior remains stout against the run. In past years, teams, like the Cowboys, whose run success depended in good part on good, athletic center play, would have Pat placed over the center, and complete and total destruction of running schemes would ensue. This has not happened with as much regularity this year.

14 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I fear that Dallas may be able to establish a run game against Minnesota. That 'freeze' draw play will be entirely effective against Brikley, Leber (who is smart, but not that fast) and any safety. Greenway is most likely to sniff out the play and/or make up ground if he hesitates.

Hopefully the Vikings will put a healthy Winfield on Roy Williams everytime he's the lone WR and let him play with a 5 yard cushion. He'll make smart and immediate tackles if healthy, and the safety can leave him alone in those formations. Griffen would likely do fine in that role, or even Sapp. It's not like the safeties are that much help when the corners get beat anyway.

I hope Minnesota puts Heath Farwell in as a LB (or that Brinkley learns a miraculous amount in a miraculously short time) or that they play a lot of nickel with Sapp as a db. When he's not committing bonehead penalties, he's a pretty good player.

22 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Austin has taken over on some single-WR sets, and against the Eagles I even saw Crayton replace Roy Williams in 2-WR sets.

Yay for trading a first round pick for this guy!

32 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

My fear is that Brinkley woukd play the draw fine, given his instinct is to play extremely downhill, but Wittin would end up having a career day. They are going to need Pat Williams to turn back the clock 24 months.

I'm leaning towards favoring a Vikings match-up with the Packers again, despite needing to beat them for the third time, and more importantly, how much the Pack's offensive line has improved. In the dome, I still like the match-up of the Vikings d-line against the Packers' o-line more than I do a match-up with the Cowboys.

45 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

What about the Cardinals? I'd almost prefer the Cardinals to the Packers at this point, but it's hard to say. Pros and cons with every matchup.

If the Vikings DO make it to the SB, they'll likely have to face a SD or IND team superior to the NFC teams anyhow, so on one hand it almost doesn't matter who Minnesota draws first.

56 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Given the improvement of the Packers o-line, I think Rodgers' mobility poses more problems in the Metrodome. If the place gets crazy loud, as is likely, I think Warner could be concussed by halftime.

57 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Given the improvement in the Packers' o-line, I think Rodgers mobility makes the Packers a less favorable match-up. If the place gets crazy-loud, as is likely, Warner could be concussed by halftime.

58 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I don't have a dog in this fight anymore. Just thinking the opposite - "he must be a Cowboys fan."

Has anybody done any research on the whole "Hard to beat a team 3 times" cliche?

61 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Teams that won the previous 2 games are 12-7 out of the last 19 matchups. That looks to suggest the saying is a myth, but when you consider the better team probably won the first 2 mach ups and got a home game for the 3rd game... there might be SOME truth to that with a 63% win percentage. If say the Colts/Pats or who ever win the division ( by beating the WC divisional foe 2 times), and then face a 3rd time and only win 63% of the time...

but it's a great thing for media and sports writers to talk about.

64 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

That's more then I knew 5 minutes ago.

My first thought was that there's no way there could be a big enough sample size to really be able to make a good determination. 12-7 is a fairly strong statement, all things considered, though.

70 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

If you told me the favorite is 12-7, then it suggests "myth".

but if I told you the weaker team (that's on the road) will beat the stronger team that's at home 37% of the time historically, it's not as easy.

76 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I know, I know, more often than not though, the team with the higher seed is there because they are better but there are exceptions. I was going to post that but I went over my word count.

67 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Vikings fan, actually, so there's no horse around which to situate my cart until after this weekend.

I've heard others say that teams complete a 3 game sweep as often as not (after a 2-0 start that is) and so there's no significant benefit/detriment to holding the regular season sweep.

From experience, though, I know that Minnesota got a victory at Lambeau after being beat by the Packers twice in the game where Moss 'mooned' the crowd and Joe Buck cemented himself in the blackest corner of every Vikings fan there is. I fear karmic retribution from the football gods should the Packers find their way to the Metrodome in a week or two, which is why I'm hoping Dallas wins (Also, New Orleans and Philly both sound as conference championship opponents). If they don't, I'm a pretty big Cardinals fan for one week.

69 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

What was odd about that three game sequence in '05 was how the Packers won the first two in the closing seconds, and the Vikings arguably outplayed them both times. My memory may be faulty, but I think the Packers had pretty good fumble luck, over a two game period. I have rarely been as confident of a Vikings playoff victory, and certainly not a road playoff victory, as I was in that game.

73 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I was at the second Vikings/Packers game of the regular season (34-31 loss on Christmas Eve, I believe) and I do remember feeling cheated that the Vikings lost by a field goal on the last play.

I remember being confident that Minnesota stood a chance in the playoff game, but I also remember being surprised when they took a 31-17 lead. I was ecstatic when Moss removed his helmet, exposed his gnarly fro, and pointed to the scoreboard while telling the Packers' sideline "that's the mutha f***in' score!"

42 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Yeah, I haven't kept up with the various possibilities. I thought the Vikings were precluded from playing the Eagles. I'd rather the Vikings play the Cardinals in Minnesota than either the Packers or Cowboys, largely because I think the noise in the Metrodome would be more disruptive of the Cardinals offense, given Warner's immobility.

Now that I think of it, is it the Cardinals the Vikings are precluded from playing in their first game?

52 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

That's what I originally thought. In the Metrodome, I think the Cardinals are the best matchup for the Vikings, regardless of what happened a few weeks ago.

7 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

You are officially forgiven for all your Norv/Chargers hate Mike.

No Tebow any time. WOOHOO!

8 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I do have some comments/questions about the Cowboys/Chargers drive.

First a comment. It is my firm belief that the Chargers tend to dictate how teams play them before they even step on the field. I think Garrett tried so hard to establish the passing game becuase he knew they'd have to score a lot of points if the Chargers decided to (or needed to) turn up the heat. Your thoughts? This has almost defined the Chargers season IMO.

Second, I also believe the Chargers play D in the fourth quarter in order to make offenses chew up as much clock as humanly possible. I'm not 100% sure but I think the Chargers were up 20-10 very late in the game at that point so the drive was meaningless if the Chargers forced them the chew up enough clock.

So do you think this type of drive would have had as much success earlier in the game against a non-prevent D (if indeed they were playing a "prevent"). I know they had that easy all run drive. But teams have done that to the Chargers several times (2nd Denver game comes to mind) but the Bolts have either gotten big leads or made the necessary adjustments. I really don't think you can beat the Chargers running alone.

20 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I would agree with the first comment, except Garrett has had those same sequences (long, time consuming drives alternating with Pass-run-Pass-Punt drives) many, many times before. It's hard to say exactly why that happens, except that it probably doesn't have anything to do with trying "establish the passing game".

The final Cowboys drive on the Chargers, I'm certain, was solely due to a prevent defense essentially doing its job.

In any case, I thought the final score of that game belied the success that both offenses had. I don't think either offense should be afraid of the other's defense. The difference in the game ultimately felt like the Chargers fended off the Dallas pass rush much on 3rd downs better than Dallas fended off the Chargers' pass rush on 3rd downs.

It thought that was actually one of the better games that the Cowboys played, but the Chargers just played better. They're just a very good team (the Chargers, that is).

9 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I'm all for recognizing one of the NFL's true pioneers, and the Alliance named for him has done some good things, but Pollard seems out of place in this context.

11 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

1. What Chris above said about the run audible: as impressive as that may seem, it has actually been a regular pre-snap check in this offense for quite some time, and is not really *that* impressive. In situations where run/pass are equally good options (ie, not 3rd and 8), there will 2 plays called, one run and one pass, and Romo will yell out "Kill kill kill" to go the 2nd play based on a single relatively simple read. Smart opponents (Antonio Pierce comes to mind) have in the past audibled themselves and beaten this strategy.

Romo's greatest strength is still his athleticism and instincts, I don't know about him being a "thinking QB"-- I think Garrett does most of the thinking. He is still probably the most successful QB in the league who uses a one-read offense on the majority of offensive snaps.

2. The draw play has certainly been a big part of the offense for 2 years now. But the greater identity, and one more specific to this particular season, has been their use of the two-TE offense. The "identity" of this team, if I had to name one, is related to the draw play but not quite *just* the draw play. It's the ability to alternatively switch on the fly between a power run team and a short, timing route team (the deep throws to Austin-- and before, Owens-- are often set, precisely choreographed plays and not part of this flexible style of play).

And the attribute that makes this most possible is the ability of all 3 TEs (Witten, Phillips, and Bennett) to work as 6th O-Lineman (run and/or pass block) and be pass threats (mostly just Witten, though Phillips has been good lately). When they come out in the base 2-TE set that they use, they can put 7 O-Line caliber blockers on any run and simultaneously have 4 pass receiving threats.

Which is I've vehemently defended Witten's selection to the pro-bowl this year despite the wealth of deserving TEs.

18 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I've been preaching the 7 lineman set for Minnesota since the Vikings lost to Carolina, and I completely understand where you're coming from.

Minnesota has two good options for blockers/threats in Kleinsasser (better blocker than threat) and Chester Taylor (quite good at both). Shiancoe and Peterson complete the 2 TE 2 RB power formation, with any of the four capable of blocking or catching a pass, with the added bonus of Taylor's and Peterson's ability to run the ball. Round out the formation with Harvin, and you've got another WR/RB dual threat.

I'd love to see this formation with Taylor throwing a couple/few passes per game if Tarvaris Jackson were the QB. What a cluster for the front 7 of any defense to try and figure out.

Even with the Zombie King (as Will likes to call him) at QB, the option to max-protect with 2 TEs and 2 RBs could be beneficial as the games may dictate.

27 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

The Cowboys have such a valuable asset with a tight end who can block like Kleinsasser and receive like Shiancoe (except with better hands). Anybody who doesn't understand why Witten is the most valuable te in the NFC is really ignorant.

49 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Agreed. Celek would be a worth runner up, given how well (and how willingly) he blocks.

Shank's 11 TDs are great, and he's more of a pro-bowler than McKinnie, but he doesn't deserve it over Witten.

36 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I agree Romo has been doing that for years. I also like it when Romo calls an audible and then Pierce would quickly smack his hands and call HIS audible. The DC needs to be comfortable enough with HIS MLB to be able to check out that quickly, and you risk failure of execution where 1 guy doesn't hear the call and is doing the wrong thing and it screws everything up.

One of the reasons why I said Dallas may break out this year, was the expectation that they'd run more 2 TE sets ( I thought they'd even be better running the ball too with that O-Line). Plus he wouldn't have to force passes to BO and he'd get to throw the ball to the open guy instead of the guy with the biggest mouth. I actually like Bennett at TE as well.

Witten is the best TE in the NFC ( no argument here).

Romo is just a quick thinker. Even listening to him in post game interviews, you could just see the guy process information quickly, give good answers, joke around... He's a book reader and an above average intelligence guy. If he didn't have an arm and was an orginary citizen, he'd probably be a pretty successful guy.

80 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I've noticed a big change in Romo over the course of this season with regard to his pre-snap adjustments. At the beginning of the season, Romo was coming to the line late and had little time to call audibles. After the bye, the coaches started doing a much better job of getting the play in early so that Romo would have plenty of time to look at the defense. While a lot of the offense might be 1-read stuff in concept. I've noticed Romo making multiple adjustments at the LOS in order to account for possible disguised blitzes, etc. over the past two months.

While the pre-snap stuff has always been part of Garrett's offense, Romo took a huge step forward with respect to analyzing the defense. Last year, some teams did a very good job of using Romo's pre-snap reads to trick him into bad audibles. This year, Romo has not been fooled and has really learned to see through deceptive alignments.

I actually think that this improvement is as much about the extra time Romo gets at the LOS as it is about Romo becoming a more seasoned player.

Also, although I agree that Romo is primarily an instinctive player, I think that that is more true after the snap. His post-snap reads are his real weakness now. Also, the guy got a 37 on the Wonderlic, so he is pretty darn smart.

12 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Romo's greatest strength is still his athleticism and instincts, I don't know about him being a "thinking QB"-- I think Garrett does most of the thinking. He is still probably the most successful QB in the league who uses a one-read offense on the majority of offensive snaps.

If that's true, I know where the Gator-to-be-unnamed will find his next home.

24 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Well, I mean Romo may be operating a simplified pass scheme (maybe the one-read thing was an exaggeration, but it certainly feels that way), but it's still ahead of a lot of college systems. And he's still got all the other tools that the Gator in question may or may not have-- a fantastic release, good accuracy, and an ability to create opportunities via improvisation.

19 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

"I think coaches are missing the boat, with a lot of qbs, by not giving them more play-calling and audible freedom. No, they can't all be Peyton Manning, but a lot of them could add to their offense's explosiveness and efficiency if they had more play calling responsibility."

I suspect most QBs quickly fall into a rut of seven or nine plays that they have confidence in, and would just keep running those until somebody made them stop. That's what Manning does, and what Phillip Rivers has said he would do if given the opportunity. George Allen and Sonny Jurgenson used to fight tooth and nail over Sonny's fondness for certain plays. Brad Childress has fought with every QB he's ever coached (not just Favre) over audibles.

The argument in favor of QB's calling their own plays usually centers on execution. But QBs are not the most creative bunch. They like to do what they're comfortable with, throwing to receivers they trust even when somebody else is actually open.

On the other hand, you get Jason Campbell in Washington, robotically following the commands of an idiot crew designed by Vinny Cerrato... that ain't good, either.

21 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

This may be the only no-Tebow zone in the entire Internet. Come April, you'll be thanking me

Dude, I'm thanking you now. WOO!

23 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

One comment on the 'Boys: the draw works for them because 1) they've got these behemoths in the interior line, and 2) Tony Romo can be so dangerous when he improvises. I think the best way to play Romo might be to contain rather than pressure him. He seems less comfortable left to his own devices.

28 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

It's a tactic that others have tried, and it's worked sometimes (Buffalo '07 being the prominent example), but I'm not sure it's a good plan.

His ability to improvise is special, but I think using that to say that you don't want to bring the pressure is a logical fallacy: he may do well under pressure, but that doesn't mean he'll do better under pressure than not. The only time I think it may be a good idea to not bring pressure against a QB is if he's a Mike Vick type, as you could get burned via the run. Romo is not a threat to do that.

No, I think the best way to attack him as a passer is to bring the pressure and hope he makes the wrong read. And it's something the Eagles like to do as a team philosophy, so I'm sure that's what they'll decide to do.

25 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

A follow up to Temo's comment, right out of Brian Billick's book "More Than a Game":

"... the "kill" audible system, which relies on presnap reads but is not as freewheeling as those employed by the Colts or Patriots. In the kill system, a quarterback will call two plays in the huddle, connecting them with a word indicating that the one that is run will depend on the defense that is employed. An example might be "Spread Right, Kill 40 Gut to Quick 2 Jet Dragon.". This is a simple inside zone run that will "kill", or switch, to an equally simple slant-flat route combination should the defense deploy a hard eight-man run-sopping front. When the quarterback comes to the line, he can either run the primary call or "kill" to the other play."

26 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Funny, you mentioned someone who was expected to be overexposed in the spring, and my first thought was the dog killer.

Then my second thought was the Redskins. But they're too much fun to pick on. We can't have a Redskins offseason moratorium. They "win" every year!

29 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Man, I love Tebow. I can't wait till Shanahan drafts him--Christ returns to the Beltway anyone? Heck, they should probably just draft him straight to the HOF, seriously. BEST ALL AROUND FOOTBALL PLAYER of all time. The man could play any position, and has tremendous emotional depth--did you see that Alabama game? I'm pretty excited.

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On a serious note, we spent the entire 4 hour UF game doing nothing but inserting TT for Chuck Norris in the classic jokes. Thank you for implementing the ban. From here out, Brett Favre 2.0 will no longer be mentioned

35 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Well, seeing as Tashard Choice is the guy running the Razorback formation for the Cowboys, I would have to say you're right that you don't see Felix running it very often.

47 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Yea, forgot to mention that. Also, it's not quite a wildcat and more of a quick read-and-plunge run up the middle.

Though I have wondered why they don't just make it a full-fledged wildcat, since they do have Felix Jones on the team.

48 Romo's ability to read a defense

I'm curious about a remark in the walkthrough regarding Romo's ability to read a defense: "Romo's weaknesses (an inability to read defenses and throw from the pocket on a deep drop)". Can someone elaborate on this? I didn't know he has these weaknesses, but I'm in no way an expert observer, so I'd like to learn more.

53 Re: Romo's ability to read a defense

He's generally not a 7-step-drop, multiple read QB is all. The Cowboys do attack deep a lot, but it's often on a double-move pump-fake type of move.

That's not to say that he can't make reads or throw from the pocket, and in fact is probably average at both. But it's still his weakness as a QB and thus something Garrett doesn't scheme for.

88 Re: Romo's ability to read a defense

Greg Cosell, who I suppose is about the closet thing to an "expert" that isn't employed by a team, has made similar comments about Romo this year. http://www.fantasyguru.com/StaffBlog/

I've noticed Cosell remark a lot about Romo being a more "instinctive" than "cerebral" QB. I think Aaron recently posted snippets of conversation he had with Cosell and Jaworski where they pretty much said the same thing. I did a quick search for it, but couldn't bring it up.

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So what happens if the Cowboys beat the Eagles all 3 times this year? The sportswriters in Philly go nuts?

I don't think the Eagles are usually a team effected as much by playing on the road, but this was their first time going to Jerry World ( and the Cowgirls had already played 7 regular season games there). It was just interesting to hear in the pregame interviews ( we are finally going to that new stadium etc.) That factor should be mitigated in the matchup this week if it was did play a part in last weeks game.

Does anybody know if the Eagles just stayed in Texas this week, or if they went back to Philly and then came back to Dallas?

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I'm not positive, but I think they went home for the week.

Won't matter. Snoop Dog wrote a theme song for DeSean Jackson. So now Philly has swagger. I'm pretty sure they're going to put swagger at LB and have him take away Witten. They're going to want it more. And Donovan will be having some fun out there.

65 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Favre. Favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-favre-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre-a-favre.

Down the hall, second door on the left. Flush and wipe up any spatter with a wet paper towel when you're done, please. Thanks.

74 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Some comments :

1. Kill/Kill/Kill : it has been well explained before, it's often the signal to switch plays that where called in the huddle, or switch sides. As it is easily countered (ie show double A Gap blitz to incite the offense to play a 3 steps drop with inside quick zone pass protection), most(all IMO) teams use it also as a decoy (no second play is called in the huddle).

2. Mike-Mike-Mike : Depending on offenses, the center or the QB calls out the Mike. Any QB unable to locate and call the mike shouldn't play in the NFL, or even in pee-wee football, so I guess every QB in the NFL can do it.

3. Contain the Cowboys ? S.McDermott tried it in the first half, it didn't work that much. Apparently, reports are that Eagles LBs have been abysmal both in run support (apart from Trotter) and in Coverage, and that most over the middle catches were not on Mikell/Hanson but on the LBs.

4. Key19 said it, as much as it pains me to say it, Flozell Adams just dominated Trent Cole, and as he's the only difference maker in the front four, it did hurt the Eagles a lot. If that happens again on Saturday, the Eagles is in trouble.

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Am I the only one who got excited at the idea of a Pixar/Vivid joint production?

What's that? I am? Never mind then.

81 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

"Romo's weaknesses (an inability to read defenses and throw from the pocket on a deep drop) can hurt them."

On passes thrown 21 or more yards in the air, Romo is 145/230 for 1909 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs, and a 100.8 QB rating.

I think the deep drop is anything but a weakness for Romo. Unless he's throwing balls 30 yards in the air off a short drop.

You could say it's only a problem on 3rd downs, but in past years he has has spectacular 3rd down statistics, so that doesn't make any sense either.

84 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

Yeah, I don't get that either. I think it would be more accurate to say that Romo is prone to leaving the pocket unecessarily (probably the result of having such a bad pass-blocking line) and that he sometimes fails to see open receivers when he scrambles. But the guy has always been better on deep passes than on short ones.

Also, when he does stay in the pocket to throw deep, he is VERY good.

87 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

He completed 63% of his passes that went more than 21 yards in the air? Can I see a source on that? Your stats imply that Romo had AT LEAST 3045 of his 4483 yards through the air. That's a lot...

According to Yahoo (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/stats/bycategory?cat=Passing&conference=NFCEast&year=season_2009&timeframe=All&sort=46&old_category=Receiving), the Cowboys had about 2153 YAC on the season. Your numbers don't add up. I believe they're the stats for all pass plays that went for at least 21 yards.

And again, I didn't say that he couldn't pass downfield, just that he's not a 7-step-drop, read-and-react type of thrower. He can still pass downfield with a fair deal of accuracy on "choreographed" plays, such as Austin's double-moves.

83 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

I'm glad to see Hideo Nakata got mentioned, even if in a somewhat negative (though accurate) fashion. Of course, what was the last time a "horror" movie (People almost never use that phrase meaning the actual genre--they mean a more nebulous category of "scary" movies, so I will go ahead and do the same.) came out that more than five people saw that wasn't absurdly overrated? I'm thinking it's probably "The Shining" in 1980.

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I'm certainly not the world's leading authority on the subject (I believe that would be Rick Altman), but I rejected both of those.

I really think Pitch Black is a terrible movie. I hated it, too. I also blame it for the phenomenon known as "Vin Diesel: Actor," which is a major mark against it.

The Sixth Sense is one I've always found odd because I'm not sure how it can even count as horror in the general public "scary movie" sense, but people do say it is. (What is scary about it? The fact that Bruce Willis doesn't have a gun this time? His lack of hair? Toni Collette's face? I digress.) However, I think it's a poor film and DEFINITELY does not deserve the praise it gets. I always list it among the most overrated movies of all time.

95 Re: Walkthrough: Secret Identity

When I got to "What do you think of when you close your eyes and picture the Cowboys offense?" I thought of the delayed draw to Barber up the middle. I've watched a lot of the Cowboys this season, and they like that play, and have had success with it.