In a regular-season game, a 37-30 loss for the Dallas Cowboys would inspire pessimism, doubt and sorrow. However, this was a preseason game, when the outcomes hold no relevancy.
Against the Ravens, there was a great deal of positive performances that should lead many to be optimistic. The first-team offense—save for the early fumble—looked fantastic, and the defense looked much improved from the Chargers game. The special teams were horrid, but that shouldn't worry many people since the Cowboys special teams were especially bad last preseason too.
Now that we know from a macro-perspective of what happened against the Ravens, let's take a look at some of the micro-aspects we can glean from the second preseason game.
What the Offensive Personnel Tells Us
|S01||S10||11||S11||12||S12||21||Took A Knee|
For a full analysis of what the above table means, read Bleacher Report's Erik Frenz's article about the subject.
In layman's terms, the numbers at the top of the table signify what personnel the Cowboys are utilizing. The "S" at the beginning signifies if the team was in the shotgun formation, the first of the two numbers is the number of running backs being used and the second is how many tight ends are on the field. Therefore, a "S11" personnel grouping means the offense is in shotgun with one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers.
Before we get into what we can learn, we must realize that this is preseason, so the offensive personnel groupings are going to be slightly different. In the preseason, teams often use "vanilla" offenses, so they don't tip off teams to any exotic or team-specific looks they may use. Also, teams often change their personnel groupings from week to week based on the individual matchups of their opponents.
However, we can assume that these personnel groupings are the foundation of the offense and will be used with varying amount of snaps each week.
Now, with the basic schematics out of the way, what can we learn from this? First, the Cowboys are going to do the majority of their work from the single-back formation. Out of the 67 snaps (including snaps restarted because of a penalty), the Cowboys lined up in some form of single-back 54 times, or 80.5 percent of the time.
This doesn't bode well for the fans pining for the Cowboys to keep a fullback. The Cowboys used a fullback on only 11 out of the 67 plays, or 16 percent of the time. Is it worth it to keep a fullback if they are only going to receive six to 12 snaps per game on offense? Especially when you can plug in a tight end to take over that position for a few plays if need be, that resource could be better allocated elsewhere.
The Maddening Play of Bruce Carter
Bruce Carter was the one player who was believed to have locked down his starting position among the linebackers before training camp. However, his average play and the emergence of Rolando McClain and Justin Durant have left some questioning whether Carter will remain the starter:
Bruce Carter, who I don't think will be a starter when the season opens, called for defensive holding.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) August 16, 2014
Against the Ravens, Carter didn't do much to quiet those concerns. What we have always known about Carter is that he struggles when he has taken on blockers. He has never done a good job of shedding blockers to make the tackle. This is exemplified in this play against the Ravens.
Here, Carter is lined up as the "Sam" or strong-side linebacker. He isn't covered by any defensive linemen, so his job will be to take on the tight end, set the edge and make the tackle if the running back comes near his gap.
At the snap, Carter engages with the tight end at the line of scrimmage. His pad level is too high, and he has done a poor job of keeping the tight end off his body.
As the running back hits the hole, Carter has already been pushed back two yards off the ball. Even if Carter does make the tackle, the running back is going to get the first down because the offense only needs one yard for a first down.
He needed to do a much better job of holding his ground, getting proper hand placement and arm extension so he could shed the block and make the tackle short of the first-down marker.
Carter then gets blocked back two more yards and was in no place to make the tackle. The running back is allowed to cut off the tight end's block and make a couple more yards before J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church come and make the tackle.
What this play shows is how poor Carter is at utilizing his strength and technique at the point of attack against a blocker.
Knowing this, it was reported that the Cowboys were tweaking their defensive scheme so that Carter would be covered by the 3-technique defensive tackle most of the time. Ideally, this would limit the amount of times Carter would be engaged with blockers throughout the game. Also, it would allow him to use his vision and athleticism to flow to the ball and make the play.
However, even when Carter is allowed to flow to the ball unblocked, his lack of discipline and technique cause him to be in poor position, which results in poor plays for the defense (h/t to Landon McCool for pointing out this play on Twitter).
In this play, Carter is lined up at the "Will" linebacker, and he is covered by the 1-technique defensive tackle. His job is to use his athleticism and vision to flow to the ball, stay square to the running back and make the tackle in the hole.
The Ravens have set the run up to the strong side of their formation. As the hole develops, Carter does a great job of realizing this and sprints to fill the hole. However, he doesn't keep his body square to the runner, which puts him in a poor position to make the tackle.
The running back makes a cut inside, which leaves Carter totally out of position. His only option is to try to turn his body and make an arm tackle. This allows the running back to gain two or three extra yards, when Carter should have stopped him for little or no gain.
This is what is so frustrating about Carter. He is so athletically gifted, but he doesn't have the technique or discipline to properly utilize his natural talent.
If Carter doesn't start to play more technically sound, it is likely that he will be without a starting job come Week 1 of the regular season.
The Emergence of Zach Minter
Zach Minter, who had been signed by the Cowboys just two days before the second preseason game, burst onto the scene in Dallas, where he recorded four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in just 29 snaps, per ESPN.
However, it can be dangerous to judge a player based on what he recorded in the box score. A defensive tackle can have a phenomenal game while not appearing in the box score, while the opposite can be true as well.
Therefore, let take a look at the film to see how Minter fared last Saturday.
While he may have finished strong, Minter did not have a good start to the game.
On this play, Minter is lined up at the 1-technique defensive tackle. His job is to keep his pad level low and control the "A" gap on his side. He should remain stout in the hole and not get pushed back at all. The defense is relying on him to be stout and control his gap.
In this picture, you can see that Minter has already been pushed back two yards from the line of scrimmage. There are many problems with Minter's technique in this play.
First, his pad level is way too high, which doesn't allow him to get the necessary leverage to take on the blockers. Next, he has allowed the offensive lineman to get into his body too much. He needs to do a better job getting extension with his arms, so the lineman cannot get in close and drive him out of the gap.
Finally, look at Minter's feet. They are crossed, which totally eliminates any possibility for Minter to gain any leverage back and will cause him to get driven out of the play even more.
Minter ends up getting driven into the end zone, and the Ravens running back easily makes it in for a touchdown.
Minter struggles when his pad level gets too high and when he has to take on double-teams; it was never an effort or talent problem. Noticing this, the Cowboys switched Minter from the 1-technique (who has to take on double-teams on almost every play) to the 3-technique (who is single-blocked most of the time). This paid huge dividends for the Cowboys, as Minter exploded for both of his sacks while at the 3-technique.
Minter is lined up at the 3-technique defensive tackle position. His job is to get up the field and through the "B" gap. He has to get penetration and apply pressure in the backfield.
On the previous play, we discussed how Minter was not using his hands well and how he was not getting enough arm extension. Nevertheless, you can notice here that he has great arm extension, which is allowing him to get some push on the offensive lineman. This is allowing him to "stack" the offensive lineman in front of him.
Minter has now utilized the "shed" technique and is making a beeline for the quarterback. He ends up chasing down the quarterback for the five-yard loss and the sack.
This play shows exactly what Minter can be when he plays with the correct pad level and technique. Minter could be a productive reserve 3-technique pass-rusher in this scheme.
It seems as if he has caught the coaches' eyes, as he has received some work with the first-team defense, per ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon. It will be very interesting to see how Minter does when he lines up against stiffer competition.
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