Dak Prescott Under Pressure and Play-Action (vs NYG)





Before the season began, I posed a bunch of questions about how Dak Prescott would play and how Scott Linehan would call plays without T. Romo (click here to read to read that post). Each week, I continue trying to answer those questions.

My first look at the New York Giants game focused on the Cowboys lack of offensive balance and lack of success on 1st down. (click here to read).

3rd & Short

My decision to try to track Scott Linehan’s play calling on 3rd & short was premised on what I perceived to be a serious flaw in his history of play calling on 3rd & short with Romo at QB. When Romo was the QB, it seemed like Linehan went to the shotgun, and then emptied the backfield far too frequently on 3rd and short. I can’t count the number of times I cursed Scott Linehan for abandoning even the illusion of running the ball when it was 3rd & 3-or-less.

Linehan hasn’t done that nearly as often with Prescott at the helm, but it seemed unusually frequent against the New York Giants.

The Cowboys were an appalling 1 out of 15 on 3rd down.

They faced 3rd & short on three occasions. They converted once. All three snaps on 3rd & short began with Dak in the shotgun. The lone conversion was a run by Zeke.

The Cowboys faced 3rd and 3 on their first possession. Dak had time in the pocket, but threw way off target on an attempt to Dez.

On the 3rd play of the 1st drive of the second quarter, Linehan elected to bring Elliott off the field on 3rd & 2. Dak was in the shotgun: Dez slipped on the play and the result was an interception.

The Cowboys did successfully convert a 4th and 1 on their own 42 in the 1st quarter. The lined Dak up under center and Elliott made a nice move to pick up 2 yards over the RT. That made them a perfect 8 for 8 on 4th down conversions for the year, until later when they failed to convert a 4th & 10 on the last drive of the game.


After running the ball effectively on 1st down, one of the biggest keys to the Cowboys offense success is their ability to use the play-action pass when Dak lines up under center. Over the course of the year, Scott Linehan and Dak Prescott have used the play-action to move the chains on 2nd & long, get big chunks of yards on 1st down, and occasionally convert on 3rd or 4th & short.

Using the play-action with Dak under center continues to be effective for two main reasons: the Cowboys are successful enough that defenses respect the run and Dak is executing the play-action skillfully.

The most play-action attempts in one game was in Washington (12) and the fewest was in Green Bay (6).

There is a discernible pattern to how Linehan uses the play-action. He uses it most frequently on 1st & 10; the next most common is on 2nd & long. About 51% of the play-action plays (110 so far this season) have been on 1st down.

Similarly, 74% of the play-action attempts (81 of 110) have come when Dak is under center, while only 29 have been from the shotgun.

This week against the Giants, the Cowboys tried 10 play-action plays. Scott Linehan did a good job of “mixing it up” when it came to when he used the play-action. Only 6 of the play-action plays were run from under center (4 from gun).

Against the Giants, the Cowboys used play-action only 4 times on 1st & 10 (3 from under center), 2 times on 2 & 10 (both from shotgun), and 4 times on 2nd and 6+ (3 from under center).

Using play-action on 1st & 10, they went: incomplete (gun), incomplete (UC), Witten for 13 (UC), Beasley for 18 (UC).

Using play-action on 2nd &  10, they went: 31 TD to Williams (gun) and a QB run for 1 yard (gun).

Using play-action on 2nd & 6+, they went: sack (UC), Witten for 1 (gun), incomplete deep to Dez (UC), and Williams for 13 (UC).

Dak was 5 of 8 for 76 yards and a TD on his play-action throws.

On the season, Dak Prescott has 70 completions on 98 play-action attempts (71.4 completion rate) for 989 yards, 4 TD’s, at least one fumble (maybe 2), zero interceptions.

Dak has 3139 passing yards, so 31.5% of his total passing yards have come off of play-action.

Dak Under Pressure and Against the Blitz

Dak’s performance against the blitz and under pressure has been erratic all year. Early in the season, it seemed like he struggled with both his reads against the blitz and his accuracy when under pressure. Then there was a stretch (starting against the Eagles) when he beat the blitz and excelled under pressure for a few weeks.

Against the New York Giants, it didn’t matter whether there was a clean pocket, they blitzed or got pressure, Dak performed poorly.

The Giants only blitzed Dak on 14 of his 40 drop-backs, yet still managed to get pressure on him 19 nines. This suggests that the Giants were able to get pressure fairly frequently without blitzing.

On the 14 plays that NYG blitzed, Dak was 7 of 14 for 47 yards, 1 INT, and a rating of 28.0.

When the Giants didn’t blitz, he was 10 of 23 for 118 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 3 sacks and a rating of 56.1. It is noteworthy that all 3 times the Giants sacked Dak came on plays with no blitz.

The Redskins got pressure on Dak on 9 of his 19 drop-backs (47.5%). On those 19 plays, he was 10 of 16 for 74 yards, 3 sacks, and a rating of 73.4.

The worst part of Sunday’s performance: Dak was just 7 of 21 for 91 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs when he had a clean pocket with no pressure (rating of 24.2).

Dak was sacked only once by the Ravens for 5 yards. Unlike the majority of Prescott’s sacks, this one did not come on 3rd and long when he was in the shotgun (it was on 2nd and long from the shotgun).

Dak has only been sacked 15 times this year. Only Derek Carr and Eli Manning have started all 11 games and been sacked fewer times (13). Dak’s 15 sacks seems even more impressive if you consider he has faced 5 of the NFL’s top 12 teams for total sacks (Baltimore, Washington twice, Chicago, Philadelphia, and  Green Bay).

If Dak Prescott can continue to beat blitzes and be  successful when under pressure without turning the ball over, it is hard to imagine any defense finding an easy way to stop the 2016 Dallas Cowboys.


T. Williams led all receivers with 5 catches for 76 yards and a TD. The Cowboys have had 4 different leading receivers in their 13 games (Witten vs Giants, Dez vs Washington, Williams vs Bears, Beasley vs SF,  Williams vs Cincy, Williams vs GB, Bryant vs Philly, Witten vs. Cleveland, Dez vs. Pittsburgh,  Dez in Baltimore, Dez vs. Washington, Dez vs Minnesota and Williams this week).

C. Beasley continues to lead the Cowboys in receptions (64) and yards (711) and TD’s (5), but Dez was closing in on him before the Giants game (38 catches for 644 yards, 6 TD’s). J. Witten is now 3rd in receiving categories (56 catches, 579 yards, 2 TD’s)

The Cowboys had a season-high four “3-and-out” series on offense.

Dallas punted the ball a season-high 9 times against the Giants; the previous high was 6 against the Vikings.


As always, we encourage you to review the original questions posed (click here to read) and then provide your answers below, especially if you disagree with the observations offered above. We would also like to hear what specific things you will be watching for when the Dallas Cowboys play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.

Series Navigation<< Cowboys Struggles on 1st Down Disrupt Offensive Balance(vs NYG)Small Wrinkle Significantly Alters Cowboys Offensive Balance (vs DET) >>
C. Joseph Wright

C. Joseph Wright

Analyst, Editor, Writer at SportsTalkLine
C. Joseph Wright began his professional life as a litigation attorney. He left the profession when it started to resemble "The Wire". He is now traveling the world working as a lecturer at international universities. Currently editing with occasional specials for CowboysNation.com