Dak Prescott Beats the Blitz but Struggles Under Pressure (vs DET)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 25 of 25 in the series 2016 Answering Questions - Dak & Coaching

 

 

 

 

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 Detroit Lions game focused on the Cowboys newly achieved offensive balance when Dak Prescott lines up under center. (click here to read).

3rd & Short

My decision 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.

Most weeks this season, I have written something like:

“Linehan hasn’t done that nearly as often with Prescott at the helm.”

But starting a few weeks ago against the Giants, it has become more and more frequent.

The Cowboys were a respectable 4 of 8 on 3rd down.

They faced 3rd & short only twice. The first time resulted in a false start penalty that eventually led to a punt. The other was in the 4th quarter: the Cowboys lined up with Dak under center and McFadden made a nice move to pick up 3 yards.

Play-action

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: (1) the Cowboys are successful enough running on 1st down that defenses anticipate a run (2) Dak is adroit at executing the play-action.

The most play-action attempts in one game was in Washington (12) and the fewest was in Green Bay and Philadelphia (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 56% of the 125 play-action plays have been on 1st down.

Similarly, 74.4% of the play-action attempts (93 of 125) have come when Dak is under center, while only 32 have been from the shotgun.

This week against the Detroit Lions, the Cowboys tried 9 play-action plays. Scott Linehan followed the established pattern of when he uses play-action:

Against the Lions, the Cowboys used play-action 7 times on 1st & 10 (6 from under center and once from the shotgun), once on 2 & 10 (shotgun), and once on 3rd and 9 (under-center).

Using play-action on 1st & 10, they went: 23 yards to Witten (UC), 6 yards to WIlliams (UC), pressure on bootleg and scramble for 3 (UC), screen to Elliott for 12 (UC), 11 yards to Williams (UC), 13 yards to Williams (UC) incomplete to Witten who didn’t see pass (gun).

Using play-action on 2nd & 10: designed run by Prescott for 15 yards (gun).

Using play-action on 3rd & 9 on their own 3 yard line: incomplete deep attempt to Dez (UC).

Dak was 5 of 7 for 82 yards on his play-action throws. The Cowboys also added 18 yards on two rushes after a play-action fake.

On the season, Scott Linehan has called 125 play-action fakes. Dak Prescott has completed 78 of his 112 play-action attempts (69.6 completion rate) for 1130 yards, 5 TD’s, zero interceptions. Dak is averaging 10.1 yards per play-action attempt. This is a significant increase from his normal yards per completion (8.05).

Dak has 3630 passing yards, so 31.1% of his total passing yards have come off of play-action. Similarly, over 20% of his TD passes have come off play-action (5 of 24).

Dak Under Pressure and Against the Blitz

Dak’s performance against the blitz and under pressure has been erratic all year.

The Lions only blitzed Dak on 9 of his 25 drop-backs. They managed to get pressure on him just 6 times.

On the 9 plays that Detroit blitzed, Dak was 5 of 7 for 75 yards, 1 sack, and a rating of 106.2.

The Lions got pressure on Dak on 6 of his 25 drop-backs (24%), which is a marked improvement from some of the previous weeks when teams like the Giants got pressure on close to 50% of his drop-backs. On the 6 plays the Lions got pressure, Dak was 0 of 2, 2 sacks, and a rating of 39.6.

When Dak had a clean pocket to attack the Lions, he was spectacular: he went 15 of 18 for 212 yards, 3 TDs and a rating of 155.3 (158.3 is considered perfect).

Dak was sacked only once by the Lions for 11 yards according to the NFL official stats, although PFF has him sacked twice.

Only 4 QB’s who have more than 300 attempts have been sacked fewer times than Prescott’s 25. Dak’s 25 sacks seems even more impressive if you consider he has faced 6 of the NFL’s top 12 teams for total sacks (Baltimore, Washington twice, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay).

If Dak Prescott can continue to beat blitzes and avoid turnovers when defenses get pressure, it is hard to imagine any defense finding an easy way to stop the 2016 Dallas Cowboys.

Miscellaneous

Dez Bryant led all Cowboys WR’s with 4 catches for 70 yards and 2 TD’s. Dez now leads the Cowboys in yards (796) and TD’s (8), but Beasley leads in receptions (72) and is 2nd in yards (784) and TD’s (5). J. Witten is now 3rd in all receiving categories (68 catches, 663 yards, 3 TD’s)

The Cowboys had just two “3-and-out” series on offense (one was after a false start penalty on 3rd & 1 led to an unsuccessful 3rd & 6, the other came in the 4th quarter when the Cowboys were playing conservatively with a huge lead).

Dallas punted the ball 4 times against the Detroit Lions.

I hope you all remember how long ago it was that I started talking about Jason Garrett being a Coach of the Year eventually.

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 Philadelphia Eagles.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.

Small Wrinkle Significantly Alters Cowboys Offensive Balance (vs DET)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 24 of 25 in the series 2016 Answering Questions - Dak & Coaching

 

 

 

 

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.

General Observations and Stats

The Dallas Cowboys played a spectacular game offensively. They scored an impressive 6 offensive TD’s against a Detroit Lions defense that was playing well their previous games. In addition to Dak Prescott throwing touchdown passes of 19, 21, and 25 yards, WR Dez Bryant threw a touchdown to J. Witten, and Zeke added a 55 yard TD scamper. It seems like an understatement to say the Cowboys offense is “firing on all cylinders”.

After two subpar performances against the Vikings and Giants, Dak Prescott has bounced back with two very impressive outings against the Bucs and Lions. Following his ridiculous 32 of 36 for 279 yards against the Bucs, Dak had arguably his best game of the year against the Detroit Lions.

Dak was 15 of 20 for 212 yards (more than 10 yards per attempt), 3 TD’s, no turnovers, and 35 yards rushing (20 from scrambling, 15 on designed run) against the Detroit Lions.

For the season, Dak has completed 68.1% of his passes (307 of 451) for 3630 yards, 23 TD’s,and  4 INT’s.  He also has 273 yards rushing (56 attempts) and 6 TD’s, and 4 lost fumbles.

Prescott has the 3rd highest QB rating at NFL.com (105.6) for a starting QB (after Ryan and Brady).

ESPN has Dak Prescott rated as the 2nd best QB in the NFL. Dak has a Total QBR of 81.9 (tied with Brady) and Matt Ryan is rated at 82.2.

PFF still has Dak as just the 10th rated passer at 84.4 (Brady leads the NFL at 98.3).

The 3 TD passes of 19+ yards should suffice to quash the “dink and dunk” claims. But just in case: Dak is 4th in the NFL in yards per attempt (8.05) behind only Matt Ryan (9.26), Tom Brady (8.22) and Kirk Cousins (8.11). The Cowboys are a respectable 8th in the NFL in yards per completion (11.3) – Atlanta leads the league with.12.7 yards per completion.

Against the Lions, Dak was accurate downfield: on passes over 10 yards, Prescott went seven-of-nine for 138 yards and three touchdowns; that’s a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

Dak doesn’t benefit from long runs after short throws as much as most people think. YAC (yards after catch) account for 39.5% of his total yards passing, which means that 60.5% of his total passing yards are “air yards”. Only 5 QB’s with more than 3000 yards have a higher percentage of “air yards” and none of them are having elite seasons (Carson Palmer, Marcus Mariota, Tyrod Taylor, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston).

With just one game remaining in the regular season, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys are:

  • 11th in the NFL in converting  3rd downs (42%) after hovering around 50% for the first 12 games.
  • 4th (388  yards per game) in total offense after Atlanta, New Orleans and Washington.
  • a vastly improved +7 in turnover differential (tied for 6th best in NFL).
  • 1st the NFL in time of possession (32:25).
  • 4rd in the NFL in points per game (27.2). Falcons lead NFL with 33.5 point per game (Saints 2nd, Raiders 3rd).
  • 2nd the NFL in rushing yards per game (155.1), Buffalo averages 170.8
  • 2nd in rushing TD’s (24), Buffalo has 28. The 3rd place team (Cardinals) have just 19.
  • only Buffalo (26) and Oakland (18) have more runs of 20+ yards than the Cowboys 16.
  • 2nd in the NFL in point differential with +129 behind the Patriots (+170).

The Raw Data (Shotgun vs. under center)

Where my stats are different from the official ones, it’s because I included plays that were nullified by penalty. Similarly, if a play was a designed pass, but Dak took off after being under pressure, I included that as an attempt to pass, not a rush. The idea here is to try understand Scott Linehan’s play-calling.

Given the fact that the Cowboys  run about 80% of the time they line-up under center and throw more than 80% of the time they are in the shotgun, the Cowboys quest for offensive balance begins with limiting their use of the shotgun to around 50% or less.

In the beginning of the season, the Cowboys were using the shotgun more often than Dak was lining up under center. Then there were a few weeks when Scott Linehan used the shotgun about 50% of the time. .

Against the Vikings, despite being a tight game, Scott Linehan was able to continue a good balance between the run and pass (under center 31 times and in the shotgun 20 times).

Against the Giants, Scott Linehan was forced to utilize the pass more frequently than other games (26 snaps under center, 42 in the shotgun).

Against the Buccaneers, they got back to being balanced (35 snaps under center and 38 from shotgun).

Given that the Cowboys scored 6 TD’s, it is a bit surprising that only ran 58 offensive plays against the Detroit Lions. Only three times this year have the Cowboys run fewer plays (CIN 53, WAS 56, MIN 51).

This week, versus the Detroit Lions, Dak led another balanced attack: 36 snaps under center (24 runs, 5 passes, 7 play-action attempts) and 22 snaps in shotgun (4 runs, 16 passes and 2 play-action attempts).

In the first 13 games, Prescott did not attempt a single pass on a straight-drop from under center. Prior to the Tampa Bay game (the first 13), the Cowboys had only thrown the ball 11 times when Dak lined up under center without using play-action.That means that when the Cowboys lined up with Dak under center, they either ran the ball or used play-action every time except the aforementioned 11. All 11 of those “passes” were quick throws immediately following the snap, i.e. no drop-back from under center (11 times out of 396 snaps taken under center).

The Wrinkle

In his first 13 games and 396 pass attempts, Dak did not attempt a single pass after a traditional 3-5 step-drop from under season; every pass attempt came from the shotgun, after play-action, or immediately after the snap.

Against the Bucs, Dak attempted 4 passes after a genuine drop-back from under center: on 2nd & 3, Dak hit Williams for 9; on 1st & goal, Dez dropped it; on 1st & 10, they lost 2 yards on a screen; on 1st & 10, Dak completed a pass to Williams for 9 yards. On 4 drop-backs from under center, Dak was 3 of 4 for 16 yards.

This week, against the Detroit Lions, Dak only tried one drop-back from under center: it was a 9 yard completion to Dez on a 2nd & 7 play.

It took 13 games for Linehan to ask Dak to attempt a traditional drop-back from under center, so tt will be very interesting to watch how he uses this new “wrinkle” in the playoffs.

It may not seem like a big deal (5 passes attempted on genuine drop-backs from under center), but the drop-backs,  coupled with the quick-throws from under center, add significant balance to the Cowboys attack when they line-up with Dak under center. In the first 13 games, Dak took 424 snaps from under center: 322 of those plays were runs, while just 11 were passes (no real drop-backs) and 80 were play-action attempts. This means the Cowboys ran the ball 78.3% of the time they lined up with Dak under center.

Compare that to the last two games: the Cowboys have run 71 plays with Dak under center, but only 47 of them were runs (24 passes or play-action attempts).  In those two games, the Cowboys have only run the ball 66.1% of the time that Dak has been under center – this is much less predictable that the 78.3% over the first 13 games.

If Linehan can continue to use the occasional drop-back from under center with moderate success (4 of 5 for 25 yards and two 1st downs) along with quick-throws and play-action, he will have successfully reduced the most predictable tendency of the Dallas Cowboys (running close to 80% of the time that Dak lines up under center and throwing more than 80% of the time he is in the shotgun).

So far, Dak has not thrown the ball more than 9 yards on a pass-attempt after dropping back from under center. In the playoffs, if not this week, expect Linehan to try a pass or two downfield on a drop-back from under center.

Conclusions

We will post the rest of this weekly series (1st downs, 3rd & short, play-action, and Dak under pressure) in due course.

______________________

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 Philadelphia Eagles.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.

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

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 23 of 25 in the series 2016 Answering Questions - Dak & Coaching

 

 

 

 

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.

Play-action

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.

Miscellaneous

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.

Cowboys Struggles on 1st Down Disrupt Offensive Balance(vs NYG)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 22 of 25 in the series 2016 Answering Questions - Dak & Coaching

 

 

 

 

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.

General Observations and Stats

It is always harder to write a game review after a loss. Watching the Cowboys offense struggle for the 2nd week in a row creates some immediate questions. Do good defensive coordinators with solid defenses finally have enough film to neutralize what Scott Linehan has been doing with Dak Prescott to make him so successful?

The loss to the New Giants can not be blamed on Prescott. Although he may have played well enough to win in a game in which all his teammates executed well, he did not continue his tradition of heroics by leading them to a 4th quarter win. He played his worst game of the year, and it wasn’t all the blitzing or pressure: it was his worst game even when he had a clean pocket.

The real question is: if Dak continues to play merely average, when do you play Tony Romo? Is it when they play for the No.1 seed? Is it in the playoffs? If the Cowboys lose to Tampa this week, the debate will heat up. If Prescott continues be mediocre, Garrett will have an extremely tough job in trying to decide which personnel gives him the best shot at winning important football games.

Dak’s drop-off the last two weeks is significant. Against the Vikings, he completed just 12 of 18 passes (66.6%) for 139 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs. Against the Giants, he was 17 of 37 for 165 yards (45.9%) 1 td, and 2 INT’s. Compare that to his 2016 per game averages (including last 2 games): 241 yards passing per game and a 65.8 completion rate.

As impressive as Dak’s stats for the season seem impressive still: has completed 65.8 of his passes (290 of 365) for 3139 yards, 20 TD’s, 4 INT’s.  He also has 218 yards rushing (48 attempts) and 5 TD’s. Prescott still has the 3rd highest QB rating at NFL.com (102.7 dowm from 108.6) for a starting QB (after Brady and Ryan). After one week at the top of ESPN’s Total QBR rating, Dak Prescott fell back to #2. rated as the best QB in the NFL.

But none of those season stats pass the “eye test” of many of the #CowboysNation “faithful”.

Critics are saying that Dak has “hit the rookie wall” and that good coaches have “figured it out”. I am curious what Mensa thinks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a very good defense, so the pressure will be on both Linehan and Prescott to find a way to be more successful.

The impotency of the aerial attack is even more alarming when you realize that the Cowboys actually ran the ball fairly well against the Giants (Elliott had 24 carries for 107 yards – although their 108 total yards rushing was well below their season average coming in of 155.8 yards a game).

Many of the season stats that I normally examine seem less important after the Cowboys offense has played in the last two weeks – any stats that include a 8 game streak of 400+ yards of offense would only obfuscate the realty of the last couple weeks, so I am skipping them this week.

The Raw Data (Shotgun vs. under center)

Where my stats are different from the official ones, it’s because I included plays that were nullified by penalty. Similarly, if a play was a designed pass, but Dak took off after being under pressure, I included that as an attempt to pass, not a rush. The idea here is to try understand Scott Linehan’s play-calling.

Given the frequency that Dallas runs when Dak is under center and throw when he is in the shotgun, offensive balance starts with limiting to the use of the shotgun to around 50%.

Against the Vikings 2 weeks ago, despite being a tight game, Scott Linehan was able to continue a good balance between the run and pass.

The Cowboys ran 68 plays against the Giants (they only ran 51 against the Vikings).

Dak Prescott lined up under center 26 times and in the shotgun 42 times.

There have only been two games this season in which Scott Linehan put Dak Prescott in the shotgun significantly more times than under center. The first was the previous game against the Giants (27 snaps under center and 50 snaps from the shotgun). The 2nd time was against the Eagles (27 snaps under center but 53 from shotgun).

Of the 26 times that Dak was under center, they ran it 20 times and attempted 6 playaction passes. This continues the trend of never asking Dak to drop straight back from under center and pass.

Of the 42 times Dak was in the shotgun, they passed the ball 32 times, ran it 6 times, and tried 4 play-action passes. .

Coming into the game against the Giants, the Cowboys had run the ball on more than 80% of the plays that Dak lined up under center. In New York, they ran it 77% of the time that Dak was under center. (6 play-action attempts on 26 snaps). More on the play-action aspect of Prescott’s game in an upcoming post.

1st Downs History

The Dallas Cowboys offensive success in 2016 (and their ability to stay balanced offensively) is based on two things: the ability to run the ball for 4+ yards on 1st down even when defenses are expecting it and the ability to use that 1st down success to be effective using play-action.  Scott Linehan has stayed devoted to running the ball on first down since week 2, even in tight games.

Coming in to the New York Giants game, the Cowboys had run 352 plays on 1st down. Dak was under center 247 times and in the shotgun 105 plays.

Of the 247 times Dak lined up under center on 1st down, they ran the ball 195 times (78.9%), threw it 6 times, and tried play-action passes 46 times (18.6%).

Of the 105 times that Dak was in the shotgun on first down, they passed the ball 80 times (76.1%), ran the ball 13 times, and tried 8 play-action passes.

Adding both formations together (352 plays), the Cowboys ran the ball 208 times on 1st down (59%), threw the ball 86 times (24.4%), and tried 54 playaction passes (15.3%).  There were also at least 4 designed runs by Dak Prescott off the play-action (all from shotgun).

1st Downs vs New York

To a certain extent, the Cowboys offense struggled against the Giants for the same reason they did against the Vikings: they failed to gain 4+ yards on too many 1st downs. Of their 26 plays on 1st down, 16 of those plays netted 4 yards or less (11 runs, four incomplete passes, and one completion for about 4 yards).

There is a direct correlation between the inability to run for 5+ yards 0n 1st down and the fact that the Cowboys were an embarrassing 1 out of 15 for 3rd down attempts (they were a dismal 1 of 9 on 3rd down conversions against Minnesota) despite converting 47% of their 3rd down attempts before Minnesota.

The Dallas Cowboys ran 26 plays on 1st down against the G-Men.  The only game in which they had fewer 1st down plays was Cincinnati (25).

Dak was under center for 18 of the 26 plays on 1st down: 15 runs and 3 play-action passes.

Dak was in the shotgun for 8 plays on 1st down: 2 runs, 5 passes, 1 play-action passes. After the Philadelphia game, Dallas has alternated back and forth between 0 and 1 run from the shotgun each week.

Conclusions

We will post the rest of this weekly series (3rd & short, play-action, and Dak under pressure) in due course.

______________________

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.

Cowboys Struggle on 1st Down and With Play-Action (vs MIN)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 21 of 25 in the series 2016 Answering Questions - Dak & Coaching

 

 

 

 

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 Minnesota Vikings game focused on the Cowboys use of the shotgun (click here to read).

1st Downs- History

The Dallas Cowboys ability to stay balanced offensively is premised on their ability to run the ball for 4+ yards on 1st down, even when defenses are expecting it. Scott Linehan has stayed devoted to running the ball on first down since week 2.

Coming in to the Minnesota game, the Cowboys had run 325 plays on 1st down. Dak was under center 225 times and in the shotgun 100 plays.

Of the 225 times Dak lined up under center on 1st down, they ran the ball 178 times (79.1%), threw it 5 times, and tried play-action passes 42 times (18.6%).

Of the 100 times that Dak was in the shotgun on first down, they passed the ball 75 times (75%), ran the ball 13 times, and tried 8 play-action passes.

Adding both formations together (325 plays), the Cowboys ran the ball 191 times on 1st down (58.7%), threw the ball 80 times (24.6%), and tried 50 playaction passes (15.3%).  There were also 4 designed runs by Dak Prescott off the play-action (all from shotgun).

1st Downs vs Minnesota

Part of the problem with the offense against the Vikings was the inability to break off big runs on 1st down. They only had two runs over 10 yards on 1st down – one was on the opening drive, the other was the 30 yard scamper by E. Elliott in the 4th quarter. As gratifying as it was to see their devotion to the run pay off with a big play at a pivotal point in the game, the Cowboys failed to gain 4+ yards on too many 1st downs runs. They had 8 runs on first down that were 4 yards or less. There was also a 42 yard run by Elliott on a 1st down that was negated by a holding penalty on D. Free.

There is a direct correlation between the inability to run for 5+ yards in 1st down and the fact that the Cowboys were a dismal 1 of 9 on 3rd down conversions despite coming into the game converting 46% of their 3rd down attempts.

The Dallas Cowboys ran 27 plays on 1st down in Minnesota. The only game in which they had fewer 1st down plays was Cincinnati (25).

Dak was under center for 22 of the 27 plays on 1st down: 17 runs, 1 quick pass, and 4 play-action passes.

Dak was in the shotgun for 5 plays on 1st down: 0 runs, 5 passes, 0 play-action passes.

3rd and Short

The Dallas Cowboys were an uncharacteristically dismal 1 of 9 on third down attempts.

The Cowboys only faced 3rd and short twice, and both plays resulted in negatives: one was the fumble by L. Whitehead, the other was a botched snap that almost resulted in a turnover.

Play-action

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. Scott Linehan and Dak Prescott continue to use the play-action to both move the chains and get big chunks of yards.

Using the play-action with Dak under center continues to be effective for three main reasons: the Cowboys are successful most of the time they run the ball out of that formation, the Cowboys run the ball almost 80% of the time they are in that formation, 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).

The Cowboys ran 7 play-action plays against the Vikings. I call them “play-action plays”, not play-action passes, because Dak took off and ran, after surveying the field and/or being pressured, on 3 of the 7 plays.

Linehan continues to run the play-action mostly when Dak is under center (zero attempts from shotgun this week). The most play-action plays the Cowboys have called from the shotgun in one game was 7 (Washington), but the only other time the Cowboys failed to try play-action at all from the shotgun was against San Francisco.

Linehan continues to use play-action predominantly in three specific situations: 1st and 10, 2 & goal, or 2nd & long. (In the past, he has also used it in 3rd or 4th &1).

This week, 4 of the 6 play-action plays were on 1st & 10, while 3 of them were on 2nd & long.

Dak was 2 of 4 for 28 yards on his play-action throws, but the three times he took off running after finding no open receiver on play-action netted 27 yards.

In total, the Cowboys gained 47 yards on 7 play-action plays (2 incompletes).

On the season, Dak Prescott has 65 completions on 90 play-action attempts (72.2 completion rate) for 913 yards, 3 TD’s, at least one fumble (maybe 2), zero interceptions. Dak has 2974 passing yards, so 30.6% of his total passing yards have come off of play-action.

69 of the 90 play-action attempts (75.5%) have come when Dak is under center (21 from shotgun).

Miscellaneous

The Cowboys continued their tradition of giving L. Whitehead his one rush per game, but he fumbled the ball. It will be interesting to see if they continue to give him a rush or pass in every game.

D. Bryant led all receivers with 4 catches for 84 yards and a TD. The Cowboys have had 4 different leading receivers in their 9 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 vs. Washington and Dez in Baltimore).

C. Beasley continues to lead the Cowboys in receptions (60) and yards (670) and TD’s (5), but Dez continues to close the gap in yards every week (37 catches for 634 yards, 6 TD’s). J. Witten is now 3rd in receiving categories (52 catches, 533 yards, 2 TD’s)

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

Dallas punted the ball a season-high 6 times against the Vikings.

So far this season, the Cowboys have attempted 360 passes (244 completions) for 2878 yards, and they have run the ball 391 times for 1870 yards.

Against the Vikings, the Cowboys passed for just 139 yards (below season average of 239.8) and ran the ball for 140 (also below their average of 155.8).

Rod Marinelli did something against the Vikings that we haven’t seen him do much, if at all, this season: send more than 1 extra blitzer. The Cowboys had some success when they blitzed two LB’s.  I started saying it weeks ago: if the Cowboys lose a game, it will almost certainly be because the defense has given the opposing QB way too much time in the pocket.

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 New York Giants.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.

Analyzing Linehan’s Use of Shotgun & Prescott’s Success (vs MIN)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 20 of 25 in the series 2016 Answering Questions - Dak & Coaching

 

 

 

 

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.

General Observations and Stats

The Dallas Cowboys pulled off their most impressive victory of the season. Winning a game on the road when the offense struggles, players commit costly penalties, you lose the turnover battle and fail to control the time of possession is a luxury afforded only to well coached teams. Rod Marinelli and the defense deserve a lot of credit for holding the Vikings to a mere 15 points.

In terms of his stats, this was by far Dak Prescott’s least impressive performance of the season. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 139 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.

For the season, Dak has completed 67.9 of his passes (243 of 358) for 2974 yards, 19 TD’s, 2 INT’s.  He also has 217 yards rushing (47 attempts) and 5 TD’s.

Prescott has the 3rd highest QB rating at NFL.com (108.6) for a starting QB (after Brady and Ryan).

For the first time this season, ESPN has Dak Prescott rated as the best QB in the NFL. Dak has a Total QBR of 85.2, and Brady has fallen to 82.

PFF still has Dak as just the 10th rated passer at 84.6 (Brady leads the NFL at 95.4).

One of the criticisms of Dak is that he can not throw the long ball accurately. If that is true, then Prescott must be extraordinary on the medium throws: he is 2nd in the NFL in yards per attempt (8.3) behind only Matt Ryan (9.2), and he is a respectable 7th in yards per completion (12.2). Matt Ryan leads the league with 13.4 yards per completion.

Similarly, Dak doesn’t benefit from long runs after short throws as much as most people think. YAC account for 42.5% of his total yards passing, which means that 57.5% of his total passing yards are “air yards”. QB’s with that have a lower percentage of “air yards” than Dak (in descending order of “air yards”): Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers, Blake Bortles, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and Eli Manning.

It is difficult to overstate how incredibly well Dak Prescott is playing. The offense struggled against the Vikings, but Dak never looked like a confused rookie, not did he make any rookie mistakes. He has thrown 19 TD’s, run for 5 TD’s, thrown just 2 INT’s, and lost four fumbles. He has been sacked just 18 times (Derek Carr has the fewest sacks with 12 amongst QB’s who have started all 12 games).

After 12 games, the Dallas Cowboys are:

  • 5th in the league at converting 3rd downs (46%). Saints convert 50%.
  • 4th (395.7  yards per game) in total offense after Atlanta, New Orleans and Washington.
  • a sub-par +2 in turnover differential.
  • 1st the NFL in time of possession (32:39).
  • the 10th least penalized team in terms of yards (down from 6th a few weeks ago).
  • 3rd in the NFL in points per game (27.8). Falcons still lead NFL with 32.2 point per game.
  • 2nd the NFL in rushing yards per game (155.8), Buffalo averages 161.9.
  • 2nd in rushing TD’s (20), Buffalo has 23. The 3rd place team has just 14.
  • only Buffalo (18) has more runs of 20+ yards than the Cowboys 13.
  • 2nd in the NFL in point differential with +105 behind the Patriots (+112). The 3rd place team is Seattle (+70).  The Falcons, with all of their scoring, have a point differential of 55.

The Raw Data (Shotgun vs. under center)

Where my stats are different from the official ones, it’s because I included plays that were nullified by penalty. Similarly, if a play was a designed pass, but Dak took off after being under pressure, I included that as an attempt to pass, not a rush. The idea here is to try understand Scott Linehan’s play-calling.

Given the frequency that Dallas runs when Dak is under center and throw when he is in the shotgun, offensive balance starts with limiting to the use of the shotgun to around 50%.

In the beginning of the season, the Cowboys were using the shotgun more often than Dak was lining up under center. Then there were a few weeks when Scott Linehan used the shotgun about 50% of the time. Even against the Ravens when they were trailing and had to punt on their first 4 possessions, Linehan maintained close to a 50% balance.

Against the Redskins two weeks ago, Linehan went heavy with the shotgun (34 times versus 22 under center).

Against the Vikings, despite being a tight game, Scott Linehan was able to continue a good balance between the run and pass.

The Cowboys ran 51 plays against the Vikings. The previous low for the season was the 56 offensive snaps against the Redskins.

Dak Prescott lined up under center 31 times and in the shotgun 20 times.

Of the 31 times that Dak was under center, they ran it 23 times, attempted 7 playaction passes, and threw the ball once.

That one throw (no real drop-back, just a quick throw to the outside immediately following the snap) is something the Cowboys rarely do. They have never asked Dak to attempt a tradition 3-5 or 7 step drop from directly under center and throw the ball. Linehan has only called this kind of passing play 5 times so far this season on 1st down (11 times in total), and I am pretty sure this is the 1st time they have tried it to D. Bryant. Defenses expect a run or play-action when Dak is under center – Linehan broke that tendency and it resulted in a very significant touchdown.

Of the 20 times Dak was in the shotgun, they passed the ball 18 times, ran it 2 times, and did not try any play-action passes. This is the first time in several weeks that the Cowboys have not used the play-action at least a few times from the shotgun.

Coming into the game against the Vikings, the Cowboys had run the ball on more than 80% of the plays that Dak lined up under center. In Minnesota, the Cowboys only ran the ball on 58% of the plays that Dak was under center (7 play-action attempts on 31 snaps). More on the play-action aspect of Prescott’s game in an upcoming post.

Remember in September when people were convinced that Dak’s inability to drop-back from under center would be an indomitable obstacle to success? Scott Linehan deserves some credit for creating game-plans that can be successful despite such a fundamental limitation. The players also deserve a ton of credit for being able to execute well enough that the rather glaring limitation has never seemed to affect their overall efficacy.

Conclusions

We will post the rest of this weekly series (1st downs, 3rd & short, play-action, and Dak under pressure) in due course.

______________________

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 New York Giants.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.