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.
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.
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.
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.