Before the season began, I posed a bunch of questions about how Dak Prescott would play and how Scott Linehan and Garrett would adjust the offense to compensate for the loss of Romo (click here to read to read that post). Each week, I continue trying to answer those questions.
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 move the chains and get big gains of 25-40 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 over 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 9 play-action plays against the Redskins. They were “play-action plays”, not play-action passes. One of the new wrinkles this week from Scott Linehan was having Dak take off on a planned run after faking the ball to Elliott. Given that these plays run off the same play-action, I have included them in the play-action plays for this week.
Linehan continues to run the play-action mostly when Dak is under center (only once from shotgun this week), and he uses it 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).
Scott Linehan called play-action plays 6 times on 1st & 10, once on 1st & goal, and once on 2nd & long.
The 1st four times the Cowboys used play-action were on 1st & 10 when Dak was under center (Beasley for 13, Dez for 9, Witten for 4, incomplete to Beasley). Then, on 1st & 10, with just 2 minutes remaining, with Dak in the shotgun, Linehan called a design run – Dak broke a tackle and then stiff-armed a tackler on his 18 yard scamper to get them inside the 10.
After calling no play-action in the 3rd, Linehan used it 4 times in the 4th quarter. He tried another QB keeper run on 1st & 10 the shotgun (3 yards), a QB bootleg from under center (6 yard TD) on 1st & goal, a bootleg throw on first and 10 (incomplete to Dez) and then the all important play-action pass to Beasley on 2 & 8 to seal the victory.
Dak Prescott completed 4 of the 6 play-action passes for 35 yards, but the three play-action runs netted 27 yards and a TD.
On the season, Dak Prescott has 63 completions on 86 play-action attempts (73.2 completion rate) for 885 yards, 3 TD’s, at least one fumble (maybe 2), zero interceptions. Dak has 2640 passing yards, so 32% of his total passing yards have come off of play-action.
65 of the 86 play-action attempts (75.5%) have come when Dak is under center (21 from shotgun).
Dak Under Pressure
According to PFF, when Dak had a clean pocket against the Washington Redskins, his QB rating was 88.8. He had an overall passer rating of 108.9.
Last week I noted that although Dak Prescott’s passer rating for the season drops by nearly 50 points when under pressure (the average drop for a QB is 30 points), he repeatedly beat the blitz against both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
The Redskins blitzed Dak on 8 of his 28 drop-backs, yet still managed to get pressure on him 9 nines.
On the 8 plays that Washington blitzed, Dak was 6 of 7 for 93 yards and a rating of 118.8.
When the Skins didn’t blitz, he was 11 of 17 for 102 yards, 1 TD, 1 sack and a rating of 100.6.
The Redskins got pressure on Dak on 9 of his 28 drop-backs (32.1%). On those 9 plays, he was 5 of 7 for 81 yards, 1 TD, 1 sack, and a rating of 149.4
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.
We will try to get the conclusion to this weekly series posted before the Vikings game.
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 Minnesota Vikings.