Dak Prescott: Adroit Play-Action and Beating the Blitz (vs WAS)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 19 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 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.

The analysis of the Washington Redskins game began earlier this week in a post about how Scott Linehan has Dak Prescott playing like an MVP (click here to read).

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 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.

Conclusions

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.

Success on 1st Down Helps Dak Prescott’s MVP Effort (vs WAS)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 18 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

After being forced to punt the ball on their first 4 possessions against the Ravens, the Cowboys scored a TD on their first possession against the Washington Redskins. It was at least the 3rd time this season that the Cowboys have scored a TD on their opening drive without facing a 3rd down. The Cowboys have scored points on 7 of their 11 opening drives this season.

Scott Linehan did not use either of the two new “wrinkles” he utilized against the Ravens. He did, however, add 2 new permutations to the Cowboys offensive arsenal.  For the first time this season, we saw multiple called runs by Dak Prescott after faking a hand-off to E. Elliott (more on these plays in the “Play-action” post that will follow).

Adding further complexity to the new wrinkle of having Dak run after using a play-action fake, there was one play where they lined Elliott up as a WR, let the defense settle in before Elliott went in motion to the backfield, then Dak pretended to hand it to him before setting off on a 18 yard scamper that set up the TD pass to Williams.

Prescott’s offense had racked up over 400 yards in 8 consecutive games, but they failed to reach that benchmark against the Redskins, so they will have to be content with tying the NFL record for most consecutive games with 400+ yards of offense.

Dak continued he streak of games with a QB rating of over 100. There have been only two games all year in which his QB rating was under 100 (Week 1 vs NYG, and Week 8 vs PHI). Against the Redskins, Dak was a respectable  17 of 24 for 195 yards (70.8%) , 1 sack, 1 TD, no picks, and 1 rushing TD.

For the season, Dak has completed 67.9 of his passes (231 of 340) for 2835 yards. Only Drew Brees and the guy wearing Uggs in NE have completed a higher percentage of their pass attempts.

It is difficult to overstate how incredibly well Dak Prescott is playing. He has thrown 18 TD’s, run for 5 TD’s, thrown just 2 INT’s, lost 3 fumbles, and been sacked just 15 times (only Derek Carr has started all 10 games and been sacked fewer times with 11).

The signature moments of the Cowboys 2016 season will certainly include converting a 1st & 30 on their way to a 70-yard TD drive.

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.

Over the last few weeks, Scott Linehan has used the shotgun about 50% of the time. The Cowboys were not as balanced this week.

The Cowboys ran a season-low 56 offensive plays against the Redskins. Dak Prescott lined up under center 22 times and in the shotgun 34 times. This is the first time since the Eagles game the Cowboys have had significantly more snaps in the shotgun than from under center.

Of the 22 times that Dak was under center, they ran it 17 times, attempted 5 playaction passes. After seeing Dak drop-back from under center twice against the Ravens, this week was back to normal. Dak did not attempts any passes after dropping back straight from under center.

Of the 34 times Dak was in the shotgun, they passed the ball 23 times, ran it 4 times, and tried 7 playaction plays (4 passes, 3 runs).

The similarity to the previous week is unmistakable: the Cowboys run around 80% of the plays that Dak lines up under center, and they throw close to 85% of the time when he is in the shotgun. Given this reality, Scott Linehan doesn’t have many ways of disguising his intentions. In the past he has relied on play-action when Dak is under center running occasionally from the shotgun to keep defenses honest. This week,

1st Downs

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.

The Cowboys continue to average more than four yards a rush on 1st down. Against the Redskins, Dallas had 5 runs of over 10 yards on 1st down.

This is the genius of Jason Garrett football: all year-long the Cowboys have lined Dak up under center and run the ball on 1st down.

Coming in to the Washington game, the Cowboys had run 302 plays on 1st down. Dak was under center 217 times and in the shotgun 85 plays.

Of the 217 times Dak lined up under center on 1st down, they ran the ball 177 times (81.5%), threw it 4 times, and tried play-action passes 36 times (16.5%).

Of the 85 times Dak was in the shotgun on first down, they passed the ball 73 times (85.8%), ran the ball 6 times, and tried 6 play-action passes.

Adding both formations together (302 plays), the Cowboys ran the ball 183 times on 1st down (60.5%), threw the ball 77 times (25.4%), and tried 42 playaction passes (13.9%).

Against the Washington Redskins, the Dallas Cowboys ran 28 plays on 1st down.

Dak was under center for 18 of the 28 plays on 1st down: 14 runs and 4 play-action passes.

Dak was in the shotgun for 10 plays on 1st down: 1 run, 5 passes, 1 play-action pass, and 3 designed runs off of play-action.

Every defensive coordinator in the NFL knows that the Cowboys run the ball or use play-action on 1st down when Dak is lined up under center. Everybody knows this, yet the Cowboys keep doing it successfully week after week.

Each week, this offense keeps establishing the identity of the 2016 Dallas Cowboys. They punish defenses by methodically and relentlessly running at them with power. They also demoralize defenses by breaking off long runs, sometimes even when there are 8 or 9 men in the box. The Cowboys had 3 runs longer than 15 yards on 1st down against the Redskins.

3rd and Short

The Dallas Cowboys were an impressive 4 for 8 in converting 3rd downs against the Redskins., but for the first time this year, they did not face a single 3rd or 4th and short.

Conclusions

I had to change the order of the different categories I analyze each week. Many of the stats I look at are based on comparisons with other players and teams, so that must wait until at least Monday.

We will post the rest of this weekly series 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 Minnesota Vikings.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.

Dak Prescott Beats the Blitz for 2nd Week in a Row (vs BAL)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 17 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 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.

The analysis of the Baltimore Ravens game began earlier this week in a post about how Scott Linehan has Dak Prescott playing like an MVP (click here to read).

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.

The Cowboys ran 9 play-action passes against the Ravens. The most play-action attempts in one game was in Washington (12) and the fewest was in Green Bay (6).

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 and Dak Prescott continue to use the play-action to move the chains and get big gains of 25-40 yards.

Against the Ravens, 8 of the 9 play-action attempts were from under center.

Against the Steelers, 2 of the 8 play-action attempts were from the shotgun; against the Browns only one of the play-action passes came from the shotgun; in Green Bay, all 6 of the play-action passes were attempted after Dak lined up under center; against Philly, they tried the play-action from the shotgun 4 times.

Scott Linehan called play-action passes 5 times on 1st & 10, once on 1st & 20, and 3 times on 2nd & long.

After seeing them use play-action on 3rd and short and 4th & 1 in previous weeks, the Cowboys have not used play-action on 3rd or 4th & short in the last two games (they faced 3rd & short 8 times in Pittsburgh and it was a bit surprising that the Cowboys didn’t try to use play-action in any of them).

Dak Prescott completed 4 of the 6 play-action passes that were attempted on 1st down, but one of the incompletes resulted in a 33 yard PI penalty (14 to Beasley, incomplete, 3 to Whitehead, penalty for 33, Elliot for 8, and Witten for 6).

Prescott completed 2 of the 3 play-action passes that were attempted on 2nd and long (incomplete, Elliot for 5, Williams for 11).

On play-action attempts, Dak was 6-of-9 for 80 yards if you include the 33 from the penalty, a TD, and a lost fumble.

On the season, Dak Prescott has 59 completions on 80 play-action attempts (73.7 completion rate) for 850 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.

61 of the 80 play-action attempts (76.2%) have come when Dak is under center (19 from shotgun).

Dak Under Pressure

According to PFF, when Dak had a clean pocket against the Ravens, his QB rating was 130.0. He had an overall passer rating of 127.2.  Only Tom Brady and Matt Ryan have a higher passer rating from a clean pocket in 2016.

However, 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), so PFF gives a lot of credit to the OL for Prescott’s success.

Although Dak struggles when opposing defenses actually get pressure, he has repeatedly beat the blitz against both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

The Ravens blitzed Dak on 18 of his 39 drop-backs. On those 18 plays, he was 11 of 16 for 159 yards with two TD’s.

The Steelers blitzed Dak on 22 of his 34 drop-backs; he was 15 of 20 for 255 yards, 2 TDs, 2 sacks, 1 (lost) fumble.

The Ravens managed to get pressure on Dak on 13 of his 39 drop-backs (33.3%). When he was under pressure, Dak was 5-10 for 66 yards, 1 TD, 1 sack. His PFF grade actually went down to 104.6 when under pressure (from 130.0).

The Steelers managed to get pressure on Dak on 11 of his 34 drop-backs (32.3%). When he was under pressure, Dak was 6-9 for 96 yards, 1 TD, 2 sacks. His PFF grade actually went up to 139.1 when under pressure (from 114.9).

If Dak Prescott can continue to beat blitzes and be moderately 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.

Dak was sacked only once by the Ravens for 2 yards. Like the majority of Prescott’s sacks, this one came on 3rd and long when he was in the shotgun.

Dak has only been sacked 14 times this year. Only Derek Carr has started all 10 games and been sacked fewer times (11). Dak’s 14 sacks seems even more impressive if you consider he has faced 5 of the NFL’s top 12 teams for total sacks (Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, and  Green Bay).

Miscellaneous

D. Bryant led all receivers with 6 catches for 80 yards and two TD’s. Dez has been the leading receiver in 4 of the 7 games he has played in, but C. Beasley continues to lead the Cowboys in receptions (53) and yards (591) and TD’s (tied with Dez with 5).  PFF graded Cole Beasley as the best slot WR in the NFL in Week 11. He caught all 5 passes thrown to him for 59 yards and a TD. Jason Witten is 2nd in all receiving categories (49 catches, 520 yards, 2 TD’s).

The Cowboys had a season-high three “3-and-out” series on offense against the Steelers, the Cowboys had just 2 three-and-out series against the Ravens.

Dallas punted the ball 5 times against Baltimore (most this season).

So far this season, the Cowboys have attempted 318 passes (215 completions) for 2564 yards, and they have run the ball 333 times for 1567 yards.

I’ve always been a huge J.J. Wilcox fan. Last week, I predicted Wilcox would come up with an INT or force a fumble; I am gonna double-down on that one this week.

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 Washington Redskins.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.

Scott Linehan has Dak Prescott Playing Like an MVP (vs BAL)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 16 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 Baltimore Ravens forced the Dallas Cowboys to punt the ball more times (4) in the first quarter and a half than the Cowboys have all year. Despite that inauspicious beginning, Dak Prescott rallied the Cowboys offense to score points on their next 5 possessions.

Scott Linehan unveiled at least two new “wrinkles”. First, Dak attempted two quick passes on something that could be described as a “drop-back from under center”.  Second, Linehan had Dak line up in the shotgun until the defense was set, and then moved Dak under center to execute a running play. If it had happened once or twice, one might conclude that it was a pre-snap read and then audible by Prescott, but the fact that they did it four times suggests that it was a tactic implemented by Scott Linehan, especially when you consider that Dak didn’t do that in the first 9 games.

Prescott’s offense has racked up over 400 yards in 8 consecutive games; that is a franchise record. If the Cowboys can gain over 400 yards this Thanksgiving against the Redskins, they will own the NFL record for most consecutive games with 400+ yards of offense.

For the season, Dak has completed 67.7 of his passes (214 of 316) for 2640 yards. Only Drew Brees and Tom Brady have completed a higher percentage of their pass attempts.

After surpassing Brees this week, Prescott has the 3rd highest QB rating at NFL.com (108.6) for a starting QB (after Brady and Ryan). According to ESPN’s Total QBR, Dak (84.5) is 2nd in the NFL only to Brady (85.9). PFF grades Dak at 81.4 (13th in the NFL).

One of the common criticisms of Dak is that he can not throw the long ball accurately. According to ProFootballReference, Dak has the highest QB rating in the NFL on passes that travel more than 15 yards in the air. Dak Prescott is arguably the best passer in the NFL on passes over 15 yards, and it is not because he has a low number of attempts. Dak has thrown 50 passes over 15 yards, Russell Wilson has thrown 56, Matt Ryan 70, Kirk Cousins 65, Derek Carr 53.

Another criticism of Dak Prescott is that he is a bus-driver who runs a conservative aerial attack. But, he is 3rd in the NFL in yards per attempt (8.2). On the season, he has completed 57.3% of his passes over 10 yards. For perspective, consider that Cam Newton has completed 56.5% of all of his passes.

It is difficult to overstate how incredibly well Dak Prescott is playing. He has thrown 17 TD’s, run for 4 TD’s, thrown just 2 INT’s, and been sacked just 14 times (only Derek Carr has started all 10 games and been sacked fewer times with 11). It is even more difficult to grudgingly admit that it is nearly impossible to imagine that Tony Romo could play any better.

The signature moments of the Cowboys 2016 season will certainly include converting a 1st & 30 on their way to a 70-yard TD drive.

After 10 games, the Dallas Cowboys are:

  • tied with the Patriots for 2nd best 3rd down conversions rate in the NFL (48%). Saints convert 50%,
  • 4th (413.1 yards per game) in total offense after Atlanta, New Orleans and Washington .
  • a decent +3 in turnover differential.
  • 1st the NFL in time of possession (33:51), with the next closest team being a full minute per game less.
  • the 11th least penalized team in terms of yards (down from 6th two week ago).
  • 3rd in the NFL in points per game (28.5). Falcons still lead NFL with 32; Chargers are 2nd with 29.2.
  • 2nd the NFL in rushing yards per game (156.7), Buffalo averages 157.8.
  • 2nd in rushing TD’s (16), Buffalo has 17.
  • only Buffalo (15) and Oakland (11) have more runs of 20+ yards than the Cowboys 10.
  • 1st in the NFL in point differential with +98. The Patriots are second with 91, then it drops to Philly (55) and Denver (50). The Falcons, with all of their scoring, have a point differential of 38.

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.

Over the last few weeks, Scott Linehan has used the shotgun about 50% of the time. That balance continued against the Ravens despite trailing and being forced to put on their first 4 possessions.

The Cowboys ran 71 plays against the Ravens. Dak Prescott lined up under center 37 times and in the shotgun 34 times.

Of the 37 times that Dak was under center, they ran it 27 times, attempted 8 playaction passes, and threw the ball twice. These 2 throws break the trend of Linehan never asking Prescott to take a snap from under center and then drop back and pass. Linehan continues to find new ways to try to balance out the fact that they run so frequently when Dak is under center and so rarely when he is in the shotgun.

Of the 34 times Dak was in the shotgun, they passed the ball 30 times, ran it 3 times, and tried 1 playaction pass.

The similarity to the previous week is unmistakable: the Cowboys run more than 80% of the plays that Dak lines up under center, and they throw more than 85% of the time when he is in the shotgun. Given this reality, Scott Linehan doesn’t have many ways of disguising his intentions. In the past he has relied on play-action when Dak is under center running occasionally from the shotgun to keep defenses honest. This week, Linehan mixed it up by having Dak pass twice from under center and by having him pretend that he was going to use the shotgun and then moving to under center at the last moment.

Conclusions

It doesn’t look like we will have time for all three parts of this weekly column, but we will try to post the stats for the Cowboys play-action and the assessment of “Dak under pressure”before the Redskins 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 Washington Redskins.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.

Dak Prescott: Play-Action & Success Under Pressure (vs PIT)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 15 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 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.

The analysis of the Pittsburgh Steeler game began earlier this week in a post about Scott Linehan’s impressive ability to maintain offensive balance (click here to read) and then a post about the Cowboys building an identity around running the ball on 1st down and short yardage situations.

Play-action

After running the ball effectively, 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.

For a few weeks, it seemed like defenses were anticipating the play-action bootleg from Dak. The amount of pressure that Dak has faced on bootlegs, and the play-action in general, has been drastically reduced in every game since Green Bay.

The Cowboys ran 8 play-action passes against the Steelers. The most play-action attempts in one game was in Washington (12), and the fewest was in Green Bay (6).

Linehan continues to run the play-action mostly when Dak is under center (only twice 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).

Despite being open to accusations of being predictable, Scott Linehan continues to get big gains 25-40 yards and TD’s using the play-action.

Against the Steelers, 6 of the play-action attempts were from under center, while 2 were from the shotgun. (Against the Browns, only one of the play-action passes came from the shotgun; in Green Bay, all 6 of the play-action passes were attempted after Dak lined up under center; against Philly, they tried the play-action from the shotgun 4 times.)

Scott Linehan called play-action passes 5 times on 1st & 10 and 3 times on 2nd & long. After seeing them use play-action on 3rd and short and 4th & 1 in previous weeks, it was a bit surprising that the Cowboys didn’t try to use play-action in any of the 8 times they faced 3rd & short.

Dak Prescott completed 3 of the 5 play-action passes that were attempted on 1st down (fumble, Bryant for 12, Beasley for 8, incomplete, Witten for 13).

On 2nd and long, Prescott completed all 3 of his play-action attempts (Elliott for 83 yard TD, Bryant for 15 on 2nd & 8, and Elliott for 12 on 2nd & 8).

For an in-depth breakdown of that 83 yard TD, please read this post.

The Cowboys are getting big plays off play-action, but it is short throws followed by long runs rather than Prescott throwing deep passes. Credit the Cowboys coaches for designing so many plays that involve downfield blocking and the Cowboys players for being able to execute a blocking scheme as a complete unit.

On the play-action attempts, Dak was 6-of-8 for 143 yards, a TD, and a lost fumble.

On the season, Dak Prescott has 53 completions on 71 play-action attempts (74.6 completion rate) for 770 yards, 3 TD’s, at least one fumble (maybe 2), zero interceptions. Dak has 2339 passing yards, so more than 30% of his yards have come off of play-action.

55 of the 71 play-action attempts have come when Dak is under center (16 from shotgun).

Dak Under Pressure

Dak Prescott performance when he is blitzed and/or under pressure has fluctuated up and down all year-long. In the first couple games, it seemed like getting pressure on Dak could neutralize him, then he had a game or two when he beat blitzes and made big plays when under pressure. Then both the Eagles and Packers seemed to “contain” Dak by blitzing him frequently.

The Steelers unleashed a barrage of blitzes that the 2016 Cowboys have not faced in frequency or variety. The Steelers blitzed Dak on 22 of his 34 drop-backs. That 22 blitzes does not include any of the numerous run-blitzes the Steelers used. The Steelers, for all their blitzing, managed  2 sacks (one caused a turnover) and 11 “pressures”.

PFF graded him at 72.9 with no blitz (7 of 12 for 64 yards), but 150.0 when blitzed (15 of 20 for 255 yards, 2 TDs, 2 sacks).

According to PFF, when Dak had a clean pocket, his QB rating was 114.9 (16 for 23, 223 yards and 1 TD).

The Steelers managed to get pressure on Dak on 11 of his 34 drop-backs. When he was under pressure, Dak was 6-9 for 96 yards, 1 TD, 2 sacks. His PFF grade actually went up to 139.1 when under pressure (from 114.9).

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

Dak was sacked twice by the Packers. The sack that caused the fumble was a play-action attempt from the shotgun on 1st & 10. The other sack, that resulted in a FG, came on 3rd down when the Cowboys were trying to pass out of the shotgun. This is the 3rd or 4th game in a row when the opponent has sacked Dak on 3rd down when trying to pass out of the shotgun.

Miscellaneous

For the first time in 4-5 weeks, the Cowboys did not give L. Whitehead his customary one rush per game, but they did throw him the ball once for a five yard gain. As suggested above, Whitehead’s stats do not reveal how important he is to the short-yardage game: the threat of him taking the ball on the jet-sweep on 3rd and short is a significant part of Linehan’s success on 3rd and 4th down.

D. Bryant led all receivers with 6 catches for 116 yards. 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 has been the leading receiver in 3 of the 6 games he played in, but C. Beasley continues to lead the Cowboys in receptions (48) and yards (532) and TD’s (4). Jason Witten is 2nd in all receiving categories (44 catches, 483 yards, 2 TD’s)

The Cowboys had a season-high three “3-and-out” series on offense (including the 3rd down fumble).

Dallas punted the ball just 3 times against the Steelers.

Big Ben was an eye-popping 37 of 46 (over 80% completion) for 408 yards, 3 TD’s, no INT’s, and the Steelers still lost. If there is anything positive from a defensive standpoint, it was holding L. Bell to 57 yards on 17 carries (just 3.2 yards a carry) and preventing him from breaking off any runs longer than 16 yards.

So far this season, the Cowboys have attempted 282 passes (188 completions) for 2265 yards, and they have run the ball 303 times for 1449 yards.

I’ve always been a huge J.J. Wilcox fan. Last week, I predicted he would make a statement with a big hit on Bell or Brown – he didn’t disappoint. This week, I am looking for Wilcox to come up with an INT or force a fumble (the latter seems more likely).

_________________

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 Baltimore Ravens.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.

Running on 1st Down/Short Yardage Gives Cowboys Identity (vs PIT)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 14 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 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.

The analysis of the Pittsburgh Steeler game began earlier this week in a post about Scott Linehan’s impressive ability to maintain offensive balance (click here to read).

Opening Drives

It has been interesting to watch the changes in how Scott Linehan calls his plays on the first couple drives. For a few weeks, we saw the Cowboys line up and run the ball almost 80% of the time on their early drives. Against the Eagles, we saw Linehan do the opposite by calling predominantly passing plays early in the game.  After mixing it up against Philly, Linehan went back to classic Jason Garrett football (i.e. score using a balanced offense, and then run the ball to maintain the lead) against the Browns.

In the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cowboys ran the ball 6 times (2 from shotgun), passed it 5 times (all from shotgun), and tried 3 play-action passes (1 of the 3 from the shotgun).

In the 2nd quarter, they ran the ball 5 times ( all with Dak under center), passed it 6 times (all from the shotgun), and tried 2 play-action passes (both with Dak under center).

In the 1st half, the Dak was under center 14 times: they ran 10 times and tried 4 play-action passes.

He was in the shotgun 14 times: they ran twice, passed 11 times, and tried 1 play-action pass.

Throughout the entire game, the Cowboys ran it 29 times and tried to pass 34 times.

This is not just an impressive balance, it also “mixes it up” as much as Scott Linehan can “mix it up” when he has a QB that he will not ask to drop back and pass from under center.

1st Downs

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. The devotion to this type of football, coupled with the skillful execution of the philosophy, suggests that Jason Garrett learned a lot from Jimmy Johnson when it comes to building a championship football team.

The Cowboys continue to average more than four yards a rush on 1st down.

This is the genius of Jason Garrett football: all year-long the Cowboys have lined Dak up under center and run the ball on 1st down.

Against NYG: 31 plays on 1st down – 14 runs, 17 passes.

Against WASH: 31 plays on 1st down – 17 runs (3 from shotgun), 8 passes (7 from shotgun), 6 play-action attempts (all from under center).

Against CHI: 34 plays on 1st down, 25 runs, 4 passes (shotgun), 5 play-action attempts (1 from shotgun).

Against SF: 30 plays on 1st down – 25 tuns, 4 passes (shotgun), 5 playaction passes (1 from shotgun).

Against CIN: 25 plays on 1st down – 18 rushes (2 from shotgun), 2 passes from shotgun, 5 play-action passes.

Against GB: 29 1st down plays – 20 rushes, 9 passes (6 from shotgun, 3 play-action)

Against PHI: 28 1st down plays – 15 rushes, 11 passes (all from shotgun), 2 play-action pass attempts.

Against CLE: 30 plays on 1st down – 21 runs, 5 passes from shotgun, 4 play-action attempts from under center.

Against PIT: the Cowboys ran 27 plays on 1st down. Dak was under center 15 times: 10 rushes, 1 quick WR screen, and 4 play-action attempts.

Dak was in the shotgun for 12 plays on 1st down: 9 passes, 1 run, 2 play-action attempts.

In total, they rushed the ball 11 times on 1st down, passed it 10 times, and tried 6 play-action passes. (The high number of pass attempts on 1st down is mainly due to the 3 drives, including one at the end of the 1st half, that the Cowboys had little time left on the clock).

Every defensive coordinator in the NFL knows that the Cowboys run the ball or use play-action on 1st down when Dak is lined up under center. It is less than once a game that they do anything different when Dak is under center, and that is always a quick WR screen. Everybody knows this, yet the Cowboys keep doing it successfully week after week.

The identity of this football squad crystallizes a little more every game they win by running the football at defenses that know it is coming. The Cowboys rushing attack demoralizes its opponents. Is there anything worse in the football world than knowing that the offense is going to run the ball at you over and over, but you won’t be able to stop it?

3rd and Short

The Dallas Cowboys were an impressive 7 for 13 in converting 3rd downs against the Steelers.

Every week it seems like Linehan is calling more plays that send L. Whitehead through the backfield, like he might take the handoff on a jet-sweep. That pre-snap motion has become a staple for the Cowboys on 3rd and short; every week Linehan uses it successfully, and he seems to add in some new wrinkle that makes the package different from the week before.

The Cowboys faced 3rd and short (3 yards or less) 8 times against the Steelers. They converted 5 of their 8 attempts.

Of the 5 times they lined Dak up under center and tried running the ball, they were successful 4 times.

They were unsuccessful both times they tried to throw the ball from the shotgun on 3rd and short.

The one time they tried running the ball from the shotgun, they were successful.

Lesson: Run the ball on 3rd and short.

It was a bit surprising this week that Scott Linehan didn’t try to use play-action on any of the 3rd and short calls, even though the Cowboys had more (8) than in previous games. The Cowboys have used play-action fairly frequently in the past on 3rd & 1 and even 4th & 1.

Conclusions

Jason Garrett football is becoming old school power football. The Cowboys are forging an identity based on running the ball. Even the WR’s appear to take pride in their blocking. More and more the offense looks to be carrying itself with a swagger that says, “We can line up and run the ball at any defense effectively”. The two TD run by’s Ezekiel Elliott in the 4th quarter are a direct result of pounding the rock and wearing a defense down over 60 minutes.

The Cowboys have an incredibly talented offensive line that deserves a ton of the credit for their being the best rushing team in the NFL. But Ezekiel Elliott also deserves a big part of the credit as well. The fact that he wasn’t touched by a defender for the first 3.5 yards on each carry against the Steelers was widely reported. The fact that he came in to the Pittsburgh game leading the NFL in yards after contact (396) was not as eagerly disseminated.

People underestimate the RB’s role in not getting touched by a defender for the first couple yards of every run: it takes vision, patience, the ability to cut-back, burst, agility and speed. Ezekiel Elliott has all of those things, and that is part of the reason, along with excellent blocking, he has been so successful at evading contact with defenders.

We will post the conclusion (“Dak under pressure”and play-action stats) of this article 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 Baltimore Ravens.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.