Examining Linehan’s Use of Shotgun and 1st Down Calls vs GB

This entry is part 8 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.

General Observations and Stats

Remember a few seasons ago when Cowboys fans were lambasting Jason Garrett for being “pass-happy”? Many people did not see it at the time, but Garrett began trying to build his version of the 1990’s Cowboys in his first draft when they selected T. Smith and D. Murray.

This is just Garrett’s 6th season as Head Coach. An evaluation of his 5-year plan has to produce an above average grade: he has built an offense, even without Dak Prescott, around an offensive line that is arguably better than the Great Wall of the 90s and an elite RB. Hence, Garrett’s offense should be able to score points and control a football game even with a bus-driver at QB. Evaluating Garrett’s tenure with the Cowboys will likely come down to what he does with the defense in the next couple years.

After 6 weeks, just over a third of a season, the Dallas Cowboys are now 2nd in the NFL in 3rd down conversions (47%); they are 3rd in total offense after Atlanta and New Orleans; they are 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards (967) and rushing yards per game (161); they are tied for the lead in time of possession (33:09); and they have dropped from 5th to 9th in the amount of penalty yards given up.

Despite not scoring a rushing TD against Green Bay, the Cowboy still lead the NFL with 11 rushing TD’s. They have 8 rushes over 20 yards, only Buffalo’s 11 is better.

The Cowboys are 6th in the NFL in total scoring; they are averaging 26.5 points a game.

For the season, Dak has completed 68.7 of his passes; only 4 QB’s have completed more than 70%. His QB rating at NFL.com is 103.9, which is 7th in the NFL. PFF grades him at 83.8 (9th in NFL).

Dak has been criticized for not throwing more deep balls. This week he was 2 of 3 on passes over 20 yards, and the incompletion was a drop by Butler.

Prescott had success throwing outside the numbers on the right side of the field. He was 9 for 9 on those throws for 134 yards (including 2 deep passes over 20 yards). All three of his touchdowns were outside the right numbers.

Dak broke a fairly significant NFL record that was set by the guy wearing uggs (176 pass attempts without an interception to start a career). Absolutely delightful!

The Raw Data (Shotgun vs. under center)

Where my stats are different than 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.

The Cowboys, unofficially, ran 64 plays on offense. Dak was under center 37 times and in the shotgun 27 times.

Of the 37 snaps Dak took under center, they ran the ball 29 times, tried 6 play-action passes, and threw the ball twice. In past weeks, Dak was never asked to drop straight back from under center and then pass the ball. Against GB, both times he threw the ball from under center without using playaction were quick screens to Beasley.

Of the 27 plays Linehan used the shotgun, 21 of them were pass attempts, 1 was a play-action pass, and 5 were rushes. This is an improvement from last week when they passed 24 times out of the shotgun and only ran once.

Opening Drives

Linehan’s calls in the 1st quarter were noticeably different than the opening quarters against the Bengals and 49ers. Against the Bengals, the Cowboys ran the ball with Dak under center 10 times in the 1st Q. Against SF, they ran it 7 times. In Green Bay, they only ran the ball after Dak lined up under center 4 times in the 1st Q. After only running once from the shotgun in the entire game against Cinci, they tried it twice against GB in the 1st quarter.

For the 2nd week in a row, the Cowboys scored a TD on their opening possession without even facing a 3rd down on the drive.

4th Q

In the 4th quarter, Linehan put Dak under center 17 times (14 runs, 1 wr screen, 2 play-action passes). Dak was in the shotgun twice and they passed both times.

1st down

The Cowboys ran 29 plays on 1st down. Linehan had Prescott under center for 22 of the first down plays (19 runs and 3 play-action passes).

Dak Prescott was in the shotgun for 7 plays on 1st down (6 passes and 1 rush). All 7 of the shotgun 1st downs came in the first half.

In the 2nd half, Dak was under center for every first down snap (10 runs, 1 play-action pass).


I will post the play-action stats and “Dak Under Pressure” stats later today or tomorrow.

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.