Cowboys vs. Eagles

Can this season be over already?

The Cowboys are 13-2 heading into Philadelphia and I have to admit, I’m ready for the regular season to end. I’ve been a Cowboys fan for thirty years and for some reason this season feels like it’s taken forever. I don’t know about you guys, but the season started for me at the draft and although the team has made the playoffs, as many of you know, this is when the real season begins. What kind of fan are you? I’m the fan that has the star on the back of his vehicle, a Cowboys flag flying in the office, shit, I’m the fan that purchased the lights that display the star when you open your car doors. (note to ed. not sure if i can say the sh*t word, so feel free to be creative with your edit). I’m the fan that places twenty-dollar bets every year that the Cowboys will win the Super Bowl, not necessarily believing it, but never backing down from a bet. Here we are, playing a meaningless game in Philadelphia and the members of the Cowboys Hater Group are still praying for our downfall.

I can’t step out of my office without someone saying “So what you made the playoffs, you know that they’re going to choke right!” or “The Giants gave the Cowboys the two L’s in Dallas”. Most of these characters yelling this rhetoric are Redskin fans who are still bitter about being swept. These are the same fans that were heckling me when Tony Romo was injured in the preseason and predicting another 4-12 season. These same fans were quiet as the Cowboys and their rookie Quarterback and Running Back ignited the entire NFL with their play and cool demeanor. For the people who are surprised by the Cowboys regular season play, I have three words for you: “I’m surprised too”.

If you’re a Cowboys fan and can say that you predicted this record or anything close to it feel free to send me a message. In this message, I will need you to show me  an email, Facebook post, text message with a date stamp, something that will prove the belief that you showed in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to transform this once 4-12 team to possible Super Bowl contenders. I’m not sure if I should call myself a writer at this point, or if i’m even worthy to hold a title, but I will tell you that I did minimal research on Prescott due to the fact that I never would have thought that we would be seeing him play. During the season, we have seen Prescott’s college coaches talk about his leadership qualities and his high football IQ, but all of that information is irrelevant because we’ve seen quarterbacks drafted in the first round win Super Bowls and we’ve seen a sixth round pick from Michigan win his way into the conversation of “Who is the greatest quarterback of all-time”. The reality is that as good as this season has been for Prescott, it could crash at any moment. If that does happen, it will not be because he’s a bad quarterback, but because the NFL talent is that good.

The Cowboys are built for traditional playoff football and it only helps that they will be at home for however long their run lasts. After watching the Cowboys dismantle the Lions on Monday night football, this team showed that they are versatile enough to take what defenses will give them. The Lions were not going to let Elliott beat them, so they dropped a safety into the box for the majority of the game. Prescott showed his maturity by spreading the ball to six different receivers. The Cowboys are a more dangerous offense when Terrance Williams and Brice Butler are involved because it makes defensive coordinators account for them in their coverage schemes. As Scott Linehan takes this offense into the playoffs, he should continue to diversify his calls because it seems that teams have caught up with the bootleg plays.

I’m not sure if I am correct in describing this game as the Super Bowl for the Eagles, but the Cowboys are hoping that they leave this game with everyone intact. It will be interesting to see how long the team allows Prescott to play. If I am Jason Garrett, there is no way that I allow him to play deep into the second quarter. With the injuries to the offensive line, I would strongly consider keeping Romo out of the game, no matter how much he is chomping at the bit. The Eagles will be looking to make a statement. In my opinion, that statement should be made against Mark Sanchez and Darren McFadden. Jason Garrett should allow Ezekiel Elliott 18-20 carries and if he doesn’t break Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record by then “So Mote It Be”. As exciting as it would be for Elliott to own the record, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. The Cowboys have taken Elliott out of a minimum of two games to save the wear and tear on his body, so why push it now?

I’m predicting that the Cowboys will lose this game as the Eagles come out attacking the Cowboys defense throwing for 300 yards against the secondary due to the defensive lines inability to create pressure due to injuries. Darren Sproles will have a big play in the punt return game and will catch a touchdown pass from Carson Wentz. I’m predicting that Tony Romo will play the third quarter, throwing a touchdown pass to Brice Butler and Darren McFadden will have ten carries for eighty yards.

Dallas Cowboys: 17 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 24

So Mote It Be

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.

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