Dallas Cowboys: Why the Offense Works

Nov 20, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates his third quarter touchdown with runnign back Ezekiel Elliott (21) against the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 20, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates his third quarter touchdown with runnign back Ezekiel Elliott (21) against the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, and why it works is quite simple.

Before explaining why the Cowboys’ offense works so well, know we are not getting technical here. Instead of describing how a guard takes a reach step or explaining what a “Gun double right close halfback right 200 scat triple slant thunder on one” is (yes this is a real play call), this article will break down why the Dallas Cowboys offense is so lethal in layman’s terms. Hopefully, it will explain why teams are having such a problem with them this season.

First, credit is due to the offensive line. Its ability to keep a pocket formed, open running lanes, and pick up pass rushers are why they are the best. The offensive line is WHY the Cowboys offense works so smoothly. Add in the ability of Jason Witten, Ezekiel Elliott, and Gavin Escobar‘s ability to block as well and the offensive blocking is second to none in the league.

Defenses have to take into account the talent the Dallas Cowboys have. Ezekiel Elliot, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, Dak Prescott (or even Tony Romo), Alfred Morris, even Lance Dunbar are a nightmare to plan for. The Cowboys ask teams to pick their poison, and then the Cowboys adjust for whatever a team is doing. A lot of that is on talent, a lot of that is on scheme.

When a defense decides to focus on the run, it forces teams to bring extra players inside and down to the line. Elliott and Morris are good enough to still pick up small chunks of yards, which forces teams to “creep” down to the line to shorten the gains. This opens up one on one on either Dez, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten, and/or Cole Beasley. This is why you see a lot of mid-range slant routes, seam routes, and crossing routes.

Watch the first few plays of the video below to see an example of what I am explaining. You will see the safeties creeping down toward the line to stop the run. Even when Prescott audibles or moves a man in motion, you will see the defense switch. This also tells Prescott if they are in man or zone coverage. When the Cowboys have an empty backfield, they spread their weapons across, forcing the defense to take away either underneath or over the top. All of this sets up Bryant’s second touchdown.

Where this helps the running game is defenses now have to try to disguise helping the run. This is executed in a few ways.

If you watch just about any game this season, you will see a lot of defensive players running backward from the line. What they are showing is either a pass-rush or run-stopping formation. Once the Cowboys have seen this enough, or teams start getting beat with receptions over the top or across the middle, they start to “cheat” or freeze.

Watch the video below for a visual. The linebacker is forced to cover Witten in the flat (top of the video), and the corners have to cover the receivers as they were getting beat with comebacks and out routes all game. This is a counter run play. The offensive line blocks to their left, Escobar seals the outside guy, and the receivers clear out the secondary but running out routes (cutting toward the sideline). Elliott runs to the right of the line, and the linebackers were forced to freeze due to not wanting to get beat across the middle again. This gives Zeke just enough time to hit the hole and get past them before they can correct.

Defenses are forced to pick: get beat by the pass underneath or on comeback routes or get beat in the run game. The talent Dallas has, allows the offense to make teams pay for their choice. The nightmare of the Cowboys offense is the simplicity and the inability to stop it.

Regarding match-ups, the Cowboys must keep defensive coordinators up at night. Dez Bryant is a monster. Everyone knows that the back shoulder fade is coming in the end zone, and no one can stop it. He uses every inch of his body and size to shield the defender and catch a touchdown. He has the size, speed, route running skills, and hands, that make him a threat on every play.

Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar, Brice Butler, and Lucky Whitehead are mismatches for almost everyone. Beasley, Whitehead, and Dunbar are too fast for most linebackers, too quick for safeties, and too crisp of route runners for third and fourth cornerbacks. Butler has the size and strength to match up on smaller cornerbacks if the Cowboys want to use him on the sidelines (which they usually do).

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Jason Witten is, well Jason Witten. He isn’t the fastest player, but he might be the smartest. Witten has seen it all and knows just about every hole in a defense and how to find them. It doesn’t matter if you are faster, stronger, or bigger, Witten is simply smarter. Of course, this opens up possibilities for Escobar, as no one keys on him.

Ezekiel Elliott is deceptively fast, powerful, and has incredible patience and vision.

He can hit a hole, break a tackle, and then outrun almost everyone. It makes him a threat every play to break a long run. Alfred Morris sees holes develop and hits them quickly. He may not break a 60-yard run, but he will almost always get you at least four yards.

The big question is, what about Terrance Williams?

Williams is used a little more this season as a decoy deep or on comeback routes to get him into space. Williams has the speed to break a long reception, but his route running is mediocre. Instead, the Dallas Cowboys adjusted for this by allowing him to catch and run instead of trying to beat a cornerback deep. It has worked well this season, and for this offense.

The Cowboys offense works well when all of the pieces are clicking. However, there is a reason they have started slowly in games. Since Dak Prescott is a rookie, they are allowing teams to show their hand and then adjusting to let Prescott and the offense beat teams. As soon as the Cowboys see the game plan from a team they adjust and keep rolling. They are daring teams to readjust; The Cowboys will just use the other poison.

Next: Cowboys Top Baltimore with Workmanlike Effort

The Dallas Cowboys are fun to watch and will continue to be so. When you have the offensive line, the Cowboys have it allows this offense to work the way it does. It doesn’t matter if Dak or Tony Romo are behind center. As long as teams have to account for Elliot and Bryant, the Cowboys have the upper hand.