Cowboys’ main problem: Offense is built for strong pass protection

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 12: Dak Prescott
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 12: Dak Prescott /

Replacing the left tackle isn’t as easy for the Cowboys as it is for other teams because this offense is designed for great pass protection.

The Dallas Cowboys suffered a humiliating defeat on Sunday when they lost to the Falcons in Atlanta. It was their worst loss since week two in Denver and knocked the Cowboys back out of the playoff picture (if the postseason were to begin today).

While some of the less knowledgeable folks in the national media will point to the loss of Ezekiel Elliott as the primary reason for the loss, anyone who paid attention saw it was the play at left tackle that doomed the Dallas Cowboys.

Sure, the loss of Zeke hurt. He’s arguably the best running back in the NFL, after all. But the falloff in talent wasn’t as severe between Zeke and Alfred Morris as it was between Tyron Smith and Chaz Green.

Let me explain:

Let’s say you rate Tyron Smith’s production at LT with a 99 rating.

Then you rate Chaz Green’s production filling in at LT with a 60 rating.

That gives you a 39 point difference in production.

Compare that to the running back situation:

Let’s say you give Zeke a 95 average production rating.

And you give Alfred Morris a rating of 75.

That’s a 20 point difference between the two, meaning the falloff in production was much more significant at the left tackle position than it was at running back.

When you factor in the impact* that position potentially makes on the team, you no doubt come to the same conclusion: the Cowboys lost because of Tyron Smith’s absence more than because of Ezekiel Elliott’s absence.

Why Jason Garrett didn’t develop a game plan to match his available talent on the field is completely beyond me.

*Impact of position — it’s important to always assess the impact a particular position makes on the field in order to add appropriate weight. To explain: a QB is going to have more impact than a WR. A DE is going to have more than a SAM. And a LT potentially has the same (or more) impact as a RB since it can lead to sacks and turnovers.

The Cowboys’ offense

The Dallas Cowboys run an ever-evolving brand of offense that was once loosely based on the infamous Air Coryell offense Jason Garrett studied under. The idea is on passing plays, receivers run a series of complex and complementary routes based on coverage. It stresses the importance of deeper passes and typically works from deep to shallow in its progressions.

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The consequence of this is your quarterback spends more time standing in the pocket waiting for plays to develop. Extra time in the pocket means extra stress on the offensive line. This isn’t a quick release offense that uses timing to deliver a quick ball. It’s the opposite. And that’s why inadequate play at tackle is more significant on a team like the Dallas Cowboys than it would be on other teams.

But this isn’t to say the Cowboys were screwed before they ever took the field, either. Dallas runs a series of plays and schemes that are in no way “Air Coryell”.

Why Jason Garrett didn’t develop a game plan to match his available talent on the field is completely beyond me.

It was clear from the start Chaz Green was not going to get the job done defending the edge. It looked like his legs were asleep the way he was dragging them back into protection. He made a regular dude look like a Pro Bowler and made him rich in the process (sack based incentives).

If the idea was to implode the Atlanta roster by making them all into expensive stars, then well done Chaz. Way to play the long game, buddy. We’ll call it reverse espionage.

The Cowboys clearly could have kept TEs in to aid in protection more than they did. If it’s a choice between having one less target running downfield or suffering a sack, I’ll choose the former. It’s really that simple.

Additionally, the Cowboys’ receivers appeared to be winning at the line of scrimmage. Dallas could have run short, timing routes. Dez is one of the best in the NFL at slants. Witten is unstoppable on the curl. And Cole Beasley is the best in the biz on out patterns. Run a few bunch formations and get rid of the ball quickly. Throw in a chip block from TE2 and you have a great work-around solution.

But, alas, the Cowboys did not. They did nothing in the “adapt” category.

The Dallas Cowboys lost on Sunday because they rely on the left tackle more than most teams do. They also failed to adapt their offense to reduce the negative impact of Chaz Green.

Next: Three reasons the Cowboys' loss was good

If the Cowboys apply the same plan this week as they did last week, they better have Tyron Smith playing because neither Chaz Green nor Byron Bell will not allow business to run as usual.