There are multiple reasons to expect a more fruitful downfield passing game from Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys air attack in 2019
A lot of things went right for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. The 10-6 Cowboys managed to win the NFC East division, advance to the Divisional Round of the Playoffs, and overcome some pretty significant injuries all while coming back from a disastrous 3-5 start.
But one element that had been troubling from start to finish in ’18 was the passing attack’s inability to connect on deep routes. It seemed as though it was a weekly occurrence: 1) WR gets separation deep downfield . 2) QB sees the beaten coverage and delivers the ball. 3) Ball is juuuuuust out of reach. 4) Big play opportunity wasted.
Aside from a change in offensive coordinator, not much has changed for the Dallas Cowboys over the offseason. So, why exactly, can we expect better results in 2019? The lack of change.
As counter-intuitive as that may sound, it’s the lack of change in passing game that should be inspiring confidence for improvement. That’s because for the first time in Dak Prescott’s career, he has consistency in the pass-catching ranks and stability on his offensive line.
Let’s look at what happened last season…
All three of Dak Prescott’s top outside WR targets changed from 2017 to 2018. Gone were Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Brice Butler. In were brand new outside WR targets Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Deonte Thompson.
The talent drop-off was so severe, the Dallas Cowboys were compelled to make a rare, and extremely costly, midseason trade for Amari Cooper. While the trade proved absolutely worth it, it only added to the consistency problem between the quarterback and wide receiver position.
It should really be no wonder the Cowboys struggled in the deep passing game given the limited amount of time Dak had with each of his outside receivers in 2018.
Why the Deep Balls Matter So Much
Most NFL games are won and lost by a single possession. The parity is such that close games are considerably more common than blowouts. It’s for this reason the Any Given Sunday phrase holds true now more than ever.
A simple connection on a deep pass has the potential to turn the game on its head and deliver victory to an otherwise outmatched team. While these big plays are typically low-percentage, they also offer the greatest amount of expected points, making them well worth the effort.
According to Pro Football Focus only 34.6 percent of big plays in which the ball travels 20+ yards or more through the air are completed. That means even the best QB-to-WR duos miss more often than they connect.
As we can see in the chart above, Dak Precsott completes passes at a higher percentage than most, but his competition percentage does fall behind deep downfield.
Last season we saw the rookie Gallup repeatedly get open deep. But his routes were widely inconsistent making it impossible for Dak to predict where and when the ball should be delivered. Keep in mind, when Dak releases the ball he’s throwing it to a spot 30-yards downfield and essentially guessing the exact place his receiver will be after he runs another 20-yards. One hitch in that receiver’s step throws the timing off completely.
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Michael Gallup was targeted 18 times on deep passes last season, only catching six and dropping three. It’s safe to say most of the disconnect between him and Prescott had more to do with Gallup being a rookie than anything else. It also stands to reason with a season under his belt, and chemistry built with Dak, Gallup can be a much more consistent deep threat in 2019.
While Cooper is considerably more polished than Gallup, he was a midseason acquisition and timing and chemistry between the two was a work in progress throughout the season. With a full offseason together, it’s safe to assume that chemistry will take a huge step forward as well.
We’ll get more into Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys passing attack in coming weeks. But for now just consider all the barriers Dak and the passing game had to overcome last season just to be a serviceable deep ball team. It’s no stretch to see it taking a huge step forward in 2019 simply by staying the same and developing timing.
The deep ball was an issue for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 but consistency, development, and repetitions should help it improve by leaps and bounds in 2019.
- Published on 06/03/2019 at 12:33 PM
- Last updated at 06/03/2019 at 12:33 PM