Dallas Cowboys: It’s time to avoid 3rd downs

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 06: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 06: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The best way for the Dallas Cowboys to rediscover their scoring ways is to completely avoid third downs. Here’s the how and why…

Given their average starting field position, the Dallas Cowboys offense is often asked to execute abnormally long drives to reach scoring position. Since the odds are against even the best offenses from converting multiple 3rd downs on the same drive, now is a great time to remind everyone that avoiding third downs altogether is the statistically wise avenue to take.

Most of the Dallas Cowboys problems during this three-game losing streak are self-induced. Dropped balls, run plays against seven and eight-man boxes, sloppy pass-protection on the edges, etc… are all responsible for Dallas’ recent slide in the standings. While the bulk of that can be solved with improved execution, avoiding troubling situations altogether may be the best plan of all.

As is often the case when an offense is missing one or both starting offensive tackles, obvious passing downs have been a struggle for the Dallas Cowboys. And with RT La’el Collins and/or LT Tyron Smith likely to miss Sunday’s match-up against Philly, it’s time the Dallas Cowboys adapt to their current position and avoid these troubling third downs all together.

When Dallas repeatedly called Zeke’s number on first down last Sunday, no one was more happy than Jets defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams. Zeke was repeatedly stuffed on first down last week and averaged a paltry 2.9 yards per carry on what is typically the most fruitful down.

1st down failure

In order for a first down play to be considered a success, the play must gain at least 4-yards. Otherwise the offense was statistically better off on 1st and 10. On first down runs by Zeke, only 40 percent were deemed successful last week. On 60 percent of the runs, the play failed, and put the Dallas Cowboys in an early hole. Since everyone knows running the ball on 2nd and 6+ is about the worst thing you can (from a numbers perspective) 2nd down immediately becomes an obvious passing down and the Dallas Cowboys’ reserve tackle(s) inevitably get exposed.

Running the ball essentially says the offense is playing for a manageable third down since leaning on third down is statistically more likely on a drive that starts with a first down run than it is on a drive that starts with a first down pass.

Why are third downs so terrible?

Since teams are illogically opposed to going for it on fourth downs, 3rd downs essentially become drive killers. And even for a team like the Dallas Cowboys who are pretty darn good at converting third downs, the odds are still always against you if you have to convert more than one 3rd down per drive.

Considering the Dallas Cowboys normally start drives deep in their own territory and are 32nd in the NFL in drives that begin in enemy territory, they’re often forced to convert two or even three 3rd downs before getting in scoring range. That’s tough for any offense to overcome – especially for a team minus two of their key offensive linemen (and minus two of their most experienced receivers).

Unless it’s 3rd and 1, third downs often mean the team is less likely to score points on that drive than they were on that original 1st and 10. That’s why avoiding them altogether is the key to offensive success.

Passing the ball more often on 1st down (especially since we’ve had an overwhelming tendency to run on 1st downs) has a better success rate than rushing. Plus, successful passing offers roughly twice the average yards per attempt than rushing does. In other words, there’s less risk AND More reward to pass the ball on first down.

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Taking an aggressive approach on early downs help prevent 3rd downs from even happening (Some are unavoidable and theoretically Dallas would face more 3rd-and-10s by passing more often on 1st and 2nd down). But the numbers overwhelmingly promote early passing, because in the long run, it garners considerably more points for the offense.

If it seems like everyone is incessantly talking about early down passing – then that’s good. The community is finally realizing what the numbers have been saying for years. The only “manageable” 3rd downs are one’s avoided altogether (ok, and those <2 yards generally speaking).

Next. Dallas has 2 of the NFL's top rated pass rushers and neither are named, 'DeMarcus'. dark

Being more aggressive on early downs is statistically beneficial and reduces the number of third down conversions a team needs to sustain a drive. That should be the goal of this offense.

  • Published on 10/18/2019 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 10/18/2019 at 09:43 AM