The Dallas Cowboys 2020 season began with an offensive whimper instead of an explosion
Much has been made of the Dallas Cowboys offense this past offseason. Under the offensive guidance of Mike McCarthy, the Cowboys fully embraced their strengths and after adding first round pick CeeDee Lamb to the receiving corps, took on the unofficial moniker of Team 40 Burger.
Welp, they fell short of their namesake by 23 points, scoring just 17 points on the day, against what’s considered a fairly modest defense. Dallas didn’t just fall short of the points goal, they fell short of league average.
The Dallas Cowboys offense doesn’t get all of the blame, of course. Their defense appeared to be more of what we saw last season. The overaggressive unit chronically gave up dump offs and screen passes. Jared Goff was able to go until there was just 3:30 left in the first half before completing his first pass past the sticks. I don’t have to tell you how easy it is to play QB if you don’t even have to throw past the first down marker.
Dallas Cowboys on 1st Downs
As we discussed last month, if the Dallas Cowboys want to improve their offensive production they first need to fix their first downs. Despite finishing last season as a top-10 offense in the NFL (expected points added per play), the Cowboys offense was in the bottom half of the league on first downs.
In fact, as a whole, Dallas had a negative EPA on first downs, meaning they hurt their scoring chances more than helped their scoring chances. The only thing that saved them as an offense was their elite play on third downs.
As we stated in the article above, their struggles on 1st downs were primarily because they chose to run the ball rather than pass the ball on 1st-and-10. When the Cowboys passed they achieved a net positive in expected points. When they ran they achieved negative expected points.
We hoped the pass-first nature of Mike McCarthy would change this fatal flaw to this otherwise brilliant attack. But alas it was more of the same with Kellen Moore still calling plays.
On first downs the Dallas Cowboys ran the ball 14 times compared to passing just six (excluding 2-minute offense to end the half and final drive). Only six of those runs were deemed “successful” because only six put the offense in better position to score points than they were back at 1st-and-10 (For what constitutes success check out: What makes a play successful) .
Meanwhile, the passing game was successful five out of six times. These numbers are subject to change as final EPA stats come out but you’d think a passing offense that was operating at a success rate of 83 percent would be used a little more often than the running game that was floundering at 43 percent, right?
Dallas Cowboys Offense and the Game Film
There’s clearly more to the Dallas Cowboys problems on offense than just play-calling on first down. The offensive line struggled handling Aaron Donald and his band of merry men. And the receivers struggled getting the ball in space so they could add some yards after the catch (something we were banking on this season).
The All-22 game film will reveal the “why” in a lot of areas, so until then, it’s tough to tell if it was a WR issue, a Dak issue, or a route strategy issue. What we know now is the first down play-calling hurt them and the team that was supposed to deliver 40 burgers fell 58 percent shy of their goal.
Team 17 Burger doesn’t have the same ring to it as the other name does it? But until the Dallas Cowboys fix things, that’s exactly what they are.