Dallas Cowboys: Pros and Cons of a Ball Control Offense [an analysis]

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

Dallas Cowboys: The benefits and consequences of a ball control offense

As we alluded to before, the benefits from a ball control offense is it keeps your defense off the field. Defenders get more time to rest and prepare on the sideline, and can hit the field fresh rather than rushed each possession. Slower drives limit the number of possessions and inevitably limit the number of points scored against you. But they also limit the number points your own team can score…

There’s two things wrong with this line of thinking:

  1. It only works if you’re scoring points.
  2. Scoring points only works if your running game is somehow as efficient as your passing game.

Sure, if given the choice, defenses will always take an eight minute rest on the sideline over a two minute rest. But what they want even more than time is points from the offense. If the offense takes eight minutes but can’t walk away with points, the pressure is still on the defense. That’s why the idea of time of possession (TOP) being more important than points is absurd.

The game of football has alternating possessions. Ball control offense still results in a 1:1 possession split with it’s opponent.

Historically, we see a correlation between TOP and winning, but that’s because teams that are winning are more likely to slow down and try to kill the clock in order to limit opportunities for the opponent. The team that’s losing tries to preserve the clock and score as quickly as possible. So there’s no direct causation between winning TOP and winning the game. That’s an important item to understand.

The Dallas Cowboys were successful running a ball control offense in 2016 because they had the best offensive line in football. They had the best running back in Ezekiel Elliott. They had two of the best third down pass-catchers in Cole Beasley and Jason Witten. And they had arguably the most efficient third down passer in Dak Prescott. The stars were aligned for the ball control offense in 2016.

Since then much has changed: The offensive line is about as dominant as a garden slug, Ezekiel Elliott has lost his rookie mojo, and the passing game is now built from the outside-in rather than that inside-out possession game. This isn’t a matter of simply “deciding” to be like 2016 because the 2020 Dallas Cowboys are nothing like the 2016 Cowboys.