Dallas Cowboys: Does Feeding Zeke actually help Andy Dalton?

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

With the offensive line struggling and a backup quarterback playing QB1, it’s imperative the Dallas Cowboys avoid obvious passing situations

The Dallas Cowboys are a mess right now. Their franchise QB is gone for the year, their running game is abysmal, the offensive line is poor, special teams are an embarrassment, and the defense is a disaster. It’s clear, winning games in the face of all these weaknesses is going to take some savvy game-planning.

Usually when the QB1 goes down and the back-up takes the reins, the natural instinct is to slow things down and go conservative. Simplify the playbook. Run the ball often and use your passing game sparingly. Things of that nature. You’ve probably heard it already in Dallas Cowboys circles this week. Heck, you may have even thought it yourself.

But the reality is that’s probably the worst thing you can do…

Andy Dalton is better than your typical back-up but worse than you typical QB1. He resides somewhere in the middle and qualifies as “competent, yet unspectacular.” You don’t need to hide him but you don’t want to put him in too many high-leverage situations either. When you factor in the struggles of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line, it becomes very clear the offense needs to avoid obvious passing situations as much as possible.

Why are obvious passing downs so dangerous?

avoiding 3rd downs should be the primary objective of this offense. That means the Cowboys can’t afford that “run early – run often” approach so many are dangerously clamoring for.

For starters, the defense doesn’t have to play you honestly and can focus on one thing – the pass. Without having to worry about the running game, the defense gains a clear advantage in both pass-rush and coverage.

Obvious passing situations are something all NFL offenses want to avoid because it shifts the advantage to the defense significantly. The Dallas Cowboys just have extra reasons to avoid these dangerous situations (see also: O-line and new QB).

Behind this O-line, if a defense wants to pressure Andy Dalton, they probably can, at will. Dalton will be lucky to get 2.5 seconds in the pocket this season in these obvious passing situations. That removes a lot of plays from the playbook and that greatly impacts the Dallas Cowboys ability to convert third downs.

Third downs are what it’s all about. And avoiding them at all costs should be the primary objective of this offense. That means the Cowboys can’t afford that “run early – run often” approach so many are dangerously clamoring for.

A run-run-pass approach is the best way to put Andy Dalton into obvious passing situations (the very thing we’re trying to avoid). Passing on early downs isn’t just the best way to avoid those pesky 3rd downs, but it’s also the best way to move the ball.

The Dallas Cowboys running game has been horrendous on early downs this season. Its negative EPA and 33.3% success rate indicates the running game has hurt the offense more than helped. And that was with Dak Prescott under center with a lot of empty boxes to run into. Does anyone think things will get easier in the running game with Dalton under center?

If anything Dallas will probably see more 8-man boxes, not less. If Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard were struggling before, they’re surely going to struggle when the defense is more focused on them and less afraid of the passing attack.

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Again, it sounds counter-intuitive but the best way to survive a banged up O-line and a back-up QB is to pass often on early downs. Doing so avoids obvious passing situations and makes defenses play honestly.

If you think Andy Dalton is an elite top-5 QB talent, then by all means, disregard this and embrace those high-leverage passing situations. But if you have a more modest view of Dalton and his ability to convert behind a porous O-line then you want to pass early and pass often. Because obvious passing situations could be disastrous for the Dallas Cowboys.

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If anything, the regression at QB1 should make the Dallas Cowboys pass more on early downs – not less. Because third downs need to be avoided and Dalton’s best shot at succeeding this season is by avoiding them as much as possible.

  • Published on 10/15/2020 at 11:01 AM
  • Last updated at 10/15/2020 at 11:29 AM