Dallas Cowboys: Week 1 taught important lesson about play-action

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

There are a lot of items to glean from the Dallas Cowboys impressive loss (two words rarely paired with one another) to the Tampa Bay Bucs last week. One of those revolves around the Dallas Cowboys passing game and their willingness to use play-action, even though their run-rates were extraordinarily low.

I shouldn’t have to remind you how lopsided the run-pass ratio was on Thursday night. The Cowboys went to the air early and often against the defending champs. They used their strength to target the only conceivable weakness the Bucs had, and they were pretty darn successful at it.

At the end of the day the Cowboys only ran the ball 14 times compared to passing it 58. Based on the results it’s hard to argue against that approach. Dallas only had a success rate of 27% on the ground, meaning 73% of the time a handoff hurt the Cowboys scoring chances.

The absence of a running game didn’t hurt the Dallas Cowboys ability to use play-action or the effectiveness of said play-action

The argument against said approach is that when you lose balance, opponents no longer have to play you honestly. Why would the Bucs bite on a fake handoff if they are seeing first-hand Dallas is only interested in passing it? The whole, “establish the run” mantra was born from this theory after all.

“Establish the run” has become a punchline in recent years. The outdated phrase has been debunked for quite some time since the data shows one doesn’t need a successful running game in order to see positive results from play-action.

Linebackers inherently bite when they see the motion of a play-action play. It’s engrained in their being.

the Dallas Cowboys used play-action 31% of the time, going 14-18 for 120 yards. They didn’t need to “establish the run” for it to work.

That doesn’t mean it works all the time, regardless of circumstance. The numbers show it’s not as effective in 3rd-and-long situations as it is on early down. There has to be some threat and the game circumstances do matter.

But on Thursday both offenses seemingly abandoned the run. Yet both teams continued to use play-action and defenses continued to bite.

Seeing it play out in front of us should help to convince the sceptics that running the ball into a brick wall over and over again, doesn’t hold this immeasurable hidden value so many claim it to have.

Based on early counts we see the Dallas Cowboys used play-action 31% of the time, going 14-18 for 120 yards. Those are overwhelmingly supportive of the large scale findings that play-action does not need a successful running game to work. It doesn’t even need anything close to a balanced approach. It just needs to be used (primarily on early downs) and it will work.

The point of this isn’t to say the Dallas Cowboys should abandon the running game from now on or even that this gameplan should be repeated every single week. It’s just to illustrate that play-action inherently works and establishing the run isn’t useful unless those runs produce positive results on their own merit.

Related Story. Should the Cowboys be a pass-first offense?. light

Next. Cowboys: The best replacement for Michael Gallup is.... dark

The Dallas Cowboys don’t need to abandon the run every week but they also don’t need to run the ball in order for play-action to work. It just works.