What’s going on with the Dallas Cowboys offense?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Dallas Cowboys Offense: Increase Play Action Pass Rate

With defense selling out to stop the run, one would think incorporating more play-action passes and run-pass options (RPOs) would provide the offense the balance it needs to keep moving the chains? The Cowboys are still 18th in the league in play-action pass attempts and 13th in RPOs.

The fundamental issue this offense has is it wants to exploit matchups all game long while maintaining a commitment to running the ball at the right times. (It’s fundamentally easier than passing the ball and the Cowboys have an offensive line that can consistently do this)

Right now, the Cowboys forcing the run at inopportune times, and it forces longer passing downs later in the drive. Good defenses are able to blitz and play press-man coverage on these late downs forcing Dak Prescott into inaccurate throws ultimately stalling the offense.

A perfect example of this is in the fourth quarter of the Vegas game, the Cowboys made a commitment to throwing the ball more and the offense started to open up. Teams couldn’t condense the field because they knew the Cowboys would beat them vertically if they got one break in their favor.

However, not every play-action pass is the same. Runs come in all forms and the Cowboys often use Gap runs as dives and doubles run. When they elect to run play action, they often set up like an outside zone run. If the Cowboys don’t run outside zone often and try to set their play-action as such, defenders start to pick up on this and are willing to break contain on the backside to rush the passer.

Traditionally, Prescott can buy time for his crossing routes to open. But the moment defenders realize the run isn’t actually a “run”, the rollout doesn’t have the same effect. If the Cowboys can increase their play-action rate and incorporate different run fakes, it confuses the front seven while giving the receivers more time to get open.

In summation, pass the ball more. If you want to pass farther, draw up different play action passes.

More Power Runs

The Cowboys have athletic linemen and tight ends who are also quite strong. Their strength makes them an advantage on most Gap runs, which is why the Cowboys often use them. However, there isn’t as much variety in how the Cowboys run as there was at the beginning of the season.

If the Cowboys are insistent on not playing their five best linemen at a time, then they should be playing to their linemen’s strengths. Connor McGovern doesn’t have the same power in the run game as Connor Williams, but on numerous occasions he’s shown the ability to wham and space block. Instead of having him drive upfield, having him pull and set the edge on a Power run allows him to use his motor and speed.

The same applies to Terrence Steele who doesn’t always engage with his hands correctly. But if you can have him set the edge against linebackers or reach the second level on a pull, it gives him time before he needs to engage at the point of attack.

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Outside of New Orleans, the Cowboys don’t face great linebacker play throughout the rest of the schedule. Using more power runs forces opposing linebackers to react quickly otherwise they risk being out of position or chasing a bad pursuit angle.

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The Cowboys have a week to fix what’s wrong and their best shot might be against a broken New Orleans Saints team. While they have generally had a good defense, things should eventually start to break for them if the Cowboys defense can shut out their offense. Hopefully the Cowboys can take advantage of this opportunity.