Toughest coverages the Cowboys faced and why Dak Prescott will improve

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Even though the end-of-season numbers indicate the Dallas Cowboys were amazing on offense in 2021, those who watched the games know the numbers don’t tell the true story.

While the Cowboys were indeed a dominant force early, they cooled off as the season went on. After the bye week, they nosedived in expected points per play and success rate (they were just an average team down the stretch).

Defenses discovered they could get just as much pressure rushing only four. Packing the secondary with seven players while taking away deep options were a great way to slow an otherwise explosive Cowboys offense.

This past weekend we dove into the different coverages the Dallas Cowboys faced and in what volume. Coverages ranged greatly in 2021, while some of them Dak Prescott carved up at will, others he struggled to beat.

A look at what coverages the Dallas Cowboys faced and how Dak Prescott did against each one.

So what coverages did Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys see most?

As we can see, Cover-3 was the dominant look faced. Despite Cover-2 being the talk of the offseason, it was Cover-3 that stood strong against the Cowboys. How did Dak do against this most frequently deployed coverage?

Not great.

Ignoring those rare Cover-0 looks, Cover-3 was Dak’s Achilles heel last season. With an EPA just barely in the positive, it was one of the few coverages in which the Cowboys passing attack struggled.

But looking through it with a wider lens gives Dallas Cowboys fans reason for optimism. Just a year prior, Dak Prescott was carving up Cover-3 to the tune of 0.37 expected points per drop back. That’s one of the best in the NFL. He was great against Cover-3 in 2019 as well. It’s safe to say Dak didn’t suddenly forget how to beat Cover-3 in 2021, so a regression to the mean (in a good way) in 2022 should be expected.

As we’ve explained all offseason, the ability of the offensive line will dictate how well Dak Prescott and the passing attack bounces back. The same O-line that tanked the Dallas Cowboys running game, was the same that caused Dak’s numbers to plummet against Cover-3 (a coverage he’s historically destroyed).

As you can imagine, much more goes into coverage than just the simple formation. Assignments can change between them snap to snap, personnel matters, and disguise plays a significant role. The Cowboys specifically struggled with disguise.

What seemed like the perfect offensive play call for the coverage shown, often turned out to be a terrible play call for what the defense actually did. Being ready for this in game prep, and being able to identify the trickery at the line, will go a long way in beating some of these very beatable coverages in 2022.

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I expect Cover-3 to be just as prevalent in 2022 as it was in 2021, but I wouldn’t expect Dak Prescott to struggle like he did. He has a history of doing well against single-high safety sets in the past and with an offseason of preparation and a rebuilt offensive line, there is reason for optimism in Cowboys Nation.