Don’t be fooled, the Dallas Cowboys offense is a disaster

(Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images) /

In the wake of the Dallas Cowboys current four-game win streak, we seem to have lost sight of the current state of the Dallas offense. The Dallas Cowboys offense has been nothing sort of abysmal this season.

Dallas may be 4-1, and just one win away from taking the top spot in the NFL East, but it’s in spite of their offense, not because of their offense. In fact, the offense is actually HURTING the Dallas Cowboys this season.

The Dallas Cowboys desperately need Dak Prescott to return because their offense is moving backwards.

I know what you’re thinking. How can this be? Cooper Rush has been the story of this young season. He may just be a glorified bus driver but he isn’t hurting the Dallas Cowboys is he? And if he is, the running game is at least carrying some extra weight, isn’t it?

This is a more complicated series of questions that it seems, so bear with me as I try to explain…

How bad is the Dallas Cowboys offense?

A great way to measure offensive output is through expected points added. It injects context and value into the yardage rather than just regurgitates raw numbers. For instance, a five-yard run sounds good without any context but if we learn that the run happened on 4th-and-10, we know it’s a bad play. A 300 yard passing day sounds good but if it takes 45 attempts and is 90% check downs, it’s not worth much.

Some plays help a team’s scoring chances and some plays hurt a team’s scoring chances. By using historical data and probabilities we can measure whether a play was successful (success rate) or not and using expected points added (EPA) we can determine the degree in which a team was successful (or not).

The Dallas Cowboys are essentially winning races with a flat tire. If they have the opportunity to change that tire, shouldn’t they?

The Dallas Cowboys offense is currently averaging -0.072 EPA/play this season (meaning they are at a net negative). Their success rate is a paltry 40.6 percent. These numbers rank them 25th and 26th respectively in the NFL this season.

Their EPA per drop back is 27th in the NFL and their success rate passing is just 28th (only Carolina, Chicago, Houston, and Denver are worse). But the running game is carrying them right?


The Dallas Cowboys running game is also producing at a net negative. The -0.082 EPA/play is in the bottom-10  while their success rate places them dead center at 16th this season. For all the praise we’re giving the running game this season, it’s really not deserving.

Why Dak Prescott can make it better

Never in the Dak Prescott/Ezekiel Elliott era has Zeke outperformed Dak in EPA/play or success rate. Dak has consistently been 4x more productive in expected points and should offer a significant improvement over Cooper Rush when he returns.

Dak was dreadful in week 1, but that’s an outlier performance. Nothing about his play in the past indicates that will repeat.

So is Cooper Rush a failure? Well, this brings us to the complicated portion of the discussion… Playing NFL QB is hard, and if you include back-ups, the vast majority of signal callers around the NFL do more harm than good (negative EPA). There are only 18 teams in the NFL who have a QB who’s producing positive numbers this year, so Cooper Rush deserves praise for having a positive EPA/play.

League-wide, Rush ranks 16th in EPA/CPOE composite which is a pretty good metric to grade QB performance. But since Dak has never graded average or below average, there are many reasons to think he will elevate this offense to new levels.

As we see above, the running game is operating at a slightly higher success rate, so minimizing the number of passes Rush has to throw minimizes the amount of damage he does. To that we praise Kellen Moore.

Defenses watch the film and know these numbers. They know Cooper Rush isn’t going to beat them and they see that he’s last in the NFL on obvious passing downs. They are covering short and guarding against the run. That’s why play-action works so well and the Cowboys have found the moderate success they have this season.

When Dak finally returns, they’ll no-doubt back off and start playing more 2-high like last year. They’ll want to stop the big plays on early downs and dare the Dallas Cowboys to run. That will help Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott, who are seeing a lot of packed boxes these days.

As Dan Ruppert just said yesterday, this team needs Dak Prescott to be successful this season

All hail the Dallas Cowboys defense

I don’t have to tell you the real reason the Dallas Cowboys are winning is because their defense is straight-up dominant. They are currently ranked 4th in the NFL in EPA and 2nd in success rate (a byproduct of a couple big plays against them).

There’s a segment of the fan base that doesn’t want to rock the boat and insert Dak when Cooper is winning games. The simplicity of that argument ignores the fact that the Dallas Cowboys offense is currently hurting the Cowboys, more than helping. If it wasn’t for the dominant Dallas defense, we would not see the Cowboys repeatedly beat the odds.

If you have a relay team where three runners are carrying the squad while the fourth is among the worst runners on the track, do you not looks to replace the weak link?

Of course, because eventually your three fast runners won’t be able to make up for the slow runner.

In the same way the Dallas Cowboys will not hesitate to replace Cooper Rush once Dak gets cleared. Dak adds value and elevates the rest of the team. It’s unquestionably the clearest and most obvious upgrade the Cowboys can make this year.

The Dallas Cowboys are essentially winning races with a flat tire. If they have the opportunity to change that tire, shouldn’t they? Of course! You don’t leave a good tire in the garage when you know it can make you that much faster.

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A dominant defense can carry a team. A dominant QB can carry a team. But one without the other is susceptible and that’s the situation the Dallas Cowboys are in right now. If they can flip that weak link into a strength, they could be a real contender this season, but right now, they’re just too atrocious on offense to make that argument.