For the third time this season, the Dallas Cowboys defense got beat by a seemingly one-dimensional attack in about the most predictable manner possible. The Chicago Bears, completely devoid of a passing attack, had but one resource to fall on last Sunday. The Bears knew it. The Cowboys knew it.
Yet, despite that singularity in their attack, the Dallas Cowboys defense struggled to stop it. This marks a trend for Dan Quinn’s unit this season. A trend that has grown from a concern, to a flat-out worry.
Mobile quarterbacks with strong running games around them have given the Dallas Cowboys fits this season.
In Week 3, the Dallas Cowboys first saw these issues crop up. Facing the shockingly spry Daniel Jones, the Dallas Cowboys struggled mightily stopping the one-dimensional New York attack. Jones struggled throwing the ball (-6.6 CPOE on the day) but he was happy to tuck the ball and run.
Jones, the runner, ran for nine times for 79 yards. His EPA/play sat at a staggering 0.93 (higher than any player rushing/receiving on either team) with a 100 percent success rate. It worked. Even on broken plays, Jones effortlessly broke contain and picked up the needed yards to extend the drive.
This same trend continued when the Dallas Cowboys faced off against the Eagles two weeks ago. Philly posed a greater threat in the passing game but they were/are generally regarded as a running team. Jalen Hurts is limited as a passer with most of his success coming off RPOs and the threat of the run.
Like Daniel Jones, Hurts had a negative CPOE passing, performing below the average expectations of a passer. His 4.3 aDoT was an indictment on his ability and his 132 yards passing were the stuff or nursery rhymes – not legends.
But Hurts didn’t need to be a good passer to beat the Dallas Cowboys that night. He had a strong running game to lean on and Quinn’s defense couldn’t stop it. Hurts, the passer, only had a 43 percent success rate but Hurts, the rusher, was successful 57 percent of the time. And this doesn’t even account for the broken plays where Hurts just tucked and ran.
These struggles led to the Cowboys trading for run-stuffer extraordinaire, Johnathan Hankins. Hankins, 340lbs, isn’t anything but a run-stuffer. While he won’t do much to stop the broken play scampers, he will hold fast in the middle of the pocket, ideally allowing run-and-chase players on the second level the opportunity to stop these predictably problematic scrambles.
Did Hankins work?
Yes, for what he could impact Hankins did just fine. But the problem extends beyond what one part-time player can fix.
On the day, the Bears rushed for 240 yards, the most against this defense this season. It’s worrisome to see a transparent team like the Bears win by doing exactly what everyone thought they’d do.
Time to panic?
No, and here’s why… the Dallas Cowboys offense got off to a dominant start, scoring four touchdowns on their first four possessions. They wanted Chicago to run the ball because there was no way a running game could keep pace with Dallas’ potent multifaceted attack.
So at a macro level, the rushing stats are made out to be considerably more problematic than they really are. Looking at things on a micro level, we can see the individual plays are still cause for concern – especially those broken scrambles that result in a new set of downs.
Look at the plays below. All of these were runs by Fields (most being broken plays) and all of them produced either a TOUCHDOWN or a fresh set of downs. They offered up enormous swings in the game.
- 3rd and 8: Fields runs for 12 yards: 1.82 EPA
- 3rd and 4: Fields run for 14 yards 1.77 EPA
- 3rd and 4: Fields run for 9 yards: 1.07 EPA
- 2nd and 6: Fields run for 15 yards: 1.34 EPA
- 2nd and 3: Fields runs for a 3 yard TD 1.29 EPA
To revisit the point I made earlier – some of this was by design. Dallas had an enormous lead so Quinn wanted to prevent the quick scores and was willing to digest some long drives, provided the clock kept moving.
But watching the film we can see numerous instances where Dallas defensive linemen got too overeager and allowed Fields to win on plays that were otherwise shut down. That can’t happen in a rematch against the Eagles.
Dan Quinn has his bye week homework assignment. His defense faces Jones and Hurts again this season and chances are, a third meeting with Hurts in the playoffs. This isn’t something we can gloss over – it’s something that must be overcome.