Two months ago I wrote this article discussing how although many believed success in 2017 was a given, it was far from a guarantee. My argument was a simple one, there were simply too many variables. Key players such as Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Dez Bryant needed to become and stay healthy. Two 2nd year players needed to play much older than they were. The offensive line needed to successfully adapt to its new renovations. Also, a secondary of complete youngsters needed to all develop after being “thrown into the fire.” Pile on top of all that a division which improved offensively, and one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. Although some at the time called me “critical”, the only point I was trying to make was 2017 would have a lot of side plots. A year of extreme growth and development for a young Cowboys team.
Without further delay, here are two of the offensive topics I brought up in August, which have now become clear. This article examines the Cowboys from an offensive perspective. I have neither the time nor the willpower to discuss the performance the Dallas linebackers and defensive backs have put on lately.
The Great Wall Of Dallas Is Now A Fence
The foundation of any teams success is dominant line play. Though in the case of Dallas, it is the foundation of everything. Running games and read option concepts depend on established run based success. Players such as Cole Beasley, beneficiaries of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s methodical offense were allowed to thrive in the 2016 offense. Take away the run game, and suddenly the offense is behind the chains. Staring at 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long situations demand the Cowboys to air the ball downfield, something Beasley (5’8) is not particularly equipped for.
Back to my point, the offensive line is not playing well. The decline in offensive line play can be measured in two ways. First, with statistics. Secondly, with the eye test.
Statistically, Dak Prescott is 112 of 179 for 1192 yards with 11 TDS and 4 INTs. The passing leader through week 5 is Tom Brady, with 1702 yards. Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for 393 yards on 105 carries. Zeke is averaging 3.7 yards per carry. The league rushing leader through week 5 is rookie Phenom Kareem Hunt with 609 yards on 97 attempts, which comes out to roughly 6.5 yards per carry. Double what Zeke is putting up. While 3.7 yards per carry and 1192 pass yards are by no means terrible in themselves, they wont win you games when coupled with a mediocre defense.
To be successful in the NFL you either need a fantastic offense or defense, or a competent offense AND defense. A competent offense and a bad defense wont win you many competitions, made evident by Dallas’ 2-3 record.
While the eye test isn’t based off of statistics, it can help make sense of them. And right now the eye test shows me Dak Prescott is carrying a bunch of the offensive weight, too much for a 2nd year player. Whether its the 50 pass attempts he was forced to throw against the Broncos or the front flip against the Cardinals to spark life into his team, Dak is doing too much. Few occasions have allowed Prescott the luxury of stepping back into a clean pocket. Throwing on the run is becoming a regular necessity for the sophomore quarterback.
In regards to Zeke, the man is being hit early in the backfield. It’s hard for a running back to reach a hole in time when there is a linebacker riding on his back.
The two players who need to put up incredible performances week in and week out cant do so due to poor offensive line play. The line must improve in order to give Dak and Zeke a fighting chance.
Dez Aint’ Dominating
For every correct prediction made in the preseason, there is an incorrect one. Prior to the season I decided I was going to give Dez Bryant the benefit of the doubt. After all, the past two seasons gave Dez a new quarterback to adapt to, and a leg injury to overcome. A fresh season and newfound chemistry will surly return him to his true form. Right? So far I appear to be wrong. Again, don’t get me wrong, Dez isn’t playing poorly, however he looks more like a WR2 than a WR1 right now. You would like for your star receiver to catch over half of his targets, which Dez isn’t. You would also like to see your star receiver have at least 300+ receiving yards by this point in the season, which Dez doesn’t.
The fact of the matter is, the big plays have not been in Bryant’s repertoire this season. Aside from this play against Arizona, Dez has been a fairly static player in this offense. Dez is playing well, but not up the level necessary for the “new triplets” of Prescott, Elliott, and Bryant. Bryant shouldn’t only have 57 more receiving yards than Brice Butler, who has roughly 1/3 the receptions Bryant has.
Looking at the 2017 Cowboys from a purely offensive perspective, they have put up back-to-back 30 point games, though they have fallen short in situations where the momentum hangs in the balance. The line needs to allow Dak to delegate his offensive workload and give Zeke a clean backfield to operate with. While Dez simply needs to be more productive.