So the Cowboys fell to the Panthers last week in North Carolina. While this young season is far from a wash, something about this 0-1 start has Cowboys fans particularly concerned. The reason? It looks like none of Dallas’ offensive problems have been fixed. Make no mistake, the Cowboys showed some new wrinkles. But those wrinkles did not make the offense any more difficult to read for Carolina’s front seven. Some have pointed to a lack of execution as the culprit of last Sunday’s loss. However, if the last 8-9 games have shown observant fans anything, it is more likely to be a combination of execution and play calling that ails this offense. DSF’s own Patrick Conn has already penned a detailed and comprehensive piece on third year quarterback Dak Prescott’s execution in week 1 (click here to view). After almost a full week to reflect on what went down in Charlotte, and a showdown with the rival New York Giants impending, here are two questions I have about the new “Dak Friendly” offense.
Utilization of the Dump Pass and Screen Game
The Cowboys showed a significant increase of stacked and bunch formations last week. A stacked formation is explained in the name, two receivers line up one in front of another prior to the snap of the football. A bunch is a cluster of three receivers on the same side of the line of scrimmage. Typically in a bunch, rub concepts are utilized, using one route to assist the other and force a defender’s hand. Instead what Dallas showed from these sets were dump passes and screens to tight ends out of the backfield. To set up these curious plays, Dallas would frequently shift tight ends out of the backfield onto the end of the offensive line or into the slot between the tackle and the X receiver, oftentimes sending the tight end in motion across the play to set up the screen game. Of the eight times this took place in the first half a tight end was the target for five of them.
My qualm with this is simple. Why would a coach want to design a play for a tight end behind the line of scrimmage, when he could do the same thing with Ezekiel Elliot or Tavon Austin lugging the rock instead? There is something to be said about utilizing tight ends in a surprising manner; but at the end of the day if you have not called a majority of your plays specifically for your best player to get the ball in space, you have most likely failed.
Use of Ezekiel Elliot As a Receiver
Cowboys fans have been calling for it all off season.”Throw the ball to Zeke more”. Well the Cowboys listened. Sort of. See Dallas technically lined Zeke up more as a receiver week 1. However, they did virtually nothing with him throughout the course of the game (17 yards receiving on 4 targets for 3 receptions). I understand the value of Zeke as a decoy from the receiver position. Elliot’s big play ability forces defenses to pay attention to him, creating potential mismatches for the offense to take advantage. However, Elliot’s value as a decoy is connected to his success as the featured component of the Dallas offense. Simply put, defenses will fear Ezekiel Elliot based on how the Cowboys utilize him.
He was utilized poorly.
While football is chess and certainly not checkers, you can achieve some success by simply doing the bare minimum. 1. Changing plays based upon how many defenders are in the box. 2. Making your best player the target of your big plays, as well as getting him the ball in space. Forcing Elliot to run out routes from the hash nearest the sideline is simply not the way to do it. Give him a wheel route. Give him a post, or even an in-route. If Zeke has a chance to get behind those linebackers and work against the secondary he wont let you down. I am not advocating that be the primary way to use him in the passing game; but even doing it twice a game would help make his usual packages more successful.
As pressure mounts on the Cowboys’ brass to make a change at offensive coordinator, to
night will show us what (if anything) Linehan has left up his sleeve.
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