Three factors that can give the much-maligned unit some week-to-week stability.
The 2018 Cowboys have been entirely erratic on offense, scoring a measly 13.5 points per game on the road, compared to 28.6 at home. Thus far, the team’s home and away games have alternated, which has made it even more difficult to make an assessment offensively, considering the unit’s performance has not once looked like it did the week before.
It remains unclear if this year’s Dallas team simply doesn’t travel well or if there are other causes behind the offense’s woes. Either way, the Cowboys need to figure out how to get their best performance each week, or they will quickly fall out of the NFC East race. Below are three factors that could help the Dallas offense start clicking on a weekly basis.
1. Amari Cooper
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. While Dallas may have paid a hefty price to acquire him, Cooper is without question the most talented pass-catching option on the team and serves as an immediate upgrade for Dak Prescott.
Cooper had his ups and downs in Oakland, but it’s difficult to pinpoint why he wasn’t more consistent. Despite multiple duds this season, Cooper is tied for fourth among all NFL receivers in average separation at the catch (3.8 yards), showing his ability to get away from defenders and open up easier throws for his quarterback. For comparison, Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns rank 72nd and 90th among eligible receivers in the same category, respectively.
All season, Prescott has been forced to throw to receivers with little to no separation on their routes. In fact, all four of Prescott’s interceptions have hit his receiver’s hands first, only to deflect into the air due to a hit or drop. When the receivers do make catches, they are almost always tackled instantly due to the lack of separation. It’s no shock Dallas is ranked dead last in yards per catch as a team.
Cooper will need to get on the same page as Prescott quickly, but his skill set certainly qualifies as “Dak-friendly”. It’s difficult to quantify the effect a #1 receiver has on a quarterback and offense, but without a legitimate top target this season, Prescott has posted the lowest QBR of his career by a wide margin. At a minimum, Cooper will command attention from the defense which should open up opportunities for other receivers and the running game.
While the Cowboys’ offense has struggled, the defense is quietly having an outstanding season. The unit ranks second in points allowed and is top 10 in yards allowed against both the run and the pass. Yet, for some reason, the Dallas defense has only forced six turnovers on the year, ranking 28th in the NFL. Points/yards allowed aren’t perfectly correlated with takeaways, but a quick scan of the league’s other top defenses would indicate Dallas should have more.
It’s well known that team takeaway totals tend to regress to the mean year-to-year, but it’s up to the Cowboys’ defensive playmakers to start forcing turnovers immediately to better set up the offense. As it stands, Dallas is 21st in the league in average starting field position. Other teams with strong defenses like the Rams, Texans, Chargers, Seahawks, and Ravens are all top-12 in the same metric.
Four of the Cowboys’ next five opponents have eight or fewer giveaways on the year, which certainly won’t make it easy for the Dallas defense to start racking up turnovers. Even so, there’s a reasonable expectation they can do just that, considering their otherwise stifling play this year. Doing so would go a long way in positioning Prescott & Co. in more favorable situations.
3. Dak’s Legs
Another path to better production on offense is running more often with Prescott. The team’s best offensive performance came against Jacksonville in Week 6, when Prescott had 11 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown in the contest.
When Prescott runs, the defense has one more threat to worry about, which then allows the passing game to open up. Early on against the Jaguars, Prescott scored on a beautifully-blocked designed run:
For some reason, Scott Linehan refuses to call those types of designed runs on a weekly basis. There’s a reason RPOs have gained such popularity in the league, and a mobile QB adds another wrinkle. If defenses have to worry about an Ezekiel Elliott run, a pass, and Prescott taking off, it will only make life easier for the young offense. Through the Cowboys’ bye week, Prescott is averaging 7.9 yards per carry out of the shotgun, indicating the team has had success with such concepts.
Another key figure is Prescott’s 8.9 yards per carry on second down, which stands out because second down is typically when teams can be the most flexible with their play calls. Dallas needs to get Dak running in more of those types of situations, simply to keep defenses on their toes and remind them of the threat.
There are reasons to think the Dallas offense will continue to skid. The offensive line has had its share of issues, and even with Cooper, the pass catchers leave something to be desired. Ultimately, a turnaround will have to come through consistently creative play calling, with a little help from the defense as well. Sitting just two games back in the NFC East, the window is open for Dallas.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
CORRECT!Your overall SQ:
Your NFL SQ:
WRONG!The answer was: Answer more NFL questions »
- Allen Hurns
- Cole Beasley
- Terrance Williams
- Michael Gallup