Our weekly look at how the Cowboys took advantage (or, often, didn’t take advantage) of their best offensive weapon. The whole series can be found here.
Week 9 provided us with yet another chapter in the seemingly perpetual "balance" debate surrounding the Cowboys offense. Dallas failed to produce against another average to below-average defense, and when this occurs, many observers immediately isolate the number of times the ball was handed off and pinpoint this piece of data as explanatory. At times, this charge has some level of merit. In this case, however, that narrative really obscures the fact that this offense generally played poorly on Sunday. Somewhere between five and eight drops to go along with seven penalties on the offense (two were declined) will consistently put any team in situations where running the ball will be somewhat of a lost cause. For this team, the "somewhat" is removed. Despite not being able to run the ball with any level of consistency this season, this team hasn't been plagued by drops and penalties, so for now I will lean towards this level of sloppiness being an outlier and not the norm. But when we focus so heavily on simply the number of running plays, we miss the fact that the mistakes that have nothing to do with play calling in many ways lead to that number. I believe if the drops and penalties are cut in half, the rushing total is somewhere around 15, Dallas has another seven points, and the discussion this week has a different tone.
And of course, doing his part to contribute to the drop and penalty parade this week was Dez Bryant. There's really not much to say about the penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct; it's ridiculous. And I say that as someone who defended Dez from the jump after the Lions game, and generally tends to defend him at most turns. Just awful.
But let's move on to how the Dallas offense deployed Dez in Week 9, and what he was able to produce on the investment.
BRYANT AGAINST HELP DEFENSE
|13 Yd. Comeback||3||0||0||0|
|5-7 Yd. Stop||3||2||2||15|
|12 Yd. Out||1||0||0||0|
BRYANT AGAINST NO HELP
|Route||Against No Help||Targets||Comp.||Yards|
|13 Yd. Comeback||1||1||0||0|
(Note: Bob focused heavily on every play of the final drive in his Xs and Os piece this week. You can read that here. It's better than what you're about to read.)
4th Q - 1:35 - 2nd & 4 - DAL 27
Beasley is in the left slot with Dez split out at the "X" on the bottom of the image (as an aside, this personnel and alignment has quickly become my favorite for Dallas, empty backfield with Beasley and Bryant on one side, with the other three receiving options on the other; see the images from the Philadelphia game here for evidence of this). The safety has walked down closer to the line of scrimmage pre snap to give the impression he might try to take the short zone away from Beasley, but before the snap even occurs, he has his hips open and is bailing to make sure Bryant can't get open deep. With a linebacker "responsible" for Beasley, this is easy. Beasley is able to explode upfield for extra yards after throttling down to make the catch, which is an essential skill for receiver's of his ilk.
4th Q - 1:30 - 2nd & 10 - DAL 45
After an incompletion on the next snap, we see Dallas facing 2nd & 10 with the same personnel and formation. As we have seen in other games this year (especially in no huddle situations), after Cole Beasley makes a play, a defense will severely overreact to his presence. It's almost as if his diminutive stature and lack of star power puts defenders in a mindset of "No way are we letting that guy do that again." The problem, obviously, is that Dez Bryant is not a threat you can afford to take your eyes off of. Romo waits the split second needed to let Bryant cross Beasley's defender, then hits him in stride. Bryant may have been able to get open enough to make this catch even without the corner collapsing to Beasley, but he definitely isn't having this sort of run after the catch if that DB is trailing him closer. Watching defenses overplay Cole Freaking Beasley while an elite receiver runs right past them is the stuff offensive football dreams are made of.
4th Q - 1:00 - 1st & 10 - MIN 21
On the very next play, Bryant and Beasley are flipped over to the right side of the formation, at the top of the image below. This is a route combo that these two have been working in the hurry-up since about Week 4, and it seems the mix of Bryant's ability to make a play over the top and Beasley's quickness underneath are perfect together. This easy completion puts the Cowboys in a prime spot to convert two plays later on the touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris.
I'm quite certain it would eventually end in Kyle Orton getting significant snaps, but I really wish the Cowboys offense could roll empty from here on out and just see what happens. But, they still owe 9 somewhere near a trillion dollars, so...they must do what they do to protect him and balance that with their need to score points. It will interesting to see how they approach Sunday night's contest in New Orleans, as that is another tilt that will seemingly require them to score a ton of points to stay competitive.