Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Decoding Linehan - 6 Week Checkup

By Thursday, our full attention will turn to the Sunday night affair with the Philadelphia Eagles. This is a vital division game that can really help the Cowboys set the tone for the second half of the season if they can get this into the win column.
But let's spend a few moments this morning looking at the data from the first six games. The Cowboys offense has been a force of nature so far, and to describe how far that is above expectations will be difficult. As you surely know, we have been led to believe there is simply no offense without Tony Romo in Dallas. He is the man who makes everything happen and brings it to levels that cannot be attained otherwise, regardless of adjustments or ideas. The whole franchise is simply dependent on No. 9 forevermore.  
At least, that is what 2015 made us think. And why wouldn't it?
Forgive many of us for still not fully believing what we've seen from this offense in 2016. Now, it is much too early to declare anything's conclusive, because it is a long season and posers will still be exposed (not to mention that the Cowboys will likely rush back to Romo as soon as possible). But, doggone, the job that Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Scott Linehan and friends have done in six games is nothing short of phenomenal.  
Now, you might say that phenomenal can mean a few different things. Are they good compared to a putrid 2015 or are they just good? I would say neither. They are better than good. They are bordering on being declared a top NFL offense if they sustain this performance -- and there are very few signs that the NFL has many ideas on how to slow it down. This is why upcoming tests with some defensively strong sides (like the Eagles) are so widely anticipated. We expect Fletcher Cox, Jim Schwartz and those boys from Philadelphia will have some ideas. But, so far, nobody else has made heads or tails of anything resembling a sound plan to stop Dallas.

Just look at the NFL rankings in all of these categories. Solidly in the top 10 in the NFL in every single category that we hold dear. Let me say this again for those who missed it the other times -- even if Tony Romo was running this offense, we would be impressed. This is beyond impressive for a backup QB or a rookie QB, or both.  
That is why talk about who your QB should be is a legitimate conversation at this point. We no longer are discussing poise or composure or intangibles. Now, we have rather tangible evidence that this offense runs very, very well under Dak Prescott. Of course, we have never seen Tony Romo and Ezekiel Elliott together, but, there are almost no reasons to suggest that wouldn't be pretty devastating as well. And then, if you add in a dynamic wide receiver, well, you can understand the natives getting excited.
This is a powerful offense. I was skeptical, but they seem to have tapped right back into the 2014 recipe. Yes, the mysteries of 2015 remain, but they rediscovered the recipe. And, to everyone's delight, it does not seem fully dependent on a QB who is so old and beat-up that it cannot operate without him.
Let's look at a piece of art from my guy, John Daigle, who helps me with charts and graphics on these pieces here every week. This is the full season:

Our first impressions here are "look at all of the blue!" and look how they continue to make smart passes to the outside where Prescott is very comfortable working matchups and not tempting the middle of the field. Also, because of the running advantage, he is able to work against man coverage a lot, which means that it plays to his strengths there and resembles what he saw in college for the most part.
Also, and we can't stress this enough, there is but one yellow dot. They are staying out of trouble. Like I said, turnovers will happen when trying to make plays. But, the ratio has to be right.  And at the moment, this young man has his ratio more than right. He has been near-perfect.
Let's look at how they have racked up all of this production via personnel groupings.  

We knew "11 personnel" -- shotgun or under center was going to be great by adding Zeke. What we didn't know was how would the team fare with multiple TEs in "12" and "13" personnel. This is where things have really taken off where they are starting to gut teams with their run/pass balance looks that just cause so much stress on a defense. It makes them "never right" as they try to anticipate what is coming next.  
You can see their run numbers with a fullback (in 21 and 22) are still pretty poor, but with multiple TEs it is strong. We know as a league that the fullback is a dying breed because a TE causes many more issues for a defense than a fullback. The Cowboys offense shows this. Fullbacks are seldom receiving concerns, but if you load up to stop the run, then the Cowboys kill you with those play-action waggles which have 2 TEs running routes at different levels. It is quite a mess to sort through.
Normally, this would be easy.  I would say to keep doing what you are doing and your path is rather clear.  For the Cowboys, they have a very odd decision to return to their golden boy or ride the hot hand.  I assume this offense is good enough that both would be successful, but make no mistake, they are doing things that you would not ask Tony Romo to do.  Not that he can't do this stuff, but it would jeopardize his health and we have learned that is not a great plan.
Romo can do things Dak can't do and Dak can do things Romo can't do.  I really don't know how we got here, but we are in a place that I would probably continue to ride a team that is performing at this level for as long as I can.  
On the other hand, the No. 1 issue with Romo has been his durability and what happens if he gets hurt.  It appears the Cowboys now have an injury-proof insurance policy for Romo.  His name is Dak Prescott.
In other words, this is a very good position to be in as we crank up another game.  Tomorrow, we start on the Eagles.

No comments: