Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Decoding Linehan - Week 10 - Baltimore


Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrate a touchdown during the fourth quarter of their game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, November 20, 2016 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)
Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrate a touchdown during the fourth quarter of their game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, November 20, 2016 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)
This season has provided us with a Cowboys offense that is officially becoming ridiculous.  When ridiculous becomes expected, then you run the risk of people not realizing what they are looking at.  I get that and I assume that is part of my job here on this weekly offensive evaluation.  To explain that this is not normal.  

The Cowboys in 2016 are doing things that are officially absurd.  And you can qualify it as being special "since they have a rookie QB" or you can evaluate the way that rookie QB is doing things (including pointing out where he could be doing better), but the bottom line remains the bottom line.  This offense is doing things that are historic by Cowboys standards.  And, I don't need to tell you that the Cowboys have a historical standard that is about as high as it gets.
The standard throughout the NFL for ages has been 400 yards total offense.  This is what teams aim for, in that you will seldom get there. But if you get to 400 yards, you should have 28 points on the board (or so) and you should be able to win those games.  In other words, if you get to 400 yards, the offense becomes nearly blameless, unless they had a bunch of giveaways in the process.  
This offense AVERAGES 400 yards a game,  413 to be exact.  They have had 400 yards in 8 consecutive games.  That is easily the longest streak in Cowboys history.  In fact, 8 is the most any Cowboys team has ever had in an entire season.  Here are the last 50 years of Dallas Cowboys offense, measured by 400-yard games by season:
Those other two 8-game seasons were 2009 and 2012.  In both of those years, the longest streak was 2 in a row.  In 2014, they had 5 400-yard games, with a long streak of four in a row.  In 1976, they also ran off four in a row.  And that is it.
So, now the Cowboys have had eight consecutive 400 yard games and actually average 413 per game for a season that is now 10 games old.  
So, now, let's ask the question, "if this is the best in Cowboys history, where does it rank in NFL history?"
Well, thankfully, somebody already did the work for me.  The fantastic Danny Kelly at the Ringer had this yesterday:
The Cowboys have now racked up 400-plus yards of offense in eight straight games, a feat matched in a single season just twice before in league history: The Broncos did it in 2013 with Peyton Manning at the helm, and the Tom Brady-led Patriots strung together eight 400-plus yard games to start the 2007 season. The difference, of course, is that those two teams were led by arguably the two best quarterbacks to ever play this sport; Manning set an NFL record with 55 touchdowns in 2013, leading Denver to a Super Bowl berth, while Brady tossed 50 scores of his own in 2007, carrying the Pats to a 16-0 regular season and an appearance in the Super Bowl.
I will allow you a moment to collect yourself after reading that.  The Cowboys can set NFL history on Thursday in this category.
Again, it is easy to get used to all of this.  They have scored less than 27 just once (24 in San Francisco) since Week 1.  They have had a passer rating under 100 just once since Week 1 (Philadelphia).  They have given the ball away more than once just one time (Green Bay).  
They are a machine right now.  Where every component is performing at a satisfactory-or-better level and they seem to just take turns getting their plays in.  
I spent some time yesterday, in the Morning After column, talking about the turning point for me in the game being when they overcame the 1st and 30 hole.  So, naturally, I wanted to check my archives to see if the Cowboys have ever had to deal with a 1st and 30 since I started charting every play back in 2008.  
I found one and it was worth revisiting.  
Week 1 in 2012.  Maybe one of the best games ever of the Tony Romo era.  They went in on Opening Night and beat the Giants on their ring ceremony night and spoiled the party.  This 1st and 30 touchdown was pretty special and, may I say, a pretty gutsy throw into a tight space.  
Miles went up and got it.  
So, they have faced a 1st and 30 before.  Still, you aren't supposed to get out of 1st and 30 very often.  
Here is one of the penalties that got them in this hole.  I say that Tyron Smith has one of the most impressive looking holds here I have ever seen.  He is so strong.  What a "Hulk Smash" that was.  
He is just entering his prime.  
Anyway, penalties are bad, but they worked their way out of the hole to face a 3rd and 6.  This is where the Cowboys went for their biggest gain of the day: 
Just like last week in Pittsburgh, when Dak sees a single-high safety shading to the wrong side, he is going to give his guy a chance to beat man-coverage.  You have to love this, although on 3rd and 6, it does come with the risk of killing a drive if you come up empty.  The Ravens are expecting something short, so they dare him to go for that and Brice Butler makes a very nice play.  Well done.  
That led to this beauty on 3rd and Goal.  The degree of difficulty to keep this drive from stalling at less than 7 points has been high the whole drive.  I think that this play here is not a play to be marginalized.  This is a very small window and he hits it.  Also, great job by Beasley to uncover at the right moment.
Nothing else is open, either.  So, 1st and 30.  Then, 3rd and 6.  Then, 3rd and goal.   He had a fantastic drive and the hit he received from CJ Mosely was just a bonus.
Tell me again how the RB is doing everything for this offense, please.  
Let's visit about the Cowboys facing the blitz.  The Ravens were a very aggressive defense and while the raw blitz numbers were less than Pittsburgh, they still had the line crowded and were throwing every confusion tactic possible at the Cowboys offense:
As you can see, the league is trying every idea they can think of to cause problems and disrupt the freight train that is speeding right at them.  That is why it is vital that you burn the hands that touch the stove.  Like the following in the 4th Quarter from Sunday as Jason Witten left the game with some sore ribs.  That put Gavin Escobar in "11 Personnel" for maybe the first time I can recall.
Ravens try a 5-man zone blitz which Prescott deciphers with ease and moves the chains.  When they blitz, there will almost always be a quick option and as Roethlisberger did so often the week before, the stick route to the tight end is usually a great option.  
End zone view:
Anyone can make that throw, right?  Well, you have a second to figure everything out.  The good QBs make complex things look easy.  
2 plays later, the Ravens are coming again.
The Cover 0 blitz!  7 man pressure leaves no time at all.  You don't have enough blockers.  
But, again, how easy is this?  Slant to Dez, he has inside leverage and now it is a matter of a proper throw and then he just has to overpower a corner to the end zone.  
Too Simple.  But, doing this consistently is not easy.  
How about Lance Dunbar again with a solid blitz pickup.  
Dak is seeing the field well and has just rolled through how many weeks in a row without even being close to an interception?  All while racking up another 300 yard day of passing.  
He started slow, but once he got going, Baltimore was out of ideas.  
There is one development that is worth keeping your eyes on.  Geoff Swaim's injury has seemed to take away the 12 personnel options a bit and this might have something to do with running the ball inside recently.  That is a very valuable package and with no James Hanna or Geoff Swaim, they are left with Gavin Escobar or nothing.  In the past, they have preferred nothing of those two, but they might be willing to give the 4th year man another chance to prove he can run block a bit.  
11 Personnel is obviously doing great, but multiple options gives Linehan a much larger deck to draw from, so let's see what they do this week.  I imagine, they would want 12 personnel options in Minnesota, for sure.  
They have tied the all-time NFL record for consecutive 400-yard games despite using a rookie QB who was taken at pick #135.  What do you think the conclusion is?  
Keep healthy and keep trucking.

No comments: