Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Decoding Linehan - Week 11 - Washington


Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates a catch during the fourth quarter of their game against the Washington Redskins on Thursday, November 24, 2016 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)
Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates a catch during the fourth quarter of their game against the Washington Redskins on Thursday, November 24, 2016 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)
This was a paragraph from Friday's Morning After column: 

It was another dominant and efficient offensive performance. The Cowboys balanced their offense with 5.4 yards per run and 7.6 yards per pass. They converted third downs at 50 percent but also played well enough that they hardly ever encountered third downs. On their first three touchdown drives, they never had a single third-down situation. Not one!
They did not get to 400 yards but still were able to win a game without their defense getting much footing all day long and simply looking by the end of the game as if their offense was just unstoppable.
This is beginning to look like more than a trend. This looks like reality. The Cowboys score on more than half of their drives - an incredible NFL rarity - and they do so with a balanced offense that is as efficient as it is powerful.  
The beat goes on for another week and the league rankings indicate the power as the Cowboys rank near the top of all of the major categories.
Yards Per Game: 4th
Yards Per Play: 4th
Rush Yards Per Game: 2nd
Rush Yards Per Play: 3rd
Pass Yards Per Game: 16th
Pass Yards Per Play: 2nd
Interception Rate: 2nd
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 6th
First Downs Per Game: 2nd
Third Down Conversions: 3rd
Red Zone Conversions: 6th
Average Time of Possession: 1st
Points Per Game: 3rd
You won't find another offense in the league with that consistent a stat line.  It is borderline absurd.
My favorite part of looking at the data box above is knowing that while the accomplishments on 3rd down and in the red zone are exceptionally efficient, the fact is that the production there represents one of the less impressive weeks of the season.
Yes, that is correct. You may pinch yourself. Thanksgiving was both an amazing show of force from the Rookie RB/QB tandem and also a "down week" in some regard. Absurd.  
Just look at the drive chart. Maybe what kept them below 400 yards was the concession from Jay Gruden that the Redskins needed to get desperate with decisions that gave the Cowboys shorter fields. This kept the yardage down, but not the points.  
They have demonstrated that they will punt about once per half this season. Then, they will score 3-4 touchdowns and tack on a field goal or two. If you want to beat this offense, it is up to you to figure out how to match that. This is why teams don' t even bother running the ball. They are too desperate to try to assume they can run the ball. They need points.  

Down below, I want to look at some of these throws. The throw charts have been consistent this season in decision making from Prescott. Throw away from numbers.  
Again, more of the same. 11 Personnel is what this team produces out of and makes you declare how you plan to stop this running game. 11 Personnel is almost always going to be Elliott at RB, with Witten, Beasley, Williams, and Bryant. This grouping requires at least five DBs because you want - at worst - a safety up top and then man coverage on each of the four receivers. Also, you better not try to match up a linebacker on Elliott, because he will run right by him, so the defense often will go dime. That means six defensive backs, of course, and this then means you only have five "bigs" left. Often, they try to stay nickel and use four DL and two LBs because they know if they go dime, then the Cowboys will run the ball right down their throat.
This is what I mean when I suggest that the defense cannot be right. Whichever they choose, Linehan and Dak go the other way. They are just playing probabilities. With these odds, we think we can have this much success. You go dime, we run. You go nickel, we pass into man coverage all day and we think we have guys who can win against man.  
Then, on third down, they stay in man coverage because they are worried about Dak and Zeke getting to the sticks with either a scramble, a dump down, or some other play when the WRs/TEs clear out the underneath options. It really ties a defense in knots. Even on third down!
Don't believe me? Let's watch this play out:
3rd and 8 from early in the 2nd Quarter. The Cowboys know they are seeing man coverage because Washington is trying to get pressure. 5-man blitz and a 6th man is spying Dak/waiting for Zeke. This leaves 5 defenders in the secondary and when Dak sees the safety he KNOWS it is man coverage. This is simple when you know the coverage.
Now, a series of crossers and he just has to hit his target. He chooses Dez (Williams was open, too). 1st down.  
This is 3rd and 14. The league averages 20% on 3rd and 10+. So, you are supposed to have a 1 in 5 chance at converting this.  He makes maybe his best throw of the year to Cole Beasley on a corner route that has a small window with a receiver with a tiny catch radius. Dart.
The protection is wonderful. That is absolutely the best component of this offense and I don't want that to get lost.  Ask any of these other NFC teams that have playoff aspirations and they will tell you that the Dallas pass protection provides an unfair advantage. They are right. This is unfair. But, that doesn't mean this throw is easy.  This is a very big-league throw. And he made it look simple.  
Here is the dagger. 3rd and 9 here. This time, the protection requires Dak to take some evasive action. By this point, he believes he can make any throw on the field. And here he proves it.  
I mean, are you kidding me? He is running to his right. He is about to get hit. And he takes the deep shot on 3rd and 9 to the goal-line. Dez has to go up to get it and is brought down before the line, but this is not what a bus driver would do. This is a play-maker throw. By a guy who knows what coverage he will see every time and knows how to take advantage of these favorable matchups down the field.
To those who think that any QB makes these throws, you are kidding yourself. As much as I love Tony Romo, the simple reality here is that Prescott forces you to bring players up to stop his legs and that means he almost always sees man coverage behind it. A QB with lesser feet and/or durability sees more complex coverages because he is not a running threat. It is simple math. The legs make your throws easier.  
So, 3rd and 9, 3rd and 7, 3rd and 14, and 3rd and 8. All converted and all vital throws, save for the one time that Prescott used his feet to run for it. Another 50% day for your rookie QB.
This was his stiff-arm in the second quarter. He knows he can do this now.  
Superlatives are now routine for this offense.  
Back to Friday's Column for the wrap-up:
I don't know how many more ways to describe these games, because at times, it is exactly what we have been calling it in this space for weeks. 
"Repeatable and sustainable." 
There is nothing fluky about this offensive power. There is something familiar about it, though. It has opponents looking as flustered as they used to appear against the old "Triplets" 25 years back. 
They have a long ways to go to get into that conversation, but they definitely seem to be standing on the gas and going as fast as they can to get there.
They are now into December with fresh challenges yet to come. I can't wait to see what Minnesota does to try to slow down this train and what the Cowboys do to try to keep that from happening. This will be a tremendous test.

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