Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Decoding Linehan - Week 7 - Philadelphia


Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) runs the ball during the second quarter of their game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)
Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) runs the ball during the second quarter of their game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)

Decoding Linehan

One of the most cliched "coachisms" is when they discuss things that need to be better, despite the final score looking favorably on an effort. "It is better to learn after a win." The idea that a guy is already beat up after a loss. You don't need to keep punishing him in the film room. Sometimes, you have no choice, but isn't it better to look at this film after a win?

In other words, how good can a team or player become if you can still win a game with this much that can be done better?
The Cowboys won a game on Sunday that looked like a loss for most of it. In fact, they were down to about a five percent chance of winning early in the fourth quarter if you believe win probabilities.
And they won a game with a rookie quarterback looking quite a bit like a rookie quarterback for much of the game. He was rattled, confused and looked plenty "off."
And the great news is he kept fighting and scrapping and refused to get discouraged. He looked a very impressive opponent in the face and asked, "Is that all you got?" He is a very impressive young man and I am sure he will be better from this performance.
The crazy part? He also just did something that Tony Romo never accomplished. On Sunday, Dak Prescott led the Cowboys to yet another 400-yard offensive day. This was the Cowboys' fifth in a row, and if you go back to 2006 -- the start of the Romo era -- you cannot find a streak longer than four. You can find several years when they didn't have five 400-yard days all season (2006, 2008, 2013 and 2015). Prescott has engineered five straight, with his fifth being a day when he knows he had a rough go and there were yards everywhere to be had.
This is life in the NFL. This is the growth process. That Eagles game will be tough for him to watch, but it will undoubtedly make him a better quarterback.
We are going to look at seven plays here where the offense looked "off" and try to find reasons for it. We will mostly ignore the good plays from the offense to keep this blog reasonable in length, but we also realize anyone reading this piece knows that we don't have to offer "equal time" to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy. You watched the game. You know about the good plays, too. Let's try to figure out what the Eagles were doing so well.
First, they were blitzing a lot. They brought more pressure than anyone all season -- by quite a bit. This, despite the Eagles not being a pressure team all season before the Vikings game the week before.
Now, here are some of the problematic plays from Sunday:
First drive, third and 12. This is a throw Dak has made all year. The Eagles are bringing one more than the Cowboys can block, but he does have Beasley out by the sticks. Just a poor throw. But look at the blitz arriving. Prescott now knows that third-and-long is going to be an adventure if Jim Schwartz is testing him hard.
Second and 9, Cowboys go 12 personnel and want to set up play-action. Now, if you do that, understand that you only have two receivers in route. The Eagles are prepared for the Cowboys' tendencies and know that 12 personnel with Nos. 88 and 83 on the same side means 88 is the guy likely to attract the attention deep, so Terrance Williams will run an outside breaking route underneath Dez to the sideline. That is where Dak goes.
Instead, the linebacker, Mychal Kendricks (No. 95), has done his film study and is going to undercut that favorite route. Dak is going to see that and throw the ball away. If he throws it right at Williams, Kendricks might walk into the end zone. This is actually a good decision, although it looked bad on Sunday.
Here is that end-zone interception. You can see the Eagles are using Cover 1 with a rat in the hole to basically play safety underneath and read Dak's eyes. This might be the small issue with overconfidence from a quarterback. You start to ignore what you know. In the red zone, you just can't flirt with traffic. It is a quick-instinct game, but that throw to the flat for Beasley is where you have a numbers advantage and it is only second down. At worst, you want a field goal. Don't play with all of that traffic inside. He tried to use Witten as a decoy and Jordan Hicks knew that trick. Very poor decision.
Third and 8 and the Eagles go Cover 0! No safety. That means they can bring one more than you can block and Dak must get rid of the ball quickly. Look to the bottom, where the Cowboys have everyone but Dez and it looks like Beasley and Williams are running into each other. Dak has no choice. I don't think he is trying to hook up with Dez as much as he is just trying to get rid of it here. I don't blame him for being surprised that the Eagles are playing Cover 0. They don't do that much, but that was their plan all night. Blitz and blitz and blitz some more. That blitz total above is just on pass plays, but they were run-blitzing all night, too.
This is third and goal from the 5. Cowboys are down 20-10 and this is the drive with the fake punt. The pressure right now is maximized and Dak just wants to make a play. But man, you just can' t do this. This is his teaching moment. I imagine he will look at this with Scott Linehan and decide to never try this again. Williams saves him with an offensive pass interference, but this is just poor quarterback play, all in the name of trying to make something special happen.
The boys up front look fooled here. The Eagles bluff a blitz and then back off one side. This makes the Cowboys slide protection to the left, which then leaves a free guy off Doug Free's outside shoulder. Now he comes untouched and again, with 3:19 to play, you have to know it is first down. On first down, we don't play "hero ball." Throw the ball out of bounds. Instead, he tries to make the guy miss and still get it out to Brice Butler. And the corner out there almost ends the game. Very lucky this one is not picked off and the dream ends there. But, to Dak's credit, he threw the game-tying touchdown on the very next play. Sometimes, it is better to be lucky than good. Other times, it helps to be both.
This last one is just another Cover 0 blitz, as the Eagles are now just rolling the dice to stay in the game. Man, they were risky. And here, the Cowboys have a chance to end the game. Unfortunately, Dez and Dak are not on the same page. Again, we have Witten and Butler running into each other, but with no safety, all you have to do is throw it out there and Dez should at least put you in field-goal range. Just put air under the ball and hope he can find it. I am not saying this is quarterback error, because I would love to know what happened. But wow, this is the game right here on a stick. What a missed opportunity that hopefully, next time, won't get away.
So, you may read this and look at these clips and say you need Romo back. I would caution against that thinking because Romo, vs. this Eagles blitz, may not last until halftime, physically. The Eagles were not playing around on Sunday and the fact that Dak survived, had a 99 quarterback rating in the second half and engineered several late scoring drives says a lot. Romo is a great player, but I am not sure you beat the Eagles without a fully mobile and strong quarterback like Prescott.
In other words, a win with 460 yards of offense is his bad day. What a story this kid is.


Above, you can see a few things that stick out. For me, we are seeing some regression on third down. Over the past two weeks, the Cowboys have slowed their ridiculous pace on third down and went just 7 for 25 against Green Bay and Philadelphia. That is far below the 50 percent they were at before that stretch.
We also haven't even looked at the running game, but make no mistake, they were challenged and pretty much shut down on outside runs, but they kept plugging away and eventually found success in the middle with the battering ram that is Ezekiel Elliott.


A rough day for sure, but those 20-yard outs are turning into his bread and butter. He is starting to hit those deep outs. This one in overtime wasn't pretty, but it certainly was effective:
That was maybe his best throw of the night. Look at Witten get across in pass protection and look at Dak -- now three hours into his night -- still standing tall in the pocket amid the chaos.
And that pass made this one possible:
From the end zone:
Speaking of people running into each other, this time it worked in the Cowboys favor.


This chart shows me that the Eagles defensive personnel was not scared of the Cowboys' multiple-tight end packages that killed the Bengals and Packers. Look at 12 and 13 personnel and the yards per carry. Twelve carries for 25 yards. And on play-action they hit a few times out of this look, but nothing too damaging.
The Eagles were very well scouted and put together for this game. Their corners held up in man coverage and they kept Zeke from getting loose. I am very impressed with how the Eagles' defense matched up. I am sure they are encouraged about what this could mean going forward for their fortunes if they can build an offense that complements their defense. Because right now, they are out there by themselves, it seems.


"It is better to learn after a win."
There was nothing easy or pretty about that. But, I do think it is a major step in the maturation process of the team and its rookie quarterback. They were productive and wasteful all at the same time, which is a hard thing to do in this league.
They should expect more blitzes and expect teams to examine the Eagles' moderate success and try to steal those ideas.
But what a start for this offense. They appear to be very powerful, and once Dez and Dak get on the same page, you can see more opportunities ahead.

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