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.
COWBOYS OFFENSIVE DATA - THRU 6 GAMES
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:
DAK PRESCOTT PASSING CHART - THRU 6 GAMES
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.
PERSONNEL GROUPINGS - THRU 6 GAMES
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.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
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.
This morning, with many teams having played 7 games already while others are still on 6, I thought it might be enjoyable to take a quick roll call on where everyone is in the NFC race to finish in the Top 6. We seldom have the opportunity to look around and evaluate where the Cowboys sit, so let's make room for that exercise right here and right now.
Teams that are completely on to next season: Chicago (1-6) and San Francisco (1-6) -- These two teams have really had no impact on the season thus far aside from providing some teams with a confidence-builder Sunday along the way. Somehow, the Bears beat the Lions and the 49ers took out the Rams, but both of these teams are miles and miles away from contending. We have already written more than they deserve.
Teams that are pretty unlikely to factor in this race: New Orleans (2-4), Los Angeles Rams (3-4), Tampa Bay (3-3), and Carolina (1-5) -- I confess that I hate to quit on Carolina, because for some reason I can still see them going on an 8-2 run to finish in the wild card race, but perhaps I need to give it up. I just remember the Panthers have a pretty salty roster that lost twice last season with once being in the Super Bowl. It really makes no sense. Otherwise, New Orleans can't stop anyone, the Rams can't score and has no QB play at the moment, and Tampa Bay likely is in a similar boat -- although maybe I should not put them any lower than Detroit on this list.
Teams that I still am not really buying despite a shiny start to the year: Detroit (4-3) and the Giants (4-3). The Lions still are a team that seems to have very little on defense at the moment and the Giants spent all that money and still never touch the QB and don't even pretend to run the football. I really don't buy it and I am happy to tell you I expect swoons that take them out of the race for the Top 6 as the season moves on.
So, I have dropped 8 teams out of a 16 team race where the top 6 move on. So let's do this now in the race for the top:
Washington (4-3) - The Redskins are secretly decent right now, with an offense that is better than you think but a defense that seems to limit their upside. Their schedule will not help them much as they don't seem to have another softie on their schedule until late, late in the year. This next stretch looks pretty brutal. First place comes with a price the next year, and if they make the playoffs, they will have earned it.
Philadelphia (4-2) - This is likely to cause controversy, too. But, I do not buy that the Eagles are ready to contend. I believe the book is out on Wentz and that his group of skill position players and the Lane Johnson suspension are killers. Their defense is legit so they will be in many games, but if you want to see a tough stretch, look at what Philly is about to endure for the next six weeks. I think they would be thrilled with being 7-5 after 12 games. But, I suspect 6-6 is about right.
So, here are your 6 playoff teams from the NFC if someone was to predict on Oct. 25:
Arizona (3-3-1) - This might be a stretch, but I think Arizona is still a very good football team with many of the things I look for when I examine quality. They have a lot of tough games ahead and that road schedule may be their undoing, but overall, I think the Cardinals will figure out a way to get one of the two spots that the NFC West will surely secure.
Atlanta (4-3) - The Falcons are very difficult to fully comprehend. If you didn't know better, you would say they are approaching "Lions with Megatron" status as they continuously force the ball into Julio Jones. Their defense is still problematic, but they are now at least approaching average in certain categories (like pass rush) and I assume they will win their division (someone has to). The schedule is no picnic, but they have a running game and a small amount of depth -- which is more than usual in Atlanta. I don't trust Matt Ryan a whole lot, but they have appeared to have found a bit of a groove.
Green Bay (4-2) - The Packers season has been a mess. The offense has looked feeble and the injuries have stacked up to where they have no running backs or corner backs and have already had their bye. They also play four of the next five on the road. But, they appear to have a strong offensive line, a very good defensive front, and a QB that will now throw 50 times a game that has a pretty decent resume. I still think they might win the North, but that might be with 10 wins.
Minnesota (5-1) - The Vikings have many weaknesses and their start seems a mirage by just about all statistical accounts. Their offense just doesn't do much of anything and there are very few signs that will improve down the stretch. However, the Vikings haven't played Chicago or Detroit yet, so they have a chance at four wins right there on the horizon. Their defense carries them, but I still assume their defense is only about the third best in this playoff race (Seattle and Arizona). This many wins in the bank make them a cinch for the playoffs, but their offensive line is going to get their fragile QB hurt if something drastic doesn't change.
Seattle (4-1-1) - The Seahawks are a pleasure to watch on defense and have been for as long as anyone can remember. I am not sure they are on the same level as they were, but they are on a level that is plenty good enough. Their problem is also their offensive line, which is a disaster. They are very, very bad on offense and have already limited Russell Wilson. There is no doubt they make the playoffs, but there is also no doubt that they appear too one-dimensional to do much after that. Their schedule will push them here in the next few weeks, too.
Dallas (5-1) - I can't believe this, but the Cowboys look like they have an easier schedule than just about anyone, fewer question marks due to injury, and are no longer reliant on Tony Romo staying healthy. They actually now have Tony Romo insurance. So, not only do they have the best record in the NFC, but also the easiest schedule going in, and players returning from injury. Not only are they the favorite to win the division now, but they are also a favorite for a bye week in the playoffs. Even 3-2 in the next five through Thanksgiving puts them at 8-3, which should keep them on top of the NFC entering December.
In other words, I think the NFC is asking to be won right now. All of the normal heavyweights look flawed. And the Cowboys look rested.
That is the way I see it. But, that doesn't really matter. Let's see what happens next. On any play in any game, an injury might change this whole thing. But right now, the Cowboys position looks ideal.
One of the most surprising discoveries for Cowboys fans this season must be the revelation that this coaching staff has provided a clear and obvious advantage most weeks.
Now, there is no way to say that without sounding offensive and condescending to some very wise football men. But hopefully they can understand the cynicism after a 2015 season where they seemed to have almost no answers for the questions that were being asked of them.
The job Scott Linehan has done with the offense has been as top notch as any Cowboys offense in recent memory. Combined with the job Rod Marinelli continues to do with his rather anonymous personnel on the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys appear well-coordinated and organized. Then, Jason Garrett ties it together with some rather uncharacteristic ruthlessness and aggressiveness.
Linehan could not make heads or tails of his challenging personnel issues last year and the offense could not execute on even the most basic levels. Garrett then reacted to this and reeled in everything to a level of conservatism that made Cowboys games slightly less entertaining than the peeling of paint. Marinelli’s squad fought hard but ultimately collapsed under the pressure late in games.
By the end, it seemed that a side with less patience might decide that the coaching staff required a major overhaul and that fresh eyes might do better in charge of this roster.
But, to the credit of all involved, the boss himself did not even think of changing his coach. This is notable because, to be honest, very few head coaches get to their seventh season without anything more to show for it than a solitary Wild Card win in year five (to be fair, the fourth full year).
So the coaches and the front office went to work. And to their credit, they worked feverishly to conceive of some plans that would withstand the potential of attrition once again offering major changes. Football is a game of attrition. Injuries will occur. You will lose important pieces. So, any design that requires the presence of Tony Romo and otherwise would collapse without him is a poor design as Romo tried to begin his second decade under center. They had to begin to plan for life without him. Surely they had time, but it was speeding in their direction.
It turned out they didn’t have time. Romo was hurt immediately.
Week after week in 2016 -- all without Romo, most without Dez Bryant -- this offense has been characterized by its design. It has base plays that are effective. It then has change-ups off that design that have been impressive. Now, with things like last week when they showed several new ideas, they showed change-ups off the change-ups. Same formations, same pre-snap movements, but then as many as four or five different options are executed off the same look. Most offenses have this in theory. Scott Linehan has demonstrated they will use them all on game day, and the opposing defenses have looked overwhelmed.
Oh, and all with a rookie QB who required almost no investment to acquire. And a rookie RB who has already fulfilled the incredibly high level of promise that preceded him.
That is the story here in the bye week.
Not that this team has a QB controversy or a surprising start, but that this team is consistently outcoaching its opponent. With the same staff that was looking pretty feeble last fall.
Chances are they are the same coaches as they ever were. But, now, things have finally come together to let them prove it here.
Patience appears to be paying off for the Cowboys.
Today's topic, as we discuss defense, revolves around the simple question of: "How many points is a reasonable amount to allow in a game?"
It is important to remember that this is a league in which the margins are very close and every opponent has some exceptional talent on it. If you want a level of football where you play several games against completely incompetent opponents, the NFL isn't for you. This is the highest level of the sport and therefore, even the worst teams have many unreal football players on it. Parity. It is what this league is founded upon.
And for that reason, expectation levels for any defensive coordinator need to remain in the realm of reasonable rather than fantasy. Of course, you would prefer to give up no yards and no points, but let's understand that most of the time, even the poor teams are able to eat up statistics.
The NFL has a pretty constant "average points per game per team" number in the past several seasons. It sits at about 23 points per team.
So, as a defense in this league -- especially a defense that is in Dallas and doesn't seem to ever get its fair share of resources (premium draft picks, salary cap space) -- you are just competing against that number. In other words, you realize that having the best defense in the league is not reasonable without investment. But, the plan on this side of the ball has always been -- to steal a phrase that I like -- "trying to get to average."
If you want to be a top team in this league and in the mix for a Super Bowl every January, I would contend that very rarely does a team come along that is "top five" in offense and defense. If there is, it is usually for just a flash. Instead, you want to get one side of the ball to "elite" and the other side to league average. This seems to put you in the mix for a Super Bowl.
With that in mind, the Cowboys are trying to get under that 23-points-per-game barrier. And they have done a nice job of it with Rod Marinelli. You can tell it is easier when the offense is what it was advertised to be (elite). But this season the level has dropped substantially, in a good direction, and after two weeks of facing supposed playoff offenses -- to which they allowed 30 points over two games -- optimism is bubbling over.
So the line is 23 points per game. That is league average for any offense to score, or for any defense to allow. It is early, but getting below 23 has never been easy, and when they have, they barely did so. I cannot stress how impressive the first six weeks have been for this defense. In fact, the season high they have allowed was 23 points to Washington. Nobody has surpassed 23 points even once against Marinelli's crew. Nobody!
Now let's look at it from a perspective of what I would consider "great games." These are games in which you do not allow 21 -- games in which the Dallas defense allowed 20 points or fewer.
Those are all full seasons, you guys (except this year). This year is just through six games! They have 10 games to go. They have allowed 20 points or fewer in five of six games. They have really done well in the bend-but-don't-break defense and pursuit of average. For now, they have flown by average to a point where we'd better start asking whether their plan has really worked brilliantly.
And for that plan to work, they needed big performances from guys you didn't expect and that the league knew nothing about.
Sunday was all about those guys. Look at the names on the splash chart. By the way, the pure number of splashes is the highest since I started keeping this stat -- 21 splash plays! They got to 20 splashes three different times in 2014, but that flurry at the end of this game, when they kept stripping the ball loose, put them in a new place.
WEEK 6 SPLASH PLAYS
Anthony Brown, Terrell McClain and David Irving? Who are these guys? Ryan Davis? Benson Mayowa? Is this a no-name defense, or what? I could see it if they were led by Sean Lee and DeMarcus Lawrence or Tyrone Crawford. Instead, many of the biggest plays from this big day at Lambeau Field were made by guys making a million dollars a year or less. Bargain-basement production surely is the key to figuring out how to skin a cat with no resources.
It is also interesting to see how many splashes I had to share between two guys. I try to avoid this, but on many occasions Sunday, two guys arrived at the exact same time on players. In other words, Rod continues to get all these guys to fly to the ball and make plays.
Let's look at the tape, coach:
This is Anthony Brown. Hopefully you are up to speed with his fine work by now, but he is their sixth-round pick out of Purdue (one of several sixth-rounders, actually). This guy has had to fill in for Orlando Scandrick almost every week this season, and given that you haven't seen him make too many mistakes, we should be happy. Now he is getting confident and showing off one of his best attributes -- tackling. That's Randall Cobb in the open field.
Here is Jordy Nelson trying to get to the sticks on third down. Also, notice the three-man rush from the Cowboys. The Packers hate this. Rodgers has all day but is being kept in the pocket. Eight players in zones trying to give him nowhere to go.
Here is Anthony Brown one more time. Not sure what the lead blocker is doing here as he runs by Brown on his way to nowhere, but Brown closes fast and gets a big tackle for a loss. Starting to wonder if this is the best draft class in decades around here. And we haven't even seen Jaylon Smith yet.
There's my favorite defensive player these days. Terrell McClain has just been a pleasure this season. So much so, that I may try to get him signed during the bye week because he already has earned an extension from me. Look at that. He plays it like a linebacker, scraping to the play and then putting a form tackle on Eddie Lacy. Gracious.
Look at McClain blow up the center here and score another tackle for loss. Such a great combination of strength and quickness.
Finally, my other offseason delight was David Irving. I hope you read this during training camp. I still don't know why his snap totals are so low. But, they won't be able to keep them down if he keeps taking over games like this. He just turned 23. And he was unreal in this game with six splashes. Yes, he was given double credit if you can strip a fumble and then recover it.
He is such an active and massive body. And look at him go -- he strips Rodgers, then goes and gets it out of the pile. Awesome stuff, No. 95. And did you see they had Nos. 97 and 95 together inside on that play?
And this is the three-man rush again. But, Irving still gets to the ball to knock it loose. Nobody is open again. This is a coverage sack and the ball comes out.
Those three players -- Brown, McClain and Irving will make a total of $2.1 million combined this year. In a league where Jeff Heath makes $1.9 million, I would say there is some value in that trio.
WEEKLY DATA BOX
I realize the Cowboys might have just had to hand the Packers the rope and they would fashion their own noose, but Dallas should not apologize for an awesome four-takeaway performance in which it did not allow Green Bay into the end zone until it was too late and held it under 400 yards and 20 points at Lambeau.
AARON RODGERS THROW CHART
Those blue dots on the right were the constant swing passes to safety valves that Rodgers had to continuously settle for, most of them as the Cowboys decided to drop deep into coverage to simply allow things underneath. Rodgers did miss some throws down the field, but the plan was perfect.
And here it is. Give him time, but no options -- here is how Marinelli deployed his pass rushers:
See, don't rush him. Frustrate him with no open spots to throw. Keep him in the pocket with a spy, but flood the zones and make him make perfect throws. Some times, Rodgers can. Right now, he obviously cannot.
SEASON SPLASH TOTALS - AFTER 6 WEEKS
If you expected the leaderboard to look like this, you should gamble. I never imagined it would materialize like this.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Many of the statistics should remind us to remain suspicious about whether this model is sustainable. To be honest, we don't fully know how much of their early success is completely "situation-reliant" and a testament to the offense's play right now.
The Cowboys are 23rd in yards per rush allowed and 20th in yards per pass; 23rd in sacks per attempt and 29th on third downs.
A lot of things need to improve and can improve. At the same time, it seems a story is worth telling about this first stretch for the defense beyond just the offense being so great. If you watch the games, it is worth seeing that they fly to the ball and seem to make opposing offenses frustrated.
Honestly, we will need to see more before we offer any proclamations, but they are off to quite a start with a lot of unknown players stepping up.
Sunday was yet another impressive offensive showing for this young Cowboys squad, which took apart a decent Green Bay defense for what many of us would call a near-perfect offensive performance in this league.
We hear coaches talk about objectives quite a bit over the course of their many visits with the eager media. They talk about scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. They talk about production in terms of yardage. And they talk about winning the turnover battle.
So here is the checklist as I see it for an A-plus offensive performance:
28 points or more
400 yards or more
Win the turnover battle
And by all of these measures, the Cowboys had quite a day in Green Bay.
Six scores on 11 possessions for 30 points; 424 yards of total offense; +2.
If you nail all of these, you are nearly unbeatable. In fact, they are 10-2 under Jason Garrett when they accomplish this, with the two losses going down as two of the most insane losses in franchise history. The December 2011 "Lost in the Lights" game vs. the Giants, 37-34, and the even more absurd 51-48 loss to Denver in 2013.
In fact, the Cowboys under Jason Garrett have played 48 regular-season road games and have only hit the triple three times. At New York in his first game as coach in 2010, at Washington on Christmas weekend of 2014, and this game.
On the road: score 30, gain 400-plus yards and put together a turnover margin of +2.
And that is why "grading the offense" was pretty elementary stuff this week.
There is a lot to look at this week, but I wanted to start by suggesting I will reference this game from henceforth as "The Lucky Whitehead Game," if you don't mind. Lucky is a second-year undrafted free agent who was brought in merely as a return man, but one more sign of the excellence of this offense is that they have a design in mind for every member of the squad, trying to find an extra edge that may win them a game along the way this season.
This was when you were going to see Whitehead in motion and that there always was a purpose for it. He plays about 15 snaps a game and most of them are in a package we call "13" because there is one running back and three tight ends in the game:
This is a grouping that screams "run" to the defense. They are planning on pounding the ball because they have eight run blockers of size. Therefore, you better beef up that defense or they are going to run Zeke right at you.
But, they also plan to keep you honest. If you do not respect that one wide receiver, they will use him so that all future opponents know they are not bluffing. Often, it has been Dez Bryant as the lone wolf. But recently, it has been a "little," like Cole Beasley or Lucky Whitehead, who can destroy you if you only have one guy to match his quicks.
And on Sunday, there was destruction from Lucky Whitehead.
First, we should recognize how big that drive right before halftime was. Here is a few minutes of our conversation with Jason Witten from Monday about this play below:
Above, I circled Whitehead in blue and Julius Peppers in red. Peppers is the key here, and you will see in the video below that he is the unblocked player the Cowboys will read:
As Witten says in that audio, they use the threat of Zeke to take Peppers out of the play. Then, Lucky needs just a sliver to get by with his speed, and once he does, the Packers have nobody else over there if the tight ends -- Witten and Geoff Swaim -- can get out and block. It was so easy and yet so effective.
So then they come back to 13 later in the game. The Packers are terrified of the jet sweep again, so here comes the changeup to the changeup. Lucky on the sweep is the first changeup to a handoff to Zeke. Here is the next one, which served as the kill shot later in the game:
And the end-zone view:
This is the genius of this offense right now. There are so many threats, and if you demonstrate they can all hurt you, now you have the defense thinking and not attacking. You can hear the collective cussing of the entire Packers secondary on this play, when they know they have been duped again. You can see the culprit is No. 36, LaDarius Gunter, who had what we call a really rough day in the NFL.
That is why you cannot underestimate any injury on the field. Both coaching staffs are finding the weak spots. The Cowboys saw the Packers did not have Sam Shields. They also did not have Quinten Rollins. They then lost Damarious Randall on that play in the second quarter. So Gunter is their fourth corner and the Baylor basketball player, Demetri Goodson, is their fifth -- and both were playing all day. This changed the Packers' blitz attack and also changed the places Dak would go with the ball. Once they saw Gunter struggle, they went at him again and again.
This is a merciless league. Back to that play after the jet sweep on the drive that may have changed quite a bit about this 2016 season for both teams and the NFC race:
So Gunter switched sides after Randall got hurt and the Cowboys attack. Here, they try the undrafted corner out on the double move. He falls and Dak hits Terrance Williams for a huge gain.
Now, they have hit two huge plays in a row. What should they do for a third?
That's right. Send Brice Butler over there for a turn against Gunter. Beautiful fade. Touchdown. Dak Prescott hits on all of his throws in this scenario and his counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, did not.
And to prove they were watching Gunter all day, here he is again, being duped by yet another different Cowboy, Cole Beasley, for a touchdown.
There is a very good chance you had never heard of LaDarius Gunter until Sunday. Well, now you see his fingerprints all over this game.
This is what coaching can do. Find and destroy bad matchups.
WEEKLY OFFENSIVE DATA
What an impressive showing from the offense that accomplished a ton on the ground as well. In fact, this may also show how we take this offensive line for granted if I am hardly giving Elliott and the line any time this morning after the way they carved up the "top rushing defense" in the league.
As I indicated in the preview, Green Bay had not seen anything like this offensive line and they were going to be in for a long day.
PRESCOTT THROW CHART
Ah, yes, the Dak Prescott deep shot made its debut. They had a real chance to hit on that long pass to Brice Butler right before the interception, but it didn't quit connect. We will see more of that in the future because the pass is there with all of this running.
With Dak Prescott as your quarterback, play action should be so effective. He seems to have way more Russell Wilson-like tendencies than we ever imagined.
On days like this, we can see that it really isn't a question of what worked. Nearly everything they tried worked, and they saw a Green Bay team that likes to play nickel all day and, therefore, made them change that. This is what versatility brings. You make a defense leave its comfort zone by changing things up.
If they like to play big, you counter with "11 personnel" all day. But if they like to play small, you force them to defend multiple tight ends and even a fullback all day. One of the best sayings about offensive play-calling these days is to "make them wrong," which is to say that as a textbook offense, you can never let the defense choose correctly. They can't defend everything.
BEATING THE BLITZ
At the risk of making this report too long, I also wanted to circle back to the theme of last week, when I wrote that this would be a wonderful test. Going to Green Bay was going to force the Cowboys to prove they could beat pressure.
And that is the thing about blitzing. You can't count it in raw numbers because it is not something that can be counted blitz for blitz. If you can't deal with the blitz, they send more. If you burn it, they send fewer. And for a number of reasons -- including Green Bay realizing its corners were outclassed -- the Cowboys saw some blitzes early, dealt with them and chased them all away.
By my count, they faced six blitzes Sunday. Five were in the first half. Here they are:
A beautiful, quick out to Cole Beasley for an easy gain. This is how you stop a defense from blitzing. It looks so easy when you hit them right in their weakness.
Another blitz, another first down for Dak. Easy slant and nice gain. This is easy, although that hit hurt a bit. By the way: As you can see, a blitz almost always means man coverage. Cover 1 here.
Third blitz. Dak has a first-and-10, and he is confident. He moves Zeke out to ISO against the safety in another Cover 1 look. With protection, he finds a matchup and goes to work. This didn't connect, but it is enough to stress out a defensive coordinator about what happens if he tries it again.
Fourth blitz, still in the first quarter, and the Packers get home and a takeaway. You can see Dak is looking at Zeke at the top vs. Clay Matthews, and Clay is planning on jumping that route. This is the one point the Cowboys looked a bit stressed themselves.
Fifth blitz. This is the play where the Packers lost Randall, the corner, to the groin. He blew his groin trying to deal with another Dak decision. He also has Cole Beasley for a big gain across the middle. Dak makes very quick decisions and delivers a fastball. So the Cowboys have seen five blitzes and, four times, dealt with them very well.
That, and the poor personnel that was trying to play man coverage behind these blitzes, caused the Packers to stop until they were very desperate late in the game. One last try:
One last blitz. Cover 1 behind it. Prescott sees Jason Witten to move the chains again. Nice and easy.
If you beat the blitz, you stop seeing the blitz.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Standing ovation. There is nothing to nitpick, really.