Last season, nobody knew what to expect in a post-Romo world. He had served the organization well and gave seasons of excitement filled with enough highlights to fill a YouTube queue for hours and hours. He had a style, and it ended in many celebrations and quite a few fiery explosions, too. You never knew where the roller coaster would take you. This is life with an excellent gun-slinger. You take him as far as he can take you, because it is all built around him. There were discussions before the year - as early as 2008 - that they needed to design something more "Romo-friendly," then the next year they told us he just needed more weapons, with the next year Jerry Jones (his GM!) telling us he didn't really need a good offensive line (this really happened), followed by the next year his GM admitting that he could use some help on the offensive line.
It was a decade of joy and pain. It was unpredictable and exciting. That is great for a movie. But, for football, any coach would tell you that exciting works sometimes, but they could live without it if they could find something more predictable.
So, when the Dak Prescott/Ezekiel Elliott era blasted off, it only took a few weeks before I started describing it as repeatable and sustainable. They had an offense that did not seem overly complex, nor did it appear difficult for those asked to do their jobs. It isn't easy - don't misunderstand me, but it also didn't seem terribly difficult for the offense to succeed if they simply followed their own recipe. Regardless of opponent, weather, playing surface, or even game situation, if they followed their own simple plan, we started seeing that defenses couldn't slow them down.
Even with a rookie QB and a rookie RB, we kept waiting for the league to catch up to them. And, it really never happened. Now, 24 games into this new era, we are seeing the 2017 stats back where most of the 2016 stats were. We are also seeing this new group has gone 18-6 over this stretch of games which measures up against anyone. Only New England (20) has won more games since the start of 2016 than the Dallas Cowboys. And, despite a few flaws and constant headlines for nonsense, this team can be described as an offensive juggernaut. A machine, of sorts.
So, to see them - once again - against the Kansas City Chiefs roll out several length-of-the-field drives that ended in touchdowns, we see what they continue to do well. They are powerful, they are efficient, and when they need a play, they get one. Third-down efficient. Lots of red-zone trips. And when they get down there, they punch it in for a touchdown.
On third downs, the Cowboys are fourth in the NFL. They move the chains constantly. That keeps drives alive where they move the ball down the field.
They have the third-best red-zone TD percentage. When they get inside your 20, you cannot stop them. Only two teams are better - the Packers and the Eagles.
But, the Cowboys get to the red zone more than those teams. They rank third in red-zone trips. The Rams and the Patriots have been there more often.
If you rank third in trips and third in percentage, you are going to be No. 1 in red-zone points. And they are. They have scored 173 red-zone points this year in the NFL. In other words, you can't keep them out of the red zone - and when you do, they are getting a touchdown. Look at this week-by-week chart:
This week was yet another perfect cash-in percentage. Just like against the Cardinals and the Packers, the Cowboys got 7 points every single time they broke the 20.
Again, not to sound like a broken record here, but we will say it all again: Third down is great. Red zone is perfect. No giveaways. Very good yardage. Solid time of possession. And 28 points.
Rinse, repeat. This is why I call them a machine. They just press start and it takes care of itself.
DAK PRESCOTT THROW CHART
Another week of Dak moving the offense without any interceptions. One scare on the out to Witten, but otherwise the best part of the secondary for the Chiefs was the sun - which broke up three plays to Cowboys receivers. In fact, three of those red dots between the numbers are sun plays. SMH.
You can start to see that 11-personnel is coming around. I think this will be quite important in the long term and the Cowboys certainly agree with 42 snaps and 273 yards in that set. At the end of the day, this is where we will need to be in the fourth quarter of games, so it is vital that Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley can beat defenses - especially if they are to move forward without Elliott.
Let's look at some tape:
This might be the throw of his career. Dak on a 3rd and 15, and the Cowboys got a little aggressive. In fact, this is football in a nutshell. Because the throw was made and the catch was performed so well, we will call the coaches "aggressive and ruthless." If that ball sails on Dak into the teeth of a three-deep secondary and it is turned over at this crucial spot in the game, the same coaches would be ripped a new one.
That said, their confidence in their QB to make a throw is something we don't always see. And then for him to repay that confidence with converting it is just fantastic stuff.
Same play - look at the protection. And then, look at this throw. Tell me about the arm strength and the accuracy and the bus driver stuff again. This is a big-time play in a big-time game.
That sets up the next play.
Now, Dak is flushed from the pocket to the right. He loves to leave this way, but he also loves to keep his eyes downfield. Why? Because he knows that he has the corner in a bind. If the corner stays with Williams, he will run for 10-15 free yards. If the corner comes to him, Williams will be wide open down the sideline. This is knowing your coverages and the situation and how isolating one defender and making him make a decision is how you stay out of trouble as a QB. Make the defense choose their poison. And then you make them pay. This is beautiful QB play.
Again, if you don't make the defense pay for this mistake, you show inefficiency. But, it is no accident that Dak Prescott and this offense are so good at making teams pay for mistakes. There are no let-offs when you show Dak an opening. He is seeing the field like a champ right now.
Third and goal from the 10 - same drive. Watch the Chiefs double the two red-zone threats - 82-Witten and 11-Beasley, so you have seven Chiefs in coverage and they all have assignments. So, again, Dak knows if he breaks the pocket, there is nobody watching him. This is all one decision-tree sequence. He goes down his mental list and sees he could make this throw to Beasley, but why? He is safer to just take it himself.
He has to break the pocket and elude 97-Bailey. He almost stumbles, but his athleticism is the key here and then when he gets in, you see what that means. Love his game right now.
So, why is this team so good in the red zone? The RPOs. We showed you this above at that link, but here is a reminder of the RPO sequence. No. 1: Give to Zeke. No. 2: Keep and run when the DE dives in. No. 3 is keep and throw to either Dez on the fade or No. 4 the Beasley matchup if you see the middle wide open because they are all sitting on the run.
It is literally the easiest throw on the field. The Chiefs might not have cable. Here it is again. Same spot, and almost the same everything.
How is this throw available again? Well, let's look below. It isn't just the threat to Zeke.
Look at 38 peel out of there. He knows the defense needs help with Dez on the fade. So, the safety vacates, the LBs are sitting on Zeke, and there is no way to deal with Beasley, who has a 2-way option based on leverage of his man. Play inside and he goes to the pylon. Play outside and he goes to the post.
Unstoppable. Repeatable. I really am not sure how to defend everything. Which is why I continue to say I expect this offense to be in pretty good shape without Zeke in the short term. There are still plenty of headaches for opponents if you have a replacement level RB. And they have three reasonable options without Zeke.
This last concept I wanted to show you is something they have been doing more and more this year. It is basically putting Williams as a tight end on this Dak bootleg. Why? Because he is so much faster than anyone else who would play this TE spot, so on this shallow boot, he blows right by any LB who would have to account for him.
Again, the concept is that the play-action fake gets the defense moving the other way, and then you reverse back against the grain. This isolates the edge defender to choose. Go get Dak or get Williams. You can't get both.
Choose one, he does the other. It is an easy throw, it is without danger, and it moves the chains.
Simple. Move the chains and game over.
When you have this much talent and a QB who understands risk/reward and has the ability to put the ball where he needs and keep his composure, you can run your offense like a machine. And since October 1, they are elite - 32.4 points per game with 409 yards of offense per game and 917 rushing yards, which leads the league. Also, since the Rams game, Prescott has been rolling along with a quarterback rating of 104.2 with 11 touchdown passes, three more touchdown runs and just two interceptions.
They remain on course. Keep everyone healthy and keep rolling.