Monday, January 23, 2017

Cowboys Ponder Their Own Free Agents

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2017/01/23/sturm-cowboys-ponder-future-free-agents

Checking In On The Dallas Stars

We certainly haven't spent much time on the Stars here on the blog, but with all of the TV time dedicated to them it seemed like a fair time to check the bad news.  And there is considerable bad news for where this team presently sits in the standings.  Their season is in a very disappointing spot after 48 games with just 47 points and only 19 wins.

There are a number of reasons for this, but they are currently around a 16% chance of post-season play this spring, which seems about 80% lower than we assumed when the puck dropped on the year.

Can it be saved?  Sure.  But, with each passing performance, it seems clear that the hockey being played in no way resembles the hockey they put out there for much of last season.  We can speculate what is health, what is poor roster assembly, and what is just poor performances from players, but the facts add up to some very disconcerting views that I tried to express on these following graphics.

They are each a look from a monthly perspective, the downward trends in 4 vitally important metrics that all look rather similar:

POWER PLAY BY MONTH - OCT 2015 - JAN 2017



PENALTY KILL BY MONTH - OCT 2015 - JAN 2017



CORSI PERCENTAGE BY MONTH - OCT 2015 - JAN 2017


SAVE PERCENTAGE BY MONTH - OCT 2015 - JAN 2017


All of them have a similar trend, but I am positive some of you are wondering what the rankings are to verify they have gone from a very good NHL team that won the West last year to a team that has a 16% chance of making the Top 8 in the West this year.

So, here are the rankings for each of those 4 vital metrics:


This chart will show you why many of us don't always point at goaltending as the issue.  They won the west last year with saves at 25th.  They had a style and won with it and were one game from the Western Conference Finals.  I am not saying you should aspire to have poor goalies, but they figured out how to deal with it.

The issues are rather clear.  They were Top 3 in puck possession and now are 18th.  They were 4th in Power Play and are now 19th.  They were 10th in penalty kill and are now one game from 30th.  These are their issues.  And the puck possession and power play speak to the old cliches about "your best players - and highest compensated players - must be your best players".  

Simply put, they don't "boss games" anymore.  They don't take over with their special players.  Again, there may be health considerations and supporting cast issues, but when you look at this whole thing is built around that dominant 5 of Klingberg, Spezza, Benn, Seguin, and whoever joins them as a 5th on the Top PP unit (Sharp, Eaves, Eakin) that seems to be a heavy reason for the state of affairs.  

And perhaps it starts with asking Esa Lindell to replace Alex Goligoski to make sure Benn, Seguin, and Spezza have the puck more.  But, regardless, the numbers above show that regardless of WHY it has happened, it has happened.  The Stars spot in the league was Top 5 when it was also Top 5 in power play and puck possession.  

But, when both fell from Top 5 to 18th and 19th, so did the Stars spot in the standings.  Nearly identically.  

It certainly makes you feel the ominous clouds coming with regards to a significant shake-up to try to save this season.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Decoding Linehan - Green Bay - Divisional Playoffs

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2017/01/17/sturms-decoding-linehan-playoff-regrets


Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) is pictured during Cowboys NFL football playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, January 15, 2017. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

Decoding Linehan

There is an old story in the hockey world about the Edmonton Oilers dynasty. When they were just starting out together as a group of kids, they had to climb their way to the top of the league. Sitting at the top was the old dynasty, the New York Islanders, who were winning their fourth straight title at the expense of Wayne Gretzky and those kids from Edmonton in the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals.
The young Oilers were disappointed that they hadn't quite figured things out in losing to the old Islanders, but they knew they were close. That idea was cemented in their heads when they walked by the winners' dressing room and didn't see a celebration, but rather 20 exhausted guys with barely enough energy to congratulate each other. The Oilers lost, but knew from that moment -- when they hardly felt winded -- that it was just a matter of time.
Now, this isn't to say the Packers are a dynasty, or that Aaron Rodgers is old. But it did pop in my mind when I saw the demeanor of the two Cowboys rookies that this team is now built around, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, after the game Sunday night. They looked bummed, but unfazed. If the Cowboys were allowed to play again today, they are fresh, ready, and eager. In other words, those two young lads know their time is coming for playoff success. It is just a matter of time.

Those two, Prescott and Elliott, are the prism through which we should view the 2016 Dallas Cowboys season. There were many other players doing many other things, but in the end, if this doesn't feel like the sunrise of a new era of Cowboys football to you, I think you are missing it. We can question the way we got to this point and the allocation of resources in certain areas at the expense of others, but given that you cannot unspill milk, this is the course they are on and it appears to be very good.
Now, let's get to the more pressing issue of why they are not playing anymore football. As we told you last week, the offense had a much easier matchup than the defense, but with that came much more responsibility to put out a flawless performance.
Let's look at the initial numbers that often indicate success:

OFFENSIVE DATA BOX

Thirty-one points, 429 yards, 55 percent on third downs and one giveaway. Those are all numbers you would have taken on Saturday night to feel like you were definitely going to win Sunday. Twenty-five first downs? And 6.7 yards per play? Only nine possessions the whole game? These all look great.
I said all week that the game was going to be a race to 35 points. I said 30 points might not be enough. I also said that settling for field goals might get you beat. This is not an exercise in self-congratulating, but rather a reminder that numbers are impressive in a shootout and the game was just a hair away. But basically, I want to make this point: 429 yards and 31 points do not amount to an A+ if you know you need to maximize every opportunity.
If settling for a field goal one time too many, or giving Green Bay a 10th possession instead of nine is the margin that gets you beat, then yes, even the offense has to ask difficult questions of itself.
Those numbers above are great. They will lead to victory in about 80-90 percent of situations. Unfortunately, that last 10-20 percent is the margin in the NFL playoffs.
*****
So what is the most legitimate critique of Sunday's effort? For me, it is that the Cowboys had an unstoppable force against a defense that has no idea how to slow it down, and Dallas elected to not destroy its opponent with it.
/Staff Photographer 
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) is pictured during Cowboys NFL football playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, January 15, 2017. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)
We talked about this in the Linehan preview last week:
Since 2013, the Cowboys have played the Packers four times. In each game, they ran all day and had no issues whatsoever. They ran and ran and ran. They have run the ball with this massive offensive line against the Packers and Dom Capers 99 times in four games and have rolled up an absurd 641 yards.
That comes out to 6.48 yards per carry. Oh, and the Cowboys are 1-3 in those four games.
Well, make it 123 times for 779 yards in five matchups -- 6.33 yards per carry! And a 1-4 record against Green Bay.
So let's go back to the question/critique of the entire offensive operation: Even with your 31 points and 429 yards, why isn't the answer to nearly every play-calling situation (within reason) to run Elliott behind this offensive line you have built?
The Cowboys are a running team. They claim that, identify that and lead all rushing categories. And yet, when it is third-and-2, they pass. Even when there is no reason not to give the ball to Elliott twice. I can understand the premise if the opposition was stopping you. The Giants have a chance. Surely, there are others. But Green Bay? You can barely find one play in five meetings where Green Bay is stopping the Cowboys' running game. And yet, the Cowboys are passing in run situations with the season on the line.
I really don't understand.
Here are some very disturbing examples from an offensive day when so much went right. Your quarterback played very well. Your pass protection was decent. Your receivers caught the ball. You just didn't feed Zeke to the maximum level available.
Third play of the game. Cowboys run wide on Green Bay. They know Elliott can beat this team to the corner at will. He stumbles and only gets seven yards. I contend that this is a sliver from turning into a 60-yard touchdown run.
Another one. Some impressive runs with a fullback in this game. Look at this. The Packers insist on playing nickel because they aren't trying to stop your run. They have conceded that before the snap. Their entire philosophy is based on poaching big plays and making you string 12 plays together without a mistake. Meanwhile, you bust it out to midfield for 22 yards.
Then, a middle zone, where Zeke knows he can bounce it outside anytime he wants and go get near the sticks. It was repeated over and over in the two meetings with Green Bay. Doug Free might have got away with a hold there, by the way.
This one is devastating. Cowboys chop three bodies to the ground, and if Zack Martin can get around Free, this might be a huge run. As it stands, Zeke picks up another first down. The Packers are now exhausted in the fourth quarter and the runs are getting easier.
Inside zone, and they can't stop you. They seriously are giving up a huge gap every time the Cowboys run.
So as you go through the tape and barely find a bad run all day, you must return to the question: What are you going to do on third-and-2? Second-and-1? Third-and-3?
Pass all three times.  
This is the one that gets me -- and I hope you know I am seldom the "play-calling second-guesser." But, first possession, third-and-2. They cannot stop you on the ground. Why would you not pound Zeke twice to show intent on what you are all about? Instead, your rookie quarterback is throwing at double coverage. You settle for a field goal and are already playing into Green Bay's game plan.
Dangerous throw. It did knock Morgan Burnett out of the game, but it was one of a few risky throws by Prescott when the down/distance indicated there was no reason to throw your third-best pitch.
Here is the Micah Hyde interception. The killer here is that it is second-and-1 and Zeke just got you nine. Any pass is showing mercy. This is a Dak decision -- run-pass option -- and Dez Bryant does no favors here by missing his guy. But this is something Tony Romo struggled with over the years (in fact, the 2013 Green Bay game was lost by a similar Romo decision). It is second-and-1. You have a hammer. And the Packers watch film, too.
Points off the board when there was really no reason to believe Green Bay was going to handle another few runs. Run it right through the back of the end zone.
And, finally, the last drive. Maybe the most important decision of the game. It is third-and-3. You have told us what you are all about all season. You have one call to either win the game, or settle for a tie and put the ball back in Rodgers' hands.
You decide to go empty and call the slant to Dez. The pass is there, but the pass protection breaks down. Green Bay gets to your quarterback with four rushers and one affects the throw before another bats it down.
If it works, you might win. If it doesn't, guys like me (in our mom's basement, no doubt) will wonder why Zeke isn't there for at least a play-fake and protection help. Or, go crazy, and give it to him twice, move the chains, and go win the game.
In other words, if you are going to lose to the Packers, at least make them prove they can stop your running game ONCE. If they do, you lost on your best pitch.
Instead, despite 31 points and 429 yards, I felt like the Cowboys' offense allowed the Packers' defense to survive a game it had no real power to survive. People will say that being down 21-3 took this off the table. I will submit that I just showed you several situations where that didn't apply AND that this thinking helped put you down 21-3 in the first place.
Rant over.
*****

DAK PRESCOTT THROW CHART

Much like the 1994 NFC Championship Game -- a gutting loss that many call Troy Aikman's best game -- I thought Dak Prescott was excellent. Like Aikman that day, it doesn't mean he was perfect, and it doesn't mean he wouldn't love a few decisions or throws back.
But it does mean that you can learn a lot about a quarterback with everything on the line and adversity hitting you in the mouth. Will you cave in, or play your best until the very end? I love Prescott's effort and am delighted about everything he displayed in 2016 -- without qualification. From his first preseason game until his last playoff snap, he proved he has a real future.
Blitzer coming right at you and you stand tall to deliver a ball to the right spot for a big touchdown. This is what made Romo his money. And now Prescott is doing it as a rookie.
Important third down here and nothing is open. So, your dual-threat guy can beat them in many ways. Here is another. He made a number of big plays in that second half and almost brought them all the way back.

PERSONNEL GROUPINGS

Look at all of the production, especially in 21 and 22 personnel, and almost no runs out of shotgun for Elliott. I believe two of those three shotgun runs are Prescott scrambles. I think they got away from being the team they were built to be -- and they still scored 31 points on 429 yards of offense.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

This was an amazing season from an elite offense. And yet, the final chapter suggests the Cowboys still aren't positive who they are. That will all get better with experience and they can grow into their squad, but I think the final narrative of "Rodgers beat us" is partially true, and partially too simple for me.

I would love to see how this game looks if the offensive philosophy was, "We will stop running our best options when, and only when Green Bay shows it can stop them." Obviously, we will never know.
I remember how Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys took down that same Green Bay squad in the 1995 NFC Championship Game. Smith had 35 carries (37 touches). Now, they were never down 21-3, but if you enter the game determined to answer every question with this O-line and running back, you never fall behind 21-3 in the first place.
I thought Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan had a remarkable year designing this offense. But I also think they lost the plot a bit out of fear of Green Bay's quarterback. And that affected their own offensive play-calling in an adverse way.
Maybe the young pups will make sure they never let that happen again.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Decoding Linehan - Green Bay Preview

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2017/01/10/sturms-decoding-linehan-gameplan-attacking-green-bays-defense


Tuesday and Wednesday, we are going to look at the Cowboys' matchups for Sunday's divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers and discuss what the Cowboys can do to reach the NFC Championship Game.  We review the matchup in Week 6, look at the current affairs of each side, and try to imagine some objectives for Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli.  
I don't wish to spoil tomorrow's piece, but let's just say Linehan is going to have a much easier strategy session than Marinelli.  The defense is going to have to figure quite a few problems out that they will be presented with on Sunday.  But, the offense?  They just have to be themselves.
Dallas has one of the best offenses in the NFL, and if it continues to perform at those levels, there is no reason it cannot play in a Super Bowl in 3 weeks.  You could argue the Cowboys never played better than in this Week 6 battle in Green Bay, and you could also argue that this playoff game may resemble the Pittsburgh game in that both offenses were able to score at will - and therefore, the team with the ball last might be the one to win.  This game could have an NBA feel to it.  One stop might be enough to win the game.
But, let's focus on Scott Linehan's situation here for a moment.  Some easy thoughts to start:
1) Green Bay is a high-risk defense.  They will concede a ton of yardage and not seem to care, because the overall philosophy for Dom Capers up there for several years is that yards are just numbers.  He is trying to find takeaways.  The best way to get takeaways are sacks and pressure.  And the best way to generate pressure is to leave your corners on islands.  This often leads to a lot of chances for the offense, and he is playing the odds that if you are going to drive the ball, you will at some point either get reckless with the ball or fail on a 3rd down.  The good news here is that the Cowboys were great in both regards this season.  They never turned the ball over and were quite efficient on 3rd downs.  The Cowboys were also able to chase the Packers out of their blitzes.
2) The Packers don't have the ability to man-up with their current corner personnel.  You could argue that their only healthy corner this year - LaDarius Gunter - was their 5th corner when the season began.  Sam Shields is their lead and makes $12 million a year.  He has played in 1 game.  Then, Damarious Randall and Quinton Rollins are their top draft picks from 2015 and both played in 10 games.  So, from a standpoint of their top 3 corners, they have lost 29 starts among them in just this season.  That leaves Gunter, Randall (back again), and Micah Hyde to play corner for them.  This is better than what it was in Week 6, but there are some significant matchup issues.
3) The Packers' pass rush was pretty good at times this season, but not now.  On paper, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels, and Nick Perry looks scary.  But, Matthews will have surgery when the season ends on a shoulder that has been jacked up since their trip to Philadelphia in November, and he appears to be a shell of himself.  Nick Perry broke his hand and has had to play with a club on it, which has not helped his effectiveness.  Julius Peppers does have a few moments a game at his advanced age, but their pass rush is not going to overwhelm Dallas at all.  
4) Ezekiel Elliott ran all day against them in Week 6 and did not have Dez Bryant to affect the safeties.  It will be tempting for the Cowboys to look around at all of the inviting matchups, but they should not lose the plot.  Elliott and the running game should allow them to hold the ball and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sideline.  This is the easiest route to victory.  They need to plaster that all over the gameplan so they don't forget when the adrenaline starts pumping.  This should be a game to shoot for 40 minutes of possession time.  Yes, there are chances in the passing game.  But, you will want to fight the urge to go looking to take advantage of them, because your best opportunity is feeding Zeke.  
5) Cole Beasley is a massive mismatch.  I know most people will think Dez is your matchup issue, but I don't believe that in this game.  Gunter is very solid against physical receivers (even Julio Jones), but speed gives them fits as a group.  Micah Hyde inside against Beasley was a matchup that was very successful in Week 6.  The Packers have no better options in the slot and this should be even better on a fast track.  
Here was the damage Beasley did back on October 16th, thanks to another John Daigle chart.  He had 6 catches on 6 targets and 2 touchdowns of the 5 he had all year.
Cole Beasley Route Chart - Week 6
Let's look at a few: 
This first one was a quick hitter to beat a Green Bay blitz.  As you can see, Green Bay is chasing out a LB to try to deal with Brice Butler and Cole Beasley.  That goes quite poorly for Dom Capers.
So, this is Micah Hyde lining up in man against Beasley on the goal-line.  Asking him or just about any corner to handle this seems like a very poor job of tactics from Green Bay.  And, Dallas takes easy advantage of it.  They are in man because they need all of the manpower they have to deal with the goal-line runs of Elliott.
Here is 3rd and 8.  They know that the Packers are in 2-deep.  They know that the middle is open and that the Packers are man-up with Hyde on Beasley.  This is a massive mismatch for the Cowboys and look how easy they can convert this as Hyde can't handle the initial release.  
Again, 2-Deep, man under.  Beasley gets out on the WR screen and with a pulling Tyron taking out the middle LB who cannot run with Beasley anyway, this one is another big gainer up the sideline.  
Finally, the 4th-quarter kill shot that put this out of reach.  Play-action to hold them with the running game and then exposing an easy throw mismatch to the pylon.  This is Beasley versus Gunter which is basically a safety trying to run with Beasley in a phone booth.  Good luck.  
Now, as you can see, all of this is based off Green Bay trying to deal with the running game.  
Here is the staggering truth.  Since 2013, the Cowboys have played the Packers 4 times.  In each game, they ran all day and had no issues whatsoever.  They ran and ran and ran.  They have run the ball with this massive offensive line against the Packers and Dom Capers 99 times in 4 games and have rolled up an absurd 641 yards.
That comes out to 6.48 yards per carry.  Oh, and the Cowboys are 1-3 in those 4 games.  Now, we could argue whether or not there are mitigating circumstances that explain this, but the point remains that running the ball is key.  It is not the only key. 
That said, it is interesting that in Week 6, Elliott ran all day out of 12 and 13 personnel.  In fact, they ran out of 11 personnel on 9 occasions for 15 yards.  No, this was a day for big personnel, and the Cowboys were able to break some open in the 2nd half.  
This one is easy.  Up the middle and then bounce outside and beat the contain man to the corner and he is out of the gate.  There is very little a defense can do against this speed to the outside when they overcommit to the middle.  
Here is 12 personnel again.  We wonder how much of this changes without Geoff Swaim who was a big part of this day's production.  More 11 personnel on Sunday, we assume, which has been the Cowboys' best look for the 2nd half of the year.  
One more out of 12 personnel.  There is nothing at the 2nd level with the linebackers that should scare the Cowboys at all.  The Packers are built for finding big plays, not stopping long drives.
Check out the personnel groupings and chart from that game:
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The Cowboys offense cannot fall behind.  It must start quickly, because a 10-0 Green Bay lead might change all sorts of things in the stadium.  It simply must take control early - as in Lambeau, because if it does, the boa constrictor that is the Dallas offense will begin to suffocate the Green Bay ideas.  
The offense must convert on 3rd downs and be careful with the football.  It is a delicate balance.
Garrett certainly wants to hold the ball and dominate the clock.  But, that means long drives.  And long drives require 3rd down precision and mistake-free football without penalties and turnovers.
The Cowboys have done it time and time again this season.  But, in the playoffs, none of that matters.  For reference, please check out the "Decoding Linehan" from after the first game, including the Dallas success against the Green Bay blitz.  There are plenty more videos to look at to prepare you for this.  
We have showed you some matchup advantages for Sunday and there are several.  But, in Dak Prescott's first playoff game, all eyes will be on him to see how this offense executes in these high pressure spots.  They know they can do it, they just need to actually do it.  
Linehan has some very interesting ideas and matchups that should work against an inferior defense from Green Bay.  Tomorrow, we look at Marinelli's decidedly more difficult task.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Decoding Linehan - Week 16 - Philadelphia

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2017/01/03/sturms-decoding-linehan-2016-wra-looking-romo-tape

In a game when literally nothing else mattered, we thank the football gods for offering us one six-play drive led by Tony Romo to offer you this morning -- because any and all other things from Sunday's game will be summarily dismissed.
The game happened. Stats were accumulated. In the words of Bob Knight, "Let's move on to something else, if in fact there is something else."
Well, there is, coach.
Romo played his first (sort of) meaningful football since Thanksgiving 2015. As I wrote yesterday, I don't really see the benefit of it all, beyond the idea of making everyone feel warm and fuzzy to see just six plays.
Zero plays would have made sense if you felt like he was done here and didn't want to hurt value by playing him.
Twenty-to-30 plays would have made sense if you wanted to sharpen him up against live action (and potential contact) for either A) the possibility of playing in the postseason, or B) enhancing his trade value by showing the league what he looks like.
But six? That didn't make much sense.
Six, to me, felt like the dipping of a toe into the water and then suggesting that we just got our toe wet, so let's not risk an entire foot for fear of drowning.
I could be wrong, but I think when Tiger Woods is trying to get back into tournament form after a long layoff, he will play two dozen rounds of golf (to get warm), not one hole. But either way, I will take what we got, because nothing else was very interesting.
So let's look at that drive and what we can see from ol' No. 9:
Snap No. 1: Shotgun 11, Eagles zone it up, and Romo sees a shot to Terrance Williams on the right sideline with no safeties bothering him, so he fires it down the field about 45-47 yards and overthrows his man a bit. But that felt like a show of intent and a message that he isn't out here to check it down.
After a tackle for loss in the running game, here is a third-and-14. He had the free dump-down to his running back out on the left flat, but you could tell Tony wasn't interested in a three-and-out here. Trips right with Jason Witten staying in and releasing. Cole Beasley heads right down the middle to occupy everyone in the middle of the zone, and that allows Williams to get inside leverage on the corner and dig to the middle at the chains. The danger of this route against a zone is Jordan Hicks (No. 58) undercutting the route (and you can see he is there if he sees it), but Romo puts good zip on the ball and makes this throw look pretty easy.
From the end-zone camera, you can see Romo with some expert quarterbacking here by using his eyes against a zone. That may seem basic, but obviously, it requires you to know where everyone is going on their routes, rather than having to see it with your eyes. Then, at the last second, as Williams gets to the top of his stem and breaks in, you head back to him and fire a strike. Well done.
After a big Darren McFadden run, the Cowboys are now on the Eagles' side of the field with a first-and-10. Here, the Eagles remain pretty vanilla in their zone and drop seven, so Romo takes the easy check-down. I have to confess, I was wondering when Jim Schwartz was going to bring pressure. He never did, which is something any of us who fear for the fragility of this matter wanted to see and relax about after he took a hit or two. It was almost like the Eagles were not interested in testing Romo, either.
Good elusiveness from McFadden to shake Hicks.
Eagles finally change up to some Cover-1 Rat, and that is when Romo is going to see some tasty man-coverage options where Dez Bryant can try Nolan Carroll (No. 22) on for size. Again, Romo uses his technique to square his shoulders to the right and sell the idea of the comeback to Beasley, which is done to hold the center fielder and move him toward the offense's right. The moment the safety takes a step in the wrong direction, the ball is off to Dez. Carroll is lost and panics, which results in a defensive pass interference flag down to the 3. How many times have we seen this?
For years, the Eagles have wanted to play defense like the Vikings do, which is to just trust that your corners are able to hold up in man coverage. And for years, the corners have not been good enough to repay that trust with shutdown ability (regardless of the paycheck investment).
So, you can see above, the Eagles are sure this is a zone run -- and it probably is. The run/pass option is something we have seen the Cowboys use all season when they see something they like on the edge -- especially down here. So it is Carroll (No. 22) versus Williams (No. 83), and this is a beautiful pump-and-go for a touchdown that made everyone feel like it was 2014 again.
This view doesn't offer much insight on Williams, but you can see Romo's poise and confidence that this is there and he is ready to take advantage.
What are you going to say about that drive? It looked great. I wanted to see more and I wanted to see the Eagles do something a bit more testing, but all in all, it was an enjoyable distraction to a bland game.
OK, in lieu of breaking down Week 17, let's look at some 2016 results, in full:

SEASON-LONG DATA BOX

Now, there are two ways to look at the above chart, and the way you choose will allow you to know your position on the ol' half-full/half-empty imbroglio of life. You can say those are amazing stats if you consider the circumstances and if you can finish in the top 10 in just about every major offensive category with a rookie quarterback, and that you are in for a bright future ... OR you can say, I bet they would have been top five in all of those if we looked at them the day after Thanksgiving -- and what happened in December?
Let's put it this way -- it was quite a season on offense.

DAK PRESCOTT THROW CHART - FULL SEASON



,  
My main man, John Daigle, made this beauty yesterday. It is the full-season throw chart for Dak Prescott. Every last throw is here. It is clear that his best attribute is knowing where to throw the ball to increase his chances for good things and decrease his chances for bad. This is a positive, for sure. Look how seldom he messed with deep safeties. I would love to run a similar chart for the NFL's interceptions, and I bet you would see one big yellow circle in the middle of the field, between 15-25 yards.
Pretty even distribution from left to right, and the depth of his throws ranks right there with the best quarterbacks in the league (and more importantly to many, it seems, Romo's 2014 masterpiece) -- despite the silly narratives that try to say otherwise.

PERSONNEL GROUPINGS - FULL SEASON


There is a lot to look at above, but the simple truth is that the Cowboys' offense is back to being a powerful machine in 2016. In 11 and 12 personnel groupings, they would declare run and run the ball. In shotgun 11, they would spread you out, pick you apart and move the ball. They would fall about 100 yards short of 2014's production (we imagine the final game was the difference there) but otherwise, sparkled all year with their balance and might.
They never fully reestablished the multiple-tight end situation after losing Geoff Swaim and we aren't convinced they have much at fullback, but in 11 personnel, there are very few teams you would rather have than this one.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

The 2016 regular season was all very impressive, across the board.
Next week, we prepare for the march. The pressure will increase along with the anxiety, and the stakes will raise considerably.
Until then, enjoy the bye week (not too much) and tomorrow we wrap up the defense's regular season.