The Cowboys do not have a passing game that challenges defenses vertically. That doesn’t mean the offense can’t be imaginative, though. On Sunday against the Jaguars, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan finally created breathing room with his play-calling. He did so by stretching the Jaguars Defense horizontally.
Dak Prescott is not an anticipation passer. By and large, he needs to see it to throw it. He therefore requires a little more time to be able to scan the field. Prescott got just that against Jacksonville. The Cowboys’ offensive line played better than they had in previous weeks to provide that time for Prescott. They executed their responsibilities better. But Linehan’s play-calling set them, and the offense, up for success.
Right from the start, it was clear that Linehan’s intention was to use lots of misdirection and run the Jaguars’ front-7 from sideline to sideline. The first play he called was a play-action boot. The run action was outside zone to the right, with the boot coming back to the left.
Later on that drive, we saw a read-option off of sweep run-action.
Notice most of the offense moving left, while Prescott had the option to keep the ball and run to the right.
After settling for a field goal on their first drive, the Cowboys came back with a jet sweep to the right on the first play of their next drive.
Then they ran an outside zone to the left on the next play.
A few plays later, Dak Prescott was in the end zone off of a read option with inside zone run-action. Here, the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliot moved right, while Prescott kept the ball and ran left.
This much horizontal-stretch action and misdirection can frustrate even the best of defenses.
You’ll notice that some of the plays we showed above did not gain many yards. Play-calling is not just about the big and noticeable plays. It isn’t about coming up with the next great trick play either. Instead, it’s about each play building off of the previous one. It’s about establishing certain tendencies early in the game and then breaking those tendencies later in the game. It’s about making the defense reactive instead of proactive.
This is exactly what we saw in Dallas on Sunday. The misdirection early tamed the Jaguars’ pass rush. Instead of rushing upfield, many of the D-line’s first movements were lateral. The Cowboys Offense was able to dictate the action throughout the afternoon as a result. They won on the early downs when the run was more of an option. They also won on the later downs with Prescott operating comfortably from the pocket. He finished the first half (when it was still a game) 6-7 with 90 yards and a touchdown on 3rd down.
There is no question that much of the Cowboys’ offensive success was set up by some Jaguars miscues. We saw several busted coverages on Sunday. Maybe this was due to the amount of misdirection.
The Cowboys Defense also played a huge role in putting the offense in position to succeed. This will continue to be the story all season, as Dallas has one of the better defenses in the NFL (Currently ranked 2nd in PPG allowed). If the offense can put consistent points on the board, the Cowboys have a legitimate shot of challenging Philadelphia for the division.