It never looks easy or smooth with the Cowboys Offense. On Saturday against the Seahawks, though, they did what they had to do. They protected the ball (for the most part), made just enough plays in the passing game, and maintained the balance they need to have success.
No, the Cowboys didn’t run all over the Seahawks as their stats might suggest. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 137 yards on 26 carries, but if you take away his 44-yard run, he was under 4 yards per carry on the night. To that we say, who cares? Their chances of winning go up when they control the ball. The Cowboys do not want to get into a shootout and have to throw the ball all over the field.
Because they did not abandon the run on Saturday, Dallas was able to wear down the Seahawks Defense by the end of the game. They ran the ball 14 times for 72 yards in the 4th quarter (5.14 yards per carry), with half of those attempts gaining at least 5 yards. The Cowboys utilized an assortment of runs (inside zone, zone read, sweep, QB draw, etc.) to attack all areas of Seattle’s run D. They scored 14 points and possessed the ball for 10 minutes and 19 seconds in the final quarter. This is their winning formula.
This isn’t to say their passing game can just fall by the wayside. One of our biggest criticisms of Scott Linehan’s offense is that the Cowboys’ route concepts don’t consistently challenge or put pressure on defenses. The Seahawks played a lot of zone coverage on Saturday, which wasn’t unexpected. Yet the Cowboys rarely attacked the same zone with multiple receivers (which is how you defeat zone coverage).
They did use some play-action and boot to capitalize on the threat of their dangerous running game. But in pure drop-back situations, Dallas mostly spread the defense out and let Dak Prescott pick the route or matchup he preferred. These types of plays can be easy to take away if you don’t have the receiving corps to consistently win 1-on-1’s, though. Aside from Amari Cooper, the Cowboys do not.
The Cowboys’ biggest play through the air came when Linehan finally did put Seattle defenders in conflict. Here, it was the 4th quarter, with Dallas trailing 14-10. Focus on the routes illustrated at the bottom of the screen.
Those three receivers ended up attacking the two circled underneath defenders in one area of the field.
The inside defender ran with the seam route, the curl defender jumped the curl, and this left Amari Cooper wide open underneath on his dig route.
The 34-yard gain set up the Cowboys’ go-ahead touchdown. This is the type of play we need to see more from Dallas. They need to be able to manufacture open receivers, whether facing zone or man coverage.
The Cowboys have a big challenge ahead of them in Los Angeles this Saturday. The Rams have an offense that Dallas will certainly want to keep off the field as much as possible. They’ll need to stick with their running game again, but they’ll also need to find ways to manufacture those big game-changing plays through the air.
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