Did you know that the Cowboys have the NFL’s top-ranked passing game? No team has thrown for more yards per game this season. Dak Prescott is playing the best football of his career. He is tied for 2nd in the league in TD passes and is 8th in QB rating. On Sunday against a helpless Lions Defense, Prescott threw the ball around the field at will.
All areas of the Cowboys Offense contributed to their success through the air against Detroit. Their scheme broke down the defense, yielding open receivers and even some blown coverages. Dallas receivers ran crisp routes, setting up their defenders effectively and creating separation. Dak Prescott made one accurate throw after another. Cowboys running backs caught 2 TD passes. The offensive line gave Prescott so much time to throw he might as well have been wearing a red jersey.
Before they actually got going, the Cowboys trailed 7-0 in the first quarter and faced a 3rd-and-4 at Detroit’s 37-yard line. The Lions are a high-probability man coverage defense, and this was a high probability man-coverage situation.
In response, the Cowboys had Amari Cooper motion from the outside towards the core of the formation, creating a trips bunch look. Both motion and a trips bunch look generally help to create cushion for receivers at the line of scrimmage. Defensive backs aren’t able to jam and re-route so easily because of the cushion and because they have to worry about picks and rubs. You can see how Cooper’s defender, cornerback Darius Slay, moved off the line in response to his motion.
The route concept is illustrated below. The two inside receivers’ routes created traffic for Slay to have to fight through.
Cooper’s release inside got Slay to follow.
However, in his attempt to avoid Jason Witten’s route, Slay moved further inside than he wanted to. When Cooper broke back to the outside, he was wide open.
The Cowboys finished this drive with a field goal.
On their next drive, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-3 at the Lions’ 40-yard line. Detroit showed a blitz but only ended up rushing 3. Dak was left with a ton of time to scan the field and find an open receiver. Watch how Dak calmly moved left in the pocket and reset his feet after he felt just a smidge of a Lions pass rush. He didn’t lose his base at all as he moved, and he fired an absolute strike to Randall Cobb.
The Lions didn’t rush 3 on every play on Sunday, but the Cowboys O-line sure made it seem like they did. Prescott was able to hang in the pocket and give his downfield routes time to develop all afternoon as a result. The Cowboys would score a touchdown on this drive.
Prescott’s receivers did a great job of making his life easier as well. Watch this tremendous catch by Michael Gallup on what was a poor throw by Prescott.
The result was a 41-yard gain setting up the Cowboys’ second touchdown of the day.
On their next drive, Randall Cobb ran a great route to create separation for a 49-yard catch and run. You can see Cobb on the very left side of the screen (#18). Watch how he continues to push upfield with his stem before cutting to the right. This created the initial separation by keeping his defender, cornerback Justin Coleman (#27), moving upfield as well.
Yes, Cobb stepped on his foot causing him to fall down. Still, you can see how Coleman was leaning away from Cobb by the time he broke across the field.
Two plays later the Cowboys were in the end zone. On this play, Cobb was running a skinny post from the slot. Based on the coverage and the free release that Cobb’s man was clearly giving him, the only defender who could really take away his route was the deep safety.
Prescott had to hold him. Which he did by looking left initially.
Dak then came back to the right and fired another strike to Cobb.
That’s a great job by Dak and another great route by Cobb, who forced his man to open his hips to the outside with his stem.
Cobb was the recipient of yet another big pass play in the 2nd half, which led to another score. This time, it came off of play-action. Watch how the linebackers bit on the run fake, which left them out of position and created a void for Cobb.
Cobb again ran a great route. By keeping his stem inside despite what appeared to be an immediate void to the outside, he forced the linebacker who was recovering from the play action to take an additional false step before reaching him. Cobb then broke to the outside (Cobb enters the screen from the right).
Across the board, from scheme to execution, the Cowboys did whatever they wanted against the Lions through the air.
Next Sunday, Dallas faces its toughest test of the season. The Patriots play a similar style of defense to the Lions, just with much better execution. They don’t blow coverages. They don’t make many mistakes. Their defensive backs are more aggressive in man. Their pass rush is more relentless.
The Cowboys have done a lot of their damage through the air against some pretty putrid defenses thus far this season. It’s not their fault – they can only play the teams on their schedule. That said, Sunday’s matchup in Foxborough will be a test to see just how good the Cowboys’ passing game truly has become.
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