The Dallas Cowboys offense has been under a lot of scrutiny for much of the season and for good reason. They've alternated wins and losses going 3-0 at home and 0-4 on the road. The big difference being the play of their quarterback on the road.
Dak Prescott Home-Road Splits H - 63% completion, 199.3 yards/game, 5 TDs:0 INT, 107.5 QB rating, 7.58 pass yards/att, 6 sacks, 3 fumbles. R - 61%, 204.8 yards/g, 3 TDs:4 INT, 74.9 QB rating, 6.45 pass yards/att, 17 sacks. All 4 road Opp rank top 10 in scoring D. #CowboysNation
Not only has Dak been pretty bad on the road, he's been bad on third downs. NFL Matchup gave us the top five and bottom five at third down success rate. Dak Prescott's 21.3% success rate is the worst in the NFL.
What's the most important thing a QB can do on 3rd down? #InBrotherhood #Colts #ChiefsKingdom #FinsUp #DUUUVAL #OnePride #GoBucs #KeepPounding #DallasCowboys
It's a bit surprising, because Dak Prescott had been so good his first year and a half at picking up first downs. He was able to extend drives by getting the ball to Cole Beasley on third downs or to use his legs to pick up first downs.
He has played some good defenses this season as the Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, and the Jacksonville Jaguars rank in the top 15 in third down defense.
Some of the blame for Dak Prescott's third down inefficiency rests on Dak Prescott, but it's a team thing as well.
Dak Prescott has been under a lot of pressure this season. Far more than he should be with the talent that the offensive line boasts. Among quarterbacks with at least 192 drop backs this season, Dak Prescott's been pressured on 40.2% of his drop backs which is the third highest rate in the NFL. Only Deshaun Watson and Kirk Cousins have been under pressure more frequently. While under pressure though, Dak's been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL with a passer rating of 79.1 which ranks seventh in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys are looking at how to improve the offensive line play and believe that Paul Alexander is some of the reason for the poor play. On Monday they fired Alexander and replaced him with former Cowboys Offensive Tackle Marc Colombo.
While pressure has been an issue, quality of play of the wide receivers has also been an issue. The Dallas Cowboys only have one receiver who has accounted for more than 10 first down receptions through the first seven weeks of the season; Cole Beasley. Beasley's caught 19 first down receptions this season, which is 12 more than Allen Hurns. After Beasley, only Tight End Geoff Swaim has double-digit first down receptions. It's one of the reasons why the Dallas Cowboys made the move for Amari Cooper. Compare that to the Oakland Raiders, who have four players that have caught at least 10 first down receptions.
Amari Cooper was tied for second with the Oakland Raiders with 14 first down receptions. 46% of Cooper's targets result in a first down. Cole Beasley, who is 37th in the NFL in first down receptions, converts his targets for first downs at a 45% clip. Swaim is also converting at a 45% rate, but the next closest Cowboys wide receiver is Deonte Thompson who was turning 33% of his targets into first downs. Allen Hurns has only converted 22% of his targets, while Michael Gallup has only converted 28.5% of his. For reference, Adam Theilen who leads the league with 49 first down receptions turns 51.5% of his targets into first downs.
Quality of targets that Dak Prescott has had to throw to on third downs is one of the reasons for the poor play on third downs. Offensive line play has been an issue as well. The coaching staff can help the Cowboys get into more manageable third downs to help Prescott be more efficient in those situations.
Dak Prescott however, has to be better in those situations as well. He's made poor decisions in the pocket -- though better lately -- and has held the ball too long at times resulting in negative plays.
The Dallas Cowboys will face the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football, who currently rank 23rd in the NFL allowing opposing offenses to convert 41.6% of their third downs. The Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott have a chance to improve their third down efficiency against a good defense, that like the Cowboys have a difficult time getting off the field on third downs. With Amari Cooper at WR Dak will have to be better chance at converting those third down opportunities. Obviously this will lead to more scoring opportunities, and just as important will keep the offense on the field longer and allow the already excellent defense to play fresher.
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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