It seems like a pattern is developing here during the 2018 Dallas Cowboys season.
For a team and an offense which has looked absolutely horrid on the road, the Cowboys appear to be one of the better teams in the conference when playing at home.
That trend continued today as the Cowboys dominated the now 3-3 Jacksonville Jaguars from start to finish, en route to a 40-7 home victory over last year's AFC semi-finalist.
Quarterback Dak Prescott had possibly his best game of the season, making up for his poor performance in Houston a week ago. While Prescott only threw for 183 yards on 17 completions, it was his 82 rushing yards on 11 carries which put this offense over the top. Plus, the Cowboys were in "kill the clock" mode for basically the entire second half.
The real story here was the offensive line, however. The o-line which has been heavily criticized by the fan base during the season, and has shouldered a heavy amount of the blame for the poor offensive production, finally stepped up and played to their standards this afternoon. Prescott had great pass protection all day, which was evident in his passing numbers and Cole Beasley's receiving performance.
Dallas is now 3-3 on the season, tied with the defending champ Eagles and a half game behind Washington for first place in the NFC East. Next week the Cowboys have a huge game in Washington with first place on the line.
- Cole Beasley proved once again why he's worthy of the pay day he'll get (probably somewhere else) this offseason. Beasley caught 9 balls for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns, dominating man coverage all game long.
- These linebackers are legit. Both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were all over the field today, anchoring a group which was impressive yet again.
- Brett Maher simply can't miss, going 4 for 4 on field goal attempts including a 55 yarder in the second half.
- Ezekiel Elliott went over 100 yards rushing again this week, and it was somehow still a quiet day for him in the grand scheme of things.
- Byron Jones was the best cornerback on either team today, deflecting 3 passes and staying sticky to the Jacksonville wide outs all day. He's been incredible this season and Sunday's game was no different.
- Oh, and Randy Gregory sack alert! Party!
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Turned Their Back on Prescott’s MVP Performance
The Dallas Cowboys have lost games to the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings. Last Sunday Night, the Cowboys hosted the Vikings on primetime and lost in a game that went down to the wire. It felt like the toughest loss of the season. Why? Let's dive in to this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday.
Cowboys Turned Their Back on Dak Prescott's MVP Performance
Cowboys Nation was shocked with the Cowboys' play-calling late in the game and for good reason. After starting the drive backed up at their own five, Prescott completed six of seven passes for 79 yards. Then, on second down and two to go, the Cowboys ran the ball with Ezekiel Elliott for no gain. On a short yardage down, that was comprehensible. Maybe not ideal, but understandable. On third down, though, they handed it off again to Zeke.
In the game in which Dak Prescott was playing at an MVP level, with less than two minutes on the clock, the Cowboys took the ball away from him to put the game on the star running back who was having a rough day with less than 50 yards against a stout Vikings defense.
Now granted, the play on third down seemed to be an RPO concept with Jason Witten as the pass option. But why are you giving Dak one pass option when he's dominated all night? Why are you instead trusting Elliott in a game in which he failed to average three yards per carry? Prescott was unbelievably clutch, throwing for almost 400 yards, three touchdowns and a 100% conversion rate on 3rd & 7+.
This was by far the number one reason why the loss to the Vikings was so frustrating to watch. The Cowboys have a franchise quarterback. But they need to learn to trust him as such and put the games on his hands when needed. Not on their running back, regardless of how much they pay each.
Jason Garrett Must Be More Aggressive in Fourth Down Decisions
It's easy to say this in retrospective, but I believe the Cowboys didn't make the right decisions when facing fourth down last Sunday night. The first notorious decision came in the second quarter, when the Cowboys faced 4th & 4 with the ball on the Vikings' 40 yard-line. Being behind 14-0, they decided to punt.
It turned out fine for the Cowboys in the end, tying the game 14-14 later in the second. But the analytics trend in the NFL really has evidence to back up the fact that Dallas should've gone for it in such a critical spot.
In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys decided to kick the field goal being on their opponents' five. Down 21-28, Brett Maher went out to kick the field goal, which put the Cowboys behind by four points instead of seven. They still needed a touchdown to take the lead with ten minutes left on the game.
Kevin Brady took a deeper look at the Cowboys' win probabilities on this article for Inside The Star.
was working on a post for @InsideTheStarDC on this last night. here's the estimated WP for each scenario on that fourth and goal.
The Baltimore Ravens are taking the league by storm using analytics and making the right decisions in fourth down. Yet, some teams in the NFL are not catching up. The Cowboys are one of those teams.
Cowboys Defense Exposed Again
The main reason the Cowboys lost to the Vikings was coaching and that's clear. But defense earned the second place. Kirk Cousins played a good game versus Rod Marinelli's unit, despite the box score suggesting otherwise. He made a couple of impressive throws at AT&T Stadium while Kyle Rudolph finished night with two touchdown catches and a two point conversion.
Dalvin Cook, one of the toughest offensive weapons to face in this league totaled 183 yards last weekend. It's not easy to face Cook and limit him and the Cowboys failed to do so. The linebackers had a very rough day overall and there wasn't a single performance to point out as a positive.
Slow Starts Won't Stop
Every week. Every week we talk about how this Cowboys team started slow against any opponent. In six games, they haven't scored a TD in the first quarter. Not even at the beginning of the season, when they went 3-0 against poor teams did they start a game on the right foot. Who to blame? Both players and coaches, but I'd lean toward coaching first.
Bottom line, there's a huge problem with the way this football team prepares for gameday and the Cowboys need to figure it out fast. Their backs are against the wall and playing from behind every game costs games. At 5-4 and headed toward tough opponents in the second half of the season, it's time to put an end to such starts.
Though Comeback Bid Fell Short, Dak Prescott Proves He’s Elite
A loss is a loss. There are no moral victories in football, especially when your favorite team falls to 5-4 on the season and into a tie atop the NFC East (tiebreakers notwithstanding). Here we sit, however, in the middle of week 11 and the Dallas Cowboys will be fighting for their playoff lives every week from here till week 17. What could have been a one-game lead in the division was lost as the Dallas Cowboys allowed the Minnesota Vikings to come into AT&T Stadium Sunday night and steal a game on the road.
In the loss, the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff continued to play a familiar refrain as they "established the run" to the tune of 22 carries for 53 yards as a team, the longest run of the night coming from Tavon Austin on a reverse. The running game struggled the entire night as Mike Zimmer's defense beat the Dallas Cowboys offensive line and didn't allow Ezekiel Elliott any running room.
Because the running game was so bad, the Cowboys were forced to throw, and throw a lot. After getting down two touchdowns early in the game, Dak Prescott and the passing attack found their mojo and brought the game even before the Vikings scored on a last-second field goal to close the first half. In the second half, the teams traded leads before the Cowboys couldn't convert on 4th and 5 after having 2nd and 2 at the Vikings nine-yard line.
Though the game didn't end with another "W" being added to the win column, the Cowboys won a bit in another way. They saw their franchise quarterback thrive in a situation when the running game wasn't working.
On the night, Dak Prescott completed 28 of 46 passes for 397 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on the hail mary at the end of the game that was just out of Blake Jarwin's reach. He finished the game with a passer rating of 101.4. You remove the hail mary interception and Prescott's passer rating jumps to 112.9. Prescott had a passer rating of 87.5 on the night, which illustrates just how important he was to the Cowboys' offensive success.
Prescott averaged 8.63 yards per attempt and completed an insane 17 passes that traveled 10 yards or more. For comparison, Kirk Cousins only completed two passes on the night on balls thrown at least 10 yards or more. Dak was slinging it on Sunday Night Football.
Dak carried the Cowboys on a night when the defense struggled to get stops and the running game couldn't get anything going. Under pressure, Prescott was dynamite. Per Pro Football Focus, Dak was under pressure on 44.7% of his dropbacks, which was the fifth-highest number for week 10. While under pressure, Prescott completed 11 of 20 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 104, the fourth-highest number from week 10.
When situations get tough, Dak Prescott generally finds a way to rise to the occasion. In long, down and distance situations, Dak's been money all season when facing second and third and long and he was again on Sunday Night Football.
This is nuts: Dak Prescott on 3rd & 6+ 7-9, 120 yards, 5 first downs, 1 TD, 155.8 Passer Rating When it was 7+ yards: 6-6, 95 yards, 4 first downs, 1 TD, 158.3 Passer Rating
Time after time the running game put the offense in a hole and Dak dug his way out of it. It was incredible to watch him and the passing game work on third downs. From the 10-minute mark of the second quarter on, with Dallas trailing by 14, Prescott put the Cowboys on his back and led them to score on four straight possessions.
On their second to last drive, the Cowboys started with the ball at their own six-yard line and from there, Prescott completed passes of 20, 10, 13, and 20 yards to get them inside the Minnesota Vikings 30-yard line with a little more than two minutes to go. After a 2nd and 6 pass to Jason Witten for a first down and an eight-yard slant to Amari Cooper, the Cowboys were at the Vikings' nine-yard line with 2nd and 2 and about a minute and a half remaining.
On 2nd and 2 and 3rd and two, the Cowboys ran a couple of run-pass options (RPOs) and the Vikings played them perfectly. Ezekiel Elliott had nowhere to go and the Cowboys ended up turning it over on downs. On those two RPOs, Dak Prescott made the correct read by giving the ball, however the offensive line just didn't provide any push, which had the coaches watched the previous 58 minutes of the game, they would have seen that the running game was struggling to get anywhere.
They had to settle for a hail mary attempt at the end that went just out of the reach of Blake Jarwin.
It was an incredibly frustrating sequence to end that drive with about a minute left. Your quarterback who had done all of the heavy lifting to get you back in the game and keep you in the game, deserved a shot to win the game there. A run should have never been an option. He was in a zone from the second quarter on that had you given him a shot to throw there on 2nd and 2 from the nine-yard line, you have a better shot at picking up at least another first down.
When nothing was working and the Dallas Cowboys needed Dak Prescott to be great, he came through for them. Unfortunately, Prescott's bid to bring the Cowboys all the way back fell short, but that shouldn't take away from what was an excellent night for Dak and the passing game. If there was any question about who drives the offense before that week 10 matchup, the questions should be answered now. Dak Prescott is this team's MVP.
Only two questions remain as it concerns Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. When is he going to get paid? And how much is he going to get paid? All season long, he's consistently proven that he's a quarterback worth investing in and as he continues to throw for big passing numbers, the Cowboys will be giving Dak Prescott a big-time contract.
Using Win Probabilities To Evaluate Jason Garrett’s 4th Down Decisions
The Cowboys fell to 5-4 with their gut-wrenching 28-24 loss on Sunday night. But while the Vikings are certainly a quality opponent, and they played an excellent game for much of the night, it's hard not to feel like it was the Cowboys who simply let this one slip away.
How did they beat themselves, you ask? Well, with poor play-calling on early downs and questionable fourth down decisions.
It's often said that Jason Garrett is too conservative and needs to take more risks on fourth downs, but during Sunday's loss, these fourth downs can barely even be classified as risks. Punting the ball or kicking the field goal was the risk. Going for it was a necessity.
Let's take a look at the first of two super questionable fourth down calls by Garrett, using win probability estimations for each situation.
The situation: 4th down and 4, ball on the Minnesota 40 yard line. 13:39 left in the second quarter.
- 15% win probability pre-snap.
- 22% win probability if they went for it and converted with just 5 yards.
- 9% win probability if they failed to convert.
- 12% win probability after punting and pinning the Vikings at their own six yard line.
As you can see, the Cowboys likelihood of winning this game dropped significantly early on. They went from 2.5 point favorites with about a 59% chance of winning the game before kickoff, to just 15% during their first drive of the second quarter.
Talk about a slow start.
Regardless, the Cowboys could have tried to maximize whatever win probability they had left on this fourth down by going for the conversion. As you can see, a conversion would've raised their chances by 7%, while a failed attempt dropped them by 6%. This is about equal in terms of +-, but punting did just about nothing for them.
Punting lowered their probability by 3% instantly, and they didn't even give themselves a chance to convert. They just gave up, and only gained three percentage points over the worse case scenario by doing so.
With the way Dak Prescott and this passing game executed all night, Dallas shot themselves in the foot by punting here.
The situation: 4th down and Goal, ball on the Minnesota 5 yard line. 10:00 left in the fourth quarter.
- 25.8% win probability pre-snap.
- 49% win probability had they went for it and scored a touchdown.
- 22.5% win probability after kicking the field goal.
- 13% win probability if they went for it and failed with an incompletion.
Now this one is flat-out egregious.
Rather than go for a touchdown on what was effectively fourth and five, the Cowboys gave in and attempted a chip shot field goal. Yes, they gained points and cut the lead to 4. They also lost about 3% in terms of win probability. Congrats.
Going for it and failing might've meant the end of the game, but is the goal to win now or just lose later? Dallas kicked the can here and bet on a defense that had been getting gashed all night long, rather than allowing their quarterback to try and make a play.
The Cowboys would not see the ball again until the clock was under 5 minutes, still needing a touchdown to win. A touchdown needed to be scored at some point anyway, and sitting 5 yards out from the end zone was their best shot of the night.
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