For years we've seen the transition of offenses in the NFL to offenses that resemble more what a college offense looks like. We're seeing a rise in the use of spread formations with 11 personnel becoming the personnel of choice across the league. Teams are using more read-option running schemes and run-pass options in their offenses. More and more teams are using their quarterbacks running ability to their advantage and it's becoming a sought-after trait among quarterbacks drafted at the top of the draft. For some reason though, the Cowboys haven't quite figured out how to harness Dak Prescott's running ability.
You look around the league and you'll begin to notice that teams are designing plays for their quarterbacks to be a ball carrier. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have always been the premier example of what you can do with a running quarterback. The Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills are putting Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen in situations where they can use their athleticism and running ability. Both Jackson and Allen have run for more than 100 yards in recent weeks and Allen did it in consecutive weeks.
But for some reason the Dallas Cowboys seem to be going in the opposite direction from the rest of the league.
One of the biggest critiques of Scott Linehan at this point is his apparent in ability to adapt his offense to fit the talents and skills of his most important players. Dak's lack of running over the last several weeks may not all be on Scott Linehan, but he definitely has a voice with Prescott, so if he's encouraging Prescott to hang in the pocket longer as opposed to run, then it's a problem.
In the game against the Indianapolis Colts there were several times that Prescott appeared to have an opportunity to run, but opted to throw the football instead. Since carrying the ball 11 times against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week six, he's only carried the ball more than five times in two games and hasn't topped six carries a game since. Obviously, during the five game winning streak, you don't notice the flaws as much because their winning. When the Cowboys get shut out in a game that had playoff clinching implications and the offense struggled to get into scoring range, it stands out.
Let's look at some numbers.
Per Pro Football Focus, Prescott is ninth in the NFL in rushing yards this season. He's only ran the ball on a non-scramble attempt 38 times, which is way behind Lamar Jackson (102) at and Cam Newton (75) for third in the NFL. Even on scrambles, Prescott is only 8th in the NFL, behind Jameis Winston who has only played in nine games this season. Since week nine, the first week that Amari Cooper played for the Cowboys, Dak has only scrambled eight times, which is 15th in the NFL and he's only run the ball on a designed run 19 times, fifth in the NFL in that time span.
One reason why they aren't running it as much with Dak is that they haven't been as good at it over the last seven weeks. Over the first seven weeks of the season, Prescott averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He was second in attempts and second in scrambles during that period of time. His 5.9 yards per carry, the first seven weeks of the season, ranked fifth in the NFL among non-running backs with at least 10 carries. He was third in the NFL in the first seven weeks in rushing yards among quarterbacks with 236 rushing yards. He gained 78% of his season total in the first seven games. Since week nine, he's only gained 67 yards at 2.5 yards per carry. On designed runs, Prescott's only gained 0.84 yards per carry over the last seven games, but is gaining 6.37 yards per carry on scrambles.
So, while the designed runs haven't been good, he's still been a very good scrambler, though he hasn't scrambled as much. In the first seven games of the season Dak scrambled 20 times, in the last seven games, he's only taken off on pass plays eight times.
Why isn't Dak running as much? Is Dak Prescott's hesitancy to run similar to his hesitancy to throw? Is Dak's unwillingness to run come from the indecisiveness we sometimes see in the pocket when going through his progressions? Are they linked? Is Prescott being told to be a pocket passer and look to throw first? Possibly all of the above.
Regardless of who is at fault for Dak Prescott scaling back on his scrambling, it's severely handicapping the Dallas Cowboys' soon-to-be-paid franchise quarterback by not using his best asset. His running ability is something that gets the team going. When he's running it, you seem him playing with a lot of confidence. Like in the New Orleans game when he broke several tackles to pick up a crucial third down late in the game, it gave a lift to the entire team and they were able to close the deal.
A quarterback who can run can really help bail the team out when the offense isn't playing well and moving forward, Dak needs to find his swagger when running the ball. When Prescott is a threat to run the football, like he can be, it puts a ton of stress on the defense, which opens up so much more for the offense. If defenses have to think about Dak running the ball, it makes the game more 11 vs 11 instead of 10 vs 11.
The Dallas Cowboys have to figure out a way to use his legs more and more efficiently moving forward. Dak Prescott needs to get more aggressive as a scrambler moving forward. Yes, when the opportunity to make a pass on the move is there for him, he should take it, but if it's a 50/50 proposition, he needs to go with the thing he does best, and that's running the football.