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.
Some defensive coordinators believe Dak Prescott's ability as a runner is his strongest asset as a QB. But the shutout loss to the #Colts marked the first time this season - and just third time in career - that Dak had no rushing attempts. #Cowboys are 1-2 in such games.
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.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
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