Film Room: Can This Play-Design Revitalize Cowboys Offense?

Sunday night was bad, you don’t need me to tell you that. But, it was particularly bad for the Cowboys offense, who could not seem to find any sort of rhythm throughout the entire game.

Of course we all know about their struggles in the passing game. Dak Prescott had his worst day of the season, Dez Bryant had a key fumble, and the other receivers just couldn’t seem to get open.

One thing the Cowboys should always be able to depend on, however, is their rushing attack. Running behind the best offensive line in all of football, Ezekiel Elliott should almost always find a way to make an impact on the ground.

Despite rushing for over 100 yards Sunday night, Elliott’s performance against the New York Giants still felt lackluster. Something still felt missing. To be honest, it felt like a 100 yard performance from Darren McFadden a season ago, when the yards simply didn’t feel as impactful.

After struggling offensively for consecutive weeks, many are calling for a quarterback change. Possibly the strongest argument for sticking with Dak is his dual-threat ability, and his ability to run the zone read option. Unfortunately, the Cowboys refuse to use this play-design often, and I think more utilization of the zone read could help to revitalize their offense in the coming weeks.

DALNYG2 zone read

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When they did run zone read on Sunday night, the result looked like this. Dak’s read slows down the Giants defensive end, forcing him to honor the quarterback as a runner. This slight hesitation by the defender allows Elliott to be patient, use a jump cut, and find the hole for a nice gain.

Dak’s fake makes the defensive end look absolutely silly, and considering this play was run earlier in the first half, I was surprised to see them not go back to it later in the game.

DALNYG2 zone read 3

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This play is not a zone read, is simply an outside (or wide) zone play. Elliott is designed to get the ball, taking any reads out of Dak’s hands. As you can see, the play doesn’t work very well here, as the backside defensive end crashes down the line of scrimmage hard to make the play.

Had Dak been given the option to pull the ball here, I am willing to bet that he could have made a big play. The lateral movement of the offensive line gives the linebackers a wide-zone read, and with the backside end crashing so hard, Dak might have had a nice gain.

Even if the play remained a designed give, simply holding the fake for an extra split second would have slowed down Olivier Vernon, and given Zeke a chance to make a play.

DALNYG2 zone read 2

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Zone read is not perfect, however, especially when your playside blockers get beat. Here we see the rare occasion that Tyron Smith gets beat, and Vernon gets into the backfield to disrupt the play.

Still, you can see how the defensive end must freeze to honor Dak’s ability to pull and run. Dak makes the wrong read here, however, which when combined with a missed block on the playside, spells disaster for the offense.

I am not suggesting that running the zone read more often will fix every problem with this team, nor am I suggesting that the Cowboys run Dak into the ground similar to how Washington did with Robert Griffin. But, if you are going to sit a veteran quarterback in favor of Dak Prescott, you might as well use all of his abilities to your advantage.

What do you think?

Kevin Brady

Written by Kevin Brady

Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and have been with ITS since 2016.


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