Today's NFL is changing. We continue to see an influx of more speed and more open-field within an offense. Coaching philosophies are becoming focused primarily on how speed and how an offense can beat a defense in the open-field. Speed is the key to success for an offense.
Sometimes, an offense needs a guy who can be a wild card, but also play a pivotal role in an offense. One guy I look at is Tavon Austin. While he isn't the No. 1 option, Austin has the ability to score six whenever he touches the football.
The Dallas Cowboys have lacked this component of their offense for the past few years. Dez Bryant is a true No. 1 receiver and a real good one at that, Jason Witten is a chains-mover and one of the most reliable players in football, and Cole Beasley is a guy who can cause matchup-nightmares. However, it's been a been awhile since the Cowboys have had a player like Lucky Whitehead on their roster.
Despite going undrafted out of FAU and standing at just 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Whitehead is a guy that can cause a defense fits. He's lightning-quick and when he gets the football in his hands, he may just be the most dangerous weapon the Cowboys have on their roster. With a guy like Whitehead, the Cowboys can be extremely creative. Let's take a look at some highlights from Whitehead over the course of the 2015 season.
Week 7 at New York Giants
The Cowboys know that Whitehead is at his best when he has the ball in open space. That said, the Cowboys do an excellent job at scheming up the play to make it seem like they're rushing the opposite way. Because the Cowboys' offensive line is so talented, defenses load the box to follow the line, only to get beaten by Whitehead around the outside. Here's the start of the play:
After Whitehead is given the football, look at the real estate he has to work with on the outside. From my count, there are currently seven members of the New York Giants already beaten in this screenshot alone. This play is what we know of as an "f-rip reverse". The point of the "f-rip" is to catch the defense off guard and get the ball to your playmaker with speed.
Another way they've utilized Whitehead is by making defenses honest. The next play was run about a quarter after Whitehead's first carry. Because Whitehead burned the defense on the first play, this fake reverse makes the linebackers hesitate. In the meantime, the offensive line is setting up for a screen:
This touchdown play was brought back due to a bogus offensive pass interference call on Devin Street. Nevertheless, because the defense follows out Whitehead's fake, it leaves a ton of room for Darren McFadden to work with.
The next play is one of my personal favorites from this list. Matt Cassel pitches the football off to McFadden. As McFadden and the offensive line go right, Whitehead comes back around for a pitch-reverse:
This play is extremely deceptive. Because of the over-pursue from the Giants' defensive end. It allows Cassel to go out and actually block a defensive back. Having athletic linemen like Tyron Smith and La'el Collins is obviously extremely helpful as well, as they have the ability to take out two, if not three men.
Week 9 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Cowboys continue to use deception with this play right here. By selling the fake left to McFadden, Whitehead runs behind the offensive line to get out in the flat. Cassel rolls out right and finds Whitehead, whose speed is simply too much for the Philadelphia Eagles' outside linebacker to stick with him.
Perhaps the best thing about this play is that it's an easy pass for a guy like Cassel to make. With Tony Romo back, we won't have to worry about confidence. But Cassel struggled with consistency all season, and a throw like this makes things easier on him.
Week 13 at Washington Redskins
I'd love to see the Cowboys expand their subpackages when utilizing Whitehead. Here's a play that they used against the Giants. Again, we see the "f-rip" reverse where Cassel turns and immediately gives the football to Whitehead. The Cowboys sell out the sweep left to McFadden and it makes the linebackers hesitate.
The Cowboys ran this play twice in this game and it worked both times. Here they ran it the opposite way behind Smith and Collins. As the Whitehead gets the football, Collins takes on that right defensive end, which frees up Smith to take on the right outside linebacker.
We see the blocks of Collins and Smith in the screenshot below. Also notice how Jason Witten pushes the defensive back outside, giving Whitehead a clear field of vision of the endzone to run through. Cole Beasley also pushes his man to the sideline, which further lengthens that gap between the sideline and the middle of the field.
Week 15 vs. New York Jets
It's no secret that the New York Jets have an aggressive defense. To counteract that, the Cowboys used the "pitch-reverse" on the first drive to get Whitehead in space. See No. 77 and No. 71, that's Smith and Collins literally creating a wall for whomever gets in their way.
Again, we see Cassel get downfield and throw a block. The open space spurns Whitehead for a 33-yard gain.
Because of his speed and home-run ability, the Cowboys have added a solid element in both their pass-catching and running game. Whitehead obviously isn't a guy who will catch 80 passes, but he's a player that teams need to gameplan for as well as one that an offense can deploy many wrinkles for.
In 2016, I'm excited to see how the Cowboys can continue to get Whitehead involved in their offense. His explosiveness alone tells me the Cowboys should be feeding him the ball at least six times a game. Whitehead is a real intriguing player. The common mantra is to get the ball in the hands of your playmakers. Whitehead has established himself on offense as just that this season.
Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their most impressive win of the season, keeping playoff hopes alive on the road with a 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering the hostile home of the defending Super Bowl champions with three previous road losses already on their record, the Cowboys performance on Sunday night was truly about getting back to their roots. In their second week with Marc Colombo as the Offensive Line Coach, the Cowboys rushed for 171 yards and protected Dak Prescott very well. It was revealed after the game that Frederick was on a coaches headset with Colombo and his new assistant Hudson Houck.
Travis Frederick just told @BenRogers on @1053thefan that Marc Columbo has him on a coaches headset now helping him and Hudson Houck. That's a smart move from Columbo. Smartest guy on the line
The anchor of the Cowboys offensive line since being drafted in 2013, Frederick is regarded as the smartest linemen on the team. It's his mental edge that's made up for a slight lack of size at the position, regarded as one of the worst first round picks in his draft because of this oversight.
Not only is Frederick a welcome addition to the Cowboys brain trust at offensive line, but he did receive some great news on his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that's kept him out this season. Frederick was placed on injured reserve on October 6th, announcing publicly his GBS diagnosis on August 22nd.
Frederick has a long way to go before he's playing football again, not eligible to do so until week 14 at home against the Eagles. Regaining feeling in his hands is about the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee getting as healthy as possible away from football. If a return to the Cowboys is possible through his recovery, the team would of course welcome Frederick.
Travis Frederick regains sensation in his hands: "There is some light at the end of the tunnel" https://t.co/wvQhB6KUQp
What Frederick has gained in upper body strength, he must remain patient for in the lower body. While pointing out that over 95% of patients make a full recovery from GBS, Frederick is still waiting to feel sensations in his feet.
The Cowboys have been optimistic that Frederick's condition was caught early enough for a full recovery to be probable.
Dallas' schedule doesn't get any easier following their uplifting win. Returning to the site of last year's demoralizing loss at the Falcons, Frederick likely wishes he could make a miraculous return just a bit more this week.
To make matters worse, Left Tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday due to back spasms. It's unknown if rookie Connor Williams will reclaim his starting left guard spot on Sunday, or if Xavier Su'a-Filo has earned another opportunity.
Despite the patchwork nature of a Cowboys offensive line once regarded as the best in the league, and still vital to the entire team's success, Dallas has an abundance of hope that Sunday in Atlanta can be much better than 2017. This starts with Frederick's strength to fight GBS and attempt to rejoin his teammates, wisely given some added game day influence on them by Colombo.
If elevating their level of play up front was all it took for the Cowboys to play up to their potential and pull off an upset on prime time last week, the NFC East is certainly still within reach for a team that must now sustain the level of play on offense to match what this defense has given all season.
Cowboys LB Named NFC Defensive Player of the Week Against Eagles
You already knew that Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker, had a great night last Sunday in Philadelphia. Apparently the rest of the football world agreed, and now he's been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
The award is the first of what could be many for Leighton, who has emerged as a defensive leader for the Cowboys. He's been playing more in the absence of veteran Sean Lee, who has been battling hamstring issues all season.
THE. WOLF. HUNTER. Congratulations to #DallasCowboys rookie LB @VanderEsch38 on being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week! → https://t.co/XeSTt2tIpX
This is the second Player of the Week award for a Dallas Cowboys this season. Kicker Brett Maher won the Special Teams version in Week 4 after going 4-for-4 and hitting a game winner over the Detroit Lions.
The Defensive Player award hasn't gone to a Cowboys since Week of 2017, when DeMarcus Lawrence put up three sacks against the Arizona Cardinals.
Leighton's recognition is also well-earned. He led Dallas with 13 tackles and an interception in a pivotal road victory against a division rival. In what was arguably a "must-win" game for the Cowboys, their first-round pick stepped up and stood out.
A few more games like this, and Vander Esch could be in the running for the Defensive Rookie of the Year. But even above personal accolades, Leighton's play could help the Cowboys make a push in the NFC East.
If nothing else, he's making that first-round pick look smarter every week.
Legendary Cowboys Quarterback Backs Dak Prescott
Things have not gone well for Dak Prescott this season. His play has been up and down and he hasn't given the team or Cowboys Nation much reason to believe that he's the future at the quarterback position for the Dallas Cowboys. Speaking to 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas today, Legendary Dallas Cowboys Quarterback, Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Roger Staubach offered support for the Cowboys current quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Staubach had this to say when asked about Dak Prescott.
Roger Staubach on @1053thefan said #Dak is a part of the problem with the #Cowboys offense, but he is not the problem.
Roger Staubach didn't start in the NFL until the third year of his career and thinks that's a good time for the quarterback to make the jump. At this point, we are 40 games into Dak Prescott's NFL career and we can see some of the things that he's good at as well as some of the things that he struggles with.
As Staubach points out, Dak Prescott has the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback, even if his play hasn't been what you'd want at the position. Roger admits that Dak shoulders some of the blame for the offensive woes of the last 16 games, but realizes that there are many reasons for the Cowboys offensive failures this season.
Roger Staubach believes that the Dallas Cowboys can win with Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback despite some of the flaws that have crept up over the last 16 games. He's not wrong.
Staubach's pretty accurate in his assessment that there's been more good than bad. If you look at the first 24 games of Dak Prescott's career, he was really good. Through the last 16 games, he's struggled at times. So technically there's been more good than bad. The problem is that over the last 16 games, there's been more bad than good. The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and lately Dak hasn't done much. We can debate all day on how much of the struggles Prescott's faced are on him, but everyone should be willing to admit that some of the struggles are on him.
It's plausible that the confidence in Prescott that Jerry Jones has comes from Roger's belief that the Cowboys can win games with Dak Prescott at quarterback; and they have. In Prescott's career, the Dallas Cowboys are 25-15. Though wins are a team stat and not a quarterback stat, it just goes as evidence that Dak Prescott can be a winning quarterback in the National Football League.
Dak has some flaws, but the offense and its play caller haven't helped Prescott much this season. We should be critical of Prescott because he has a big pay day coming, if you believe Jerry Jones. While Dak has some flaws, he also has some traits that can make him a good quarterback in the NFL with the right coaching situation behind him. 2018 may be running out of time for the Dallas Cowboys and their playoff prospects, but the Cowboys have time before they have to make a decision on Prescott.
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