Option Reads: Was Scott Linehan An Effective Play-Caller Against Giants? ⋆
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Option Reads: Was Scott Linehan An Effective Play-Caller Against Giants?

Cowboys Headlines - Should Scott Linehan's Playcalling Be Questioned?

Game Notes

Option Reads: Was Scott Linehan An Effective Play-Caller Against Giants?

The Dallas Cowboys were nearly able to do just enough to come away with a victory against the New York Giants to kick off the 2016 season, but ultimately failed in the last few seconds of the game.

If you are anything like me, you are left with more questions than answers after the completion of the game against the Giants. There are a lot of things that worked well, but in the end it wasn’t enough.

The Dallas Cowboys were able to win the time of possession battle, they created more turnovers than the Giants, had more total yards, and more quarterback sacks, yet still managed to lose in the end. Usually, when a team wins in those areas of the game it usually results in a W in the win column.

That simply wasn’t the case Sunday afternoon against the Giants and I honestly think it has a lot to do with the playcalling of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

Below are just a few examples of why I question Linehan’s playcalling against the Giants.

Failure to adjust in the running game

Cowboys Headlines - Should Scott Linehan's Playcalling Be Questioned? 1We all knew coming into this game that the New York Giants were going to try to stack the box and shut down the Cowboys running game.

What we didn’t know was that Scott Linehan would continue to call running plays that were designed to attack the strength of the Giants defense.

Ezekiel Elliott and even Alfred Morris are at their best when they are running outside zone, where they can attack the outside edge of opposing defenses and then find the cutback lane if there is one.

For some reason, Linehan kept calling inside zone plays which was running right into the “meat” of the Giants defense. Jonathan Hankins (320) and Damon Harrison (350) shut down the inside runs and clogged up the middle of the field with their size alone.

Elliott’s best run of the night was a quick pitch where he was able to use his speed to get to the outside and run away from the middle of the Giants defense.

You would’ve thought that Linehan would continue to attack the edge of the Giants defense with more outside zone plays or swing passes to get the running backs out in space, but for some reason or another he failed to make the adjustment.

Dez Bryant‘s lack of involvement

Cowboys Headlines - 10 Takeaways From The Cowboys Season-Opening Loss To The GiantsThe failure to make adjustments in the running game might’ve been the most questionable in regards to Scott Linehan’s playcalling, but the failure to get Dez Bryant involved in the game is a close second.

Bryant was only targeted a handful of times and ended the night with only one catch for 8 yards.  That is simply unacceptable for a number one wide receiver in the NFL, let alone for someone with Bryant’s talents.

Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim, Brice Butler, and Lance Dunbar all finished with more receiving yards than Bryant.

Scratching your head yet?

Bryant is at his best when he can get a few catches early. The fact that most of his targets were deep passes where he was asked to win in jump ball situations is questionable to say the least.

He needed to be targeted much more often with short to intermediate passes to get him going. He is dangerous all over the field when he has the ball in his hands.

Red zone woes continue

Cowboys Headlines - 10 Takeaways From The Cowboys Season-Opening Loss To The Giants 1The Dallas Cowboys have struggled in the red zone since Scott Linehan has taken over as the offensive coordinator, so I guess it really shouldn’t come too much of a surprise that they continue to find ways to disappoint in this area.

It really astounds me that this is still an area of concern with all of the offensive weapons Linehan has at his disposal. Other teams around the NFL are able to be successful in the red zone with a lot less to work with.

Yes, he was working with a rookie quarterback, but Dak Prescott not only looked like a veteran QB Sunday afternoon but can be a threat in that it area as well.

Prescott has the unique ability to make plays with both his arm and his legs. I would’ve liked to have seen him get a chance to show this skill set in not only the red zone, but in different areas of the field as well.

This is definitely an area the Cowboys need to work on in practice. Hopefully things improve as the season progresses.

What do you think of Scott Linehan’s playcalling against the Giants?

Please feel free to use the comment section below to share your thoughts and opinions on this topic. I look forward to opening up the discussion and hearing all of your responses.

Brian Martin

Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

  • Sal Sanchez


    • Brian Martin

      Sal, I agree with everything you said. I was excited when Linehan first became the offensive coordinator, but he has failed to live up to my expectations. He needs to do a much better job of finding the best way to attack defenses. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think he has become somewhat predictable.

    • https://insidethestar.com/ Bryson Treece

      I have to agree. I was frustrated from the fourth running play on during Sunday’s game. The offense was so vanilla and the Giants just saw every run up the middle coming. Okay, so new QB, might not want to get too fancy. That could explain why the passing game was what it was. I was just frustrated. Conservative is not a team with Dez, Cole, Jason, Zeke, that offensive line. Linehan needs to realize that fast. Linehan needs to call the appropriate plays and give his guys a chance to surprise him. Just my two…

      • Brian Martin

        100% agree. I think Linehan has become somewhat predictable and conservative. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t have Tony Romo, but you can’t continue to play conservatively with all of the weapons the Cowboys offense has. Not if you actually want to win games. Linehan failed to make adjustments and continued to play to the strengths of the Giants defense. They didn’t have to worry about the down the field passing game, so they could continue to stack the box and keep plays in front of them. It was frustrating to watch and not hope that’s not what we continue to see.

  • Jeff Cook

    I totally agree some people want to blame the D for not getting much pass rush but I feel the D played good enough to win this game and was actually better then the Giants D but the Offensive play calling sucked just like last year its like they are afraid to win a game with a QB besides Romo maybe they are afraid Dak will do better than Romo and create a QB controversy. Now they did great at controlling ball and time of possession however that only works when you have at least a 2 TD lead not a 2 FG lead because like we saw this game it only takes 1 play from your opponent to take the lead and you would think a guy from an Ivy league school could figure that out with just a little math lol

    • Brian Martin

      Jeff, I completely agree. Linehan is calling plays conservatively and not taking many chances. It’s almost like they are trying to make it easy on the QB to help prevent against turnovers or something. I don’t know, but if this is what we continue to see in 2016 and the Cowboys are in trouble. Things definitely need to change.

  • Mike Young

    I’ve got to agree Cowboys were out-coached by a wide margin. I blind man could see by the 3rd quarter that running at teeth of Giants defensive line was ineffective. Zeke is a tremendous weapon in space but little variation in plays called to get him there. Same with Dez little persistence to get him the ball in space. Alond with defenses inability to stop the run were the key reason Cowboys lost this one.

    • Brian Martin

      Mike, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. The coaching staff actually had a good game plan for the Giants, but unfortunately they just didn’t make any adjustments when certain things weren’t working. To keep running into the strength of the Giants defense was mind-boggling and to not get Dez Bryant more involved was questionable as well. They did enough to win the game, but needed to execute better. If Beasley would’ve caught that one poorly thrown pass it would’ve been a walk-in touchdown and Bryant nearly had another TD but failed to secure the catch all the way to the ground. Let’s just hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.

      • Eric Welly

        Let’s run directly at the 350lb guy they call “Snacks” instead of forcing Snacks to chase cheese all day. Last thing is how did Morris get to the 2nd level? Made it look easy running under center, shotgun is not going to work for Dak until the running game goes off, besides it’s really hard to run playaction, slants and screens out of shotgun. Asking the kid to think instead of react, he looked good when our offense was vanilla.

        • Brian Martin

          Eric, I was thinking the same thing the entire game. They continue to attack the “meat” of the Giants defense for some unknown reason. I reviewed the tape and Morris was more successful because he was more patient as a runner. He allowed the lineman just a little longer to secure their blocks a little better and because that had better running lanes to go through. And I agree about Prescott. They need to just let him cut loose. Quit game planning to not lose and game plan to win.

  • roger stiles

    The Cowboys almost always call a running play on 2nd down after an incomplete pass on 1st down. They are predictable and why they call a 2 yard pass play to Witten when he can’t run anymore or break tackles. Screen pass to Witten? Crazy.

    • Brian Martin

      Roger you make a great point. I also think that they have become pretty predictable with their playcalling.

  • Mike Young

    It was amazing how Cowboys were able to move the ball early so the game plan was effective but as you said not many adjustments once the Giants figured out what they were doing. And yes incompletions to Beasley and Bryant in red zone turned out to be huge differences in the final results. Looking for better play from the O-Line and the ‘Boys run game to have better results against the ‘Skins. It will also be interesting to see if Dez can get open against the ‘Skins secondary. Visa versa can Cowboys D stop Kirk Cousins and his aerial attack? Go D-Boys!

    • Brian Martin

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Mike. It was a conservative game plan to help limit Prescott from making mistakes. It worked early and allowed the Cowboys to move the ball, but I would like to see them allow Prescott to take a little more chances. You can’t expect to win many games with the conservative approach. I’m hoping things look different against the Redskins.


    Scott Linehan no longer has the capabilities to coach in today’s NFL..Maybe if the base defense was the old Buddy Ryan 46 defense…Even with Romo he doesn’t knows how to attack a defense with all of our weapons. If Romo was healthy we will still finish 8 and 8..

    • Brian Martin

      True Blue, I would like to disagree with you but I think you might be right. I initially thought Linehan would be a good offensive coordinator when he joined the Cowboys. When in Detroit he was able to get Calvin Johnson the ball despite being double and triple covered, but has failed to do so with Dez Bryant here in Dallas. I don’t know if Jason Garrett has any influence over the game plan or if it all falls on Linehan, but something definitely needs to change. The Cowboys offense simply has too many weapons to play conservatively like they did against the Giants.

  • david snyder

    s and possibly an interception than the vanilla play calls that were being made.let Dak play do some roll outs and move the pocket ,he throws well on the run.screens to Dez ,Brice,Lucky,Zeke,…. just saying go boys

    • Brian Martin

      Thanks for commenting David. I agree with you that they need to just let Dak play. They called a conservative game plan in order to protect him from making mistakes, but that also limited any big plays. Unfortunately, that played right into the game plan for the Giants defense. Hopefully things will change against the Redskins.

  • Eric Welly

    Out coached…Take what they give and they gave them the game.
    Who’d think Dez and Dunbar would tie for receptions and Beasly would catch more than Dez was targeted…hmmmm, Lenihan seems a bit skiddish or did JG get in the way, wouldn’t be the first time the RedHeadedGenius shot us in the foot.

    I like Z, but a rook is a rook and a rook with a no contact offseason, should be eazed into the game by sharing series with his 2 capable veteran RBs.

    Whatever the gameplan was against Seattle, would be the blueprint. Apparently they didn’t have enough time when Romo went down to make the gameplan Dak friendly like against the Giants. Way to much thinkin’ on both sides of the ball.

    Let Dak loose, Morris\Dunbar are easy set-up guys early, Z will get his in 2nd halves, Dez needs 5 targets a quarter until the O is rolling. Please please put Dak under center and give him a TE\FB and let him play behind that line.

    Defense wasn’t terrible for a bunch of guys playing into shape, rotations wise they got some pressure and held the run pretty well. the missed no brainer from the refs on the Cruz TD.

    Game was there all day for the taking, I wonder if we had gotten down 2 or 3 scores if they would have opened it up.

    • Brian Martin

      Eric, I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. I 100% agree with everything you said. I honestly have nothing to add. I think you hit the nail the head.

  • Erebustx

    I like Linnehan. I really do. I just think he’s become incredibly predictable, and I worry that neither he, nor Garrett have realized that because it’s not like this is a new thing. He’s been relatively predictable since 2014. Or at least, to ME he has. Seems like our offensive drives are ultimately determined by the 1st play, which is a run probably 95% of the time (and that’s fine). But if Zeke fails to get at least 6 or 7 yards, Linnehan has a bad tendency to abandon the run altogether for the remainder of the drive. Even going so far as to pass the ball our of shotgun on 3rd and short, without even putting a running back in the backfield to make defenses think we MIGHT run the ball. I watch it play out in every game. Run, pass, pass. Run, pass, pass. Run, pass, pass. So on and so forth. Defenses know that if we’re in single-back that we’re running the ball. Shotgun? Pass play. Even IF we run out of shotgun (which is generally useless), defenses don’t need to stack the box because they know that Zeke can’t get the kind of momentum he needs.

    I feel like due to the insane amount of talent we have on offense, we’re winning games in SPITE of Linnehan’s questionable play-calling.

    I’d like to see more pass plays ran out of single-back and I-formation, that way defenses stay guessing. And quite frankly, we need to do a better job of playing to our STRENGTH, which is pounding the rock. Don’t send Zeke home after the 1st play of the drive if he doesn’t get 8 yards. Run it again. 2nd and long shouldn’t keep you from running the ball. In fact, I would recommend it.

    Hopefully, Linnehan will do a little honest self-scouting and resolve this issue. If not, is there any chance of getting Norv Turner?

    • Brian Martin

      I completely agree with everything you said. I’ve never been a big Linehan fan. Here lately it seems as if he’s kind of abandoned what was working for them earlier in the season and trying to go to a more down the field passing team. Hopefully he can get back to the drawing board this weekend figure out what works.

      • Erebustx

        I wonder how much of that is geared towards keeping Zeke fresh for the playoffs? If that’s the case, I now question his ability to focus on FIRST, winning the game at hand.

        We may have secured A playoff spot, but a first round bye would do more for Zeke’s legs than 10 more carries would.

        Idk. Maybe I’m just old school. Linnehan’s “pass to set up the run” philosophy is a little bass backwards, imo. Especially when you have a rookie QB, Ezekiel Elliot, and the best o-line in the NFL.

        • Brian Martin

          You’re certainly not alone. I guess I have that same old-school mentality as well. The Cowboys offense is best suited to run the football and I think they need to do that with the heavy dosage of Ezekiel Elliott with either Alfred Morris or Darren McFadden filling in. I’m personally not a big fan of using Dunbar.

          • Erebustx

            The Dunbar situation is a little tricky for me because although I like him (only in obvious passing situations), I still have a hard time imagining a scenario where I’d rather have him on the field than Elliott or Morris.

            On a positive note, I did see one…I repeat…ONE designed pass play from under center where they didn’t use play action. Not that I don’t like play actions passes. I love them, but I think a bigger repertoire of plays from single-back and I-formation would do us a lot of good. Especially if we didn’t limit those formations to 1st down, only.

            Like I said, it just bothers me that a normal guy like me can know with near absolute certainly whether we’re going to run or pass based on our formation. That and the fact that running the ball seems like a chore, or a “necessary evil” to Linnehan lol.

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