The Cowboys’ new offensive coordinator took the league by storm in the season opener, utilizing all the aspects of modern NFL offense which had been missing from this unit in years’ past. One play in particular stood out to me during Sunday’s win, however, so I wanted to break it down in detail this week.
It was the Cowboys re-vamped passing game which carried the offense against the Giants, but this running play provided some hope for a modern rushing attack going forward as well.
Let’s watch and discuss Ezekiel Elliott’s lone touchdown run from Sunday’s win.
Down in the red zone here the Cowboys were looking to ice the game. They came out in 11 personnel, as they did for much of the afternoon. The lone tight end is Jason Witten, and he’s lined up off the line of scrimmage, just outside of left tackle Tyron Smith.
Using condensed splits the Cowboys then bring Tavon Austin in motion across the formation. Looking to stay home in their defense, the Giants do not follow Austin in his motion. Austin continues across the formation in jet motion, forcing the linebackers to keep their eyes on him as he remains an option for Dak Prescott in three ways: a shovel pass, a pass out to the flats as they threw to Randall Cobb earlier in the game, or a jet sweep handoff.
Witten also crosses the formation here, but not to get the ball. Instead, he is a potential lead blocker for Dak Prescott if he were to pull the ball here. On the nearside you see why the Cowboys condensed formation matters, as Randall Cobb is in good position to come down on a crack-back block and seal the outside for Prescott. If Dak were to pull on the option and keep the ball, he’d have Cobb blocking down on the outside backer and Jason Witten leading the way for him towards the end zone.
Then, of course, there’s the $90 million man to account for. Ezekiel Elliott gets handed the ball, reads his blockers to perfection, and runs it in for the easy score. This is a pretty simple inside zone play to the left side, but because of all the pre-snap movement and potential options for Prescott, the defense is left on its heels when Elliott attacks them inside the tackles.
An underrated aspect of this play design? Right tackle La’el Collins passes the defensive end off for Prescott to read, allowing him to come down on the double team with Zack Martin and get excellent movement off the line of scrimmage. Amari Cooper also uses his splits to his advantage as he comes down to block the cornerback and completely take him out of the play.
The Cowboys make the Giants defend all 11 offensive players on this play, and then make them pay for it and score.
Now, the Cowboys can use this same exact design in the red zone going forward, but can utilize different options to capitalize on however the defense reacts. If the defense stays home on Zeke, Dak can pull and take it himself on a quarterback sweep. If they attack the mesh point and look to disrupt Dak and Zeke, Prescott can pull it and throw to Austin on the outside.
And, if none of this is available, it’s possible Prescott can shovel the ball to Witten inside the tackles as well. No matter what decision they make, Prescott can make the defense wrong.
The Cowboys looked like the Chiefs on Sunday, and they are setting themselves up for future offensive success in similar ways to how Kansas City does. Based on how the defense reacts, the Cowboys can always be right in their offensive play-call.