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QB Dak Prescott Was A Top Play Action Passer In 2019, But Why Stop Here?

Entering 2019 Dallas Cowboys fans hoped for a lot of changes under Kellen Moore’s reign as offensive coordinator. The first of which, in many minds, was an increased use of play action.

Sure the Cowboys have running back Ezekiel Elliott, but they were going to need to be efficient in the passing game to win games. And Moore understood that. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott saw much success off play action, ranking sixth in play action passing attempts and third in play action passing yards in 2019.

Pro Football Focus added to this list of accomplishments this week, releasing that Prescott tied for third among all NFC quarterbacks with 9 touchdowns on play action plays last season.

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This is now another stat which places Dak Prescott among the NFL’s best quarterbacks, despite what some of his detractors would say. But for as good as Prescott and the Cowboys were off play action last season, they need to lean even further into these play calls this season.

Back in January of 2019, FiveThirtyEight’s Josh Hermsmeyer ran an article explaining that the NFL under-uses play action passing as a whole – and that there is little evidence to suggest a team can run too much play action. Yes: there is almost no evidence of diminishing returns when it comes to play action use. No matter how much you use it, it remains effective.

Football coaches still put a heavy emphasis on stopping the run, particularly on early downs. Conventional football wisdom says that first down is a running down, despite what EPA data would suggest offenses deploy, and defensive philosophies have fed into this for decades.

So even as the Cowboys, and the league as a whole, have seen their play action rate increase in recent years, there’s no reason to back down from this offensive resolution. Play action, RPOs, and any other types of misdirection in the backfield are what keep increasingly athletic opposing defenses off balance in today’s game.

The Cowboys have a quarterback who excels in these situations, especially when given the option to run the ball himself. It’s time for them to fully embrace this natural 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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  1. I would like to see the Cowboys throw more on 1st down. Despite having Zeke, the league was onto us and stacked the line expecting run every 1st down, and we rarely disappointed. Sorta goes along with the general predictable nature of the Cowboys offense. I think the Cowboys have felt in recent yrs that their superior talent on offense just required them to line straight up and lets see them stop us type mentality, especially with the running game. But while my wife is not quite Romo in seeing the plays before they develop, she too often knew what was coming. Now my wife knows football pretty well but c’mon lets get a little creative…….. and yes more play action would help especially when u have Zeke in the backfield. I’m really optimistic that McCarthy/Moore will unleash this offense and help it reach it’s potential.

    • I loved the way Moore started out last year. The 1st four games he really employed a lot pre-snap movement which disguised even the 1st-down running plays. Seems it stopped so suddenly and I never heard why. Granted, those were the best teams in the league last year, but it was working nonetheless.

      I don’t have any problem passing more on 1st down, especially via play-action and/or RPO’s. But by the same token, I also wouldn’t mind seeing a few more draw-type runs on 3-and-3+. The passing game can be predicable as well.

      I gotta believe McCarthy saw enough value in how Rogers’ movement opened so many thing up, that he will try to do more of that for Dak.

  2. I’m so glad Garrett is gone. He looked absolutely terrified when Dak threw the ball on first down. Just turn Moore loss and watch this offense take off.

  3. NFL turning into more of a pass to set up the run league rather vice versa . Most super bowl teams are pass heavy now and I see that as bring the trend. Similar to the NBA going to three point shooting and scoring in quick bunches Prolific passing offenses are able to score quick overwhelm more ball control teams and force them to play from behind. I don’t believe that T Brady ever had a prolific RB but was a master at using versatile backs who could catch out of the backfield. Depending on how individual games evolve Zeke could have a much diminished yr carrying the ball, though he will obviously remain important. Bill, McCarthy did tailor the Packers offense around Rodgers otherworldly running ability and escapability plus pinpoint accuracy throwing on the run. But unfortunately Dak is no where near the athlete or runner Rodgers was. In fact Dak despite having some running ability is rather slow footed. But with that said he is more mobile then many QBs and can be effective on roll outs and does present more value running the ball (especially inside the red zone) and that ability definitely should not be wasted.

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