Red Zone Blues: Analyzing the Cowboys Week 1 Scoring Struggles

It is such a simple concept, but yet such an important one in the National Football League. Scoring touchdowns will always win you more games as opposed to kicking field goals. We hear this as fans all the time, particularly when it comes to an offense playing within the opponent’s 20-yard line – the red zone.

Coming away with seven instead of three in this scoring area was a problem all last season when the Cowboys had difficulty running the ball in tight yardage situations against suspecting defenses that played with little respect for the Cowboys infinitely sad rotation of backup quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, or Kellen Moore.

Unfortunately for them in week 1, this issue carried over against the Giants even with Dak Prescott at quarterback, who presents both a legitimate passing and running threat.

In the one point loss, the Dallas Cowboys came away with just one touchdown on three red zone chances. Let’s look at each possession to further understand why they came up just short.

First Quarter: Missed Opportunities on the Opening Drive

Dallas actually found themselves in first and goal from the ten, which is the hardest red zone look to convert. Still this drive will be remembered as one that certainly should have ended in a touchdown, as Cole Beasley dropped a pass over the middle on first and goal that would have seen him walk in for a score.


Cowboys Headlines - Red Zone Blues: Analyzing the Cowboys Week 1 Scoring Struggles


Prescott made the right second read by throwing to Beasley breaking over the middle, but unfortunately didn’t make the perfect throw. Beasley, who was called upon throughout the game to make plenty of big plays (targeted 12 times), would certainly want to get this play back – as the ball was just slightly too high, but still in his hands. Dak also had Dez Bryant breaking off the snap for an easy throw that we likely see Tony Romo make, but Prescott didn’t pull the trigger.

On the next two plays, the ball ended up in the hands of Ezekiel Elliott. The interior of this team’s offensive line did not play great all game, but on Zeke’s second down carry, Collins, Frederick, and Martin all did a fantastic job.

The play gained five yards, and it could have went for more if not for Jonathan Hankins powering through RT Doug Free to make the stop in the gap.

Finally, on third down, the Giants played textbook coverage to force a check down throw to Elliott. Prescott delivered the ball with some good touch, but Jonathan Casillas just made a great tackle before he could turn the corner and potentially fight for the pylon.

Second Quarter: Dez Bryant’s Overturned Touchdown

Another play that will be remembered from this game was the overturned touchdown pass to Dez Bryant in the second quarter. New York had just taken the lead, so Bryant’s touchdown would have swung momentum back towards Dallas.

What might not be talked about as much is the fact that Dak Prescott was able to keep this scoring chance alive on the very next play, rushing for a first down on the read option, before the drive stalled.

On the ensuing set of downs, Elliott received the first down touch to the outside. The Cowboys did a decent job of sealing things off against a loaded box, but La’el Collins was overpowered once the play became too stretched out.

The next play would prove to be the back breaker (get well soon, Tony Romo), as Doug Free had one of his worst pass blocking sets of the game.


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Jason Pierre-Paul beat Free to the inside, giving the DE a free run at Dak Prescott. With nowhere to quickly go with the ball, Prescott was forced to run for his life and shuffle the ball incomplete to Jason Witten.

Overall, the Giants had this played pretty well in the secondary, but with a clean pocket I believe Prescott would have had time to find Dez Bryant running to the corner of the end zone – breaking away from Janoris Jenkins.

With time to throw on third down, Dak delivered a strike to Witten which was caught just short of the first down, bringing on Dan Bailey once again.

Third Time’s the Charm: Ezekiel Elliott’s Touchdown

A rare Brandon Carr interception in the third quarter finally set up a Cowboys touchdown, as Zeke Elliott found the end zone in his rookie debut for the first time.

The play calling was great throughout this drive, as Elliott was also responsible for the run that put Dallas inside the 20. Running on one of this team’s favorite run plays, the toss sweep, Elliott moved the chains on a second and ten from the 23.

Like his ensuing touchdown run, this play served as an example for why Elliott was brought to Dallas – his ability to accelerate and do damage at the second level.


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This scoring play was well blocked across the board at the point of attack by the Cowboys, and Elliott stuck his foot in the ground and did the rest by cutting back and finding a seam to the end zone. It was an electrifying play in an otherwise dull debut for #21, as the Giants won the vast majority of the battles in the trenches.

The Cowboys are in danger of starting the season at 0-2 both overall and in the division with a loss on Sunday on the road in Washington. The simplest area to look in terms of improvements from week 1 that will help them get this win is scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

More eyes will be on Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan this week to put his players in the best situations to succeed. Dez Bryant must be targeted more, and make some plays to help out his rookie quarterback.

The running game is only going to improve as the passing game becomes a consistent threat from the Cowboys, but there should also be more room to run for Elliott and former-Redskin Alfred Morris as the offensive line play improves.

Whether or not all of these things come together for a Dallas win on Sunday is obviously yet to be determined, but we should be in for another tight NFC East battle.

Do you expect the Cowboys to turn things around in the red zone and blow past the Redskins? Comment below to share your thoughts, or email!

Tell us what you think about “Red Zone Blues: Analyzing the Cowboys Week 1 Scoring Struggles” in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Sean Martin

Written by Sean Martin

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.


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