Reel Talk: Cowboys Offense Got Back to Basics, Improved on 3rd Down in Week 15

If you’re having a bad day, just remember that a bunch of people who get paid to evaluate college football players agreed that Carson Wentz was much better than Dak Prescott.

Now through week 15 in the NFL, Wentz’s Eagles are eliminated from playoff contention, but Prescott’s Cowboys are back on track at 12-2 following his 32 of 36 passing performance against the Bucs.

Facing persistent pressure from every angle following his second career loss to the Giants, Prescott’s precision and poise against Tampa Bay was nothing short of incredible. Specifically, the Cowboys improved on third downs in this win, which we’ll break down with some Reel Talk:

3rd & 4 – Using Motion with Cole Beasley

Cole Beasley is a match up nightmare for any defensive back in this league, and his ability to make plays is improved when he is in motion before the snap. When he goes over to the single side here, Prescott already knows he’ll have the slant route to Beasley open, and with the Bucs safety biting on Elliott swinging out of the backfield this becomes a simple throw to move the chains.


3rd & 6 – Jason Witten and Lance Dunbar Creativity

Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, who called a great game on Sunday Night Football, has used all kinds of stack sets like this to free up targets for Prescott underneath this season. Despite plenty of criticism coming into this game, Lance Dunbar can still be effective in these roles, as he lines up behind Witten out wide here.

It is Prescott’s mobility to buy an extra second and touch on this throw that gives Dunbar a chance to move the chains, but Witten also did a great job of clearing out his defender.

3rd & 1 – A Short-Yardage Rushing First Down?

Yes, the Dallas Cowboys, with the best offensive line in the universe, have struggled to convert on short-yardage situations in the past. While the theme for third downs in this game was that all of them were manageable in distance, this specific play design with Darren McFadden carrying the ball is worth noting.

McFadden, in his first action of 2016, saw 3 carries and gained 10 yards – making the most out of his chances while replacing Alfred Morris at RB2. With Ezekiel Elliott behind him, Tampa Bay had to be ready for Zeke to get the ball to the edge – as they were.

Instead, McFadden took the carry right behind Zack Martin, who as always made the block to give him a first down leading to a Cowboys touchdown.

3rd & 6 – Dak Making Things Happen

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter: “Quick, what was the result of this play? / Twitter”

Quick, what was the result of this play?

I was simply amazed when I watched this play unfold on film, with the end result being a Dak Prescott 15 yard scramble past midfield for a third-down conversion. It looked like Noah Spence had set up this twist against Ron Leary and Tyron Smith pretty well, but Leary recovered beautifully to stop the defensive tackle in his tracks.

Spence actually ended up getting the better penetration, but Smith’s power allowed him to steer the rookie edge rusher away from his rookie quarterback just before he escaped the pocket and turned the corner.

3rd & 5 – Why not Witten?

Jason Witten had a field day working against Tampa Bay’s smaller and less-physical linebackers in this game, converting this third down as one of his 10 catches.

This time using Terrance Williams’ deeper in-breaking route to free himself underneath, Witten just presents a clear target for Prescott to find him in the middle of the field.

Simple. Clean. Easy. Jason Witten will be in Canton someday soon (if he ever stops catching balls like these), but for now he’s here to help Prescott and the Cowboys offense get on track before the playoffs.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

It wasn’t just these third down plays, but really the entirety of Prescott’s work that was efficient on Sunday. Playing great complimentary football, Dallas stayed balance, didn’t put too much pressure on either rookie in the backfield, and helped their surging defense with long scoring drives.

With offense like this, the Cowboys are going to be the toughest team to beat in the playoffs this season.

Tell us what you think about “Reel Talk: Cowboys Offense Got Back to Basics, Improved on 3rd Down in Week 15” 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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