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Sean’s Scout: Evaluating Dak Prescott As a Play Action Passer Against the Lions

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Evaluating Dak Prescott As Play-Action Passer Against the Lions

The Dallas Cowboys returned home from Seattle after a week three loss to the Seahawks, and brought with them the clouds of gloom that would need to be left in the Pacific Northwest in order to save the season at AT&T Stadium against the Lions.

With the promise of new "wrinkles" on offense from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, it was actually the Cowboys execution on plays that have worked since Dak Prescott's rookie season that made the difference in this win.

Ezekiel Elliott was as involved as he's ever been, carrying the ball 25 times, catching it another four, and setting up the Cowboys play action game well. As a play action passer, Prescott was 7-10 for two touchdowns against the Lions.

I went back to the game tape to study why Prescott and the Cowboys were so effective in the play action game. Here is what I found in this latest edition of Sean's Scout.

PA1

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This PA pass resulted in rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup's best play of the season. As I wrote in my breakdown of the Lions secondary coming into this game, this was a defense playing much more single high under new Head Coach Matt Patricia.

This alignment put a lot of burden on Detroit's linebackers. Sitting on short to intermediate routes opened up the Cowboys downfield passing attack, which Prescott took advantage of with some precision throws. One of his three incomplete passes on PA should have been another touchdown to Tavon Austin, who dropped the ball at the front pylon.

PA2

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On the first play to Gallup, Cole Beasley does a great job running his post route out of the slot. His ability to get up on the safety makes him late to help on Gallup - who makes an equally great catch over his defender.

PA3

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This next play is one the Lions defended very well. Prescott's first read after carrying out his fake to Elliott is for Tight End Geoff Swaim. The Lions passed up Swaim on his deep crossing route perfectly, forcing Prescott to look to the outside.

Not taking advantage of space in the pocket to step up into, Prescott fires the ball without much of a window to Gallup, who's unable to come back to the inaccurate pass.

PA4

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This next clip is a perfectly executed screen pass that Elliott takes the distance. Throwing screens against a team that plays nearly exclusively man coverage is a good approach, and something the Cowboys will always be prepared to turn into big plays thanks to their offensive line.

It's the play of Zack Martin and Joe Looney out in space that convoy Elliott to the end zone, but the action on the fake jet sweep to Cole Beasley that keeps the Lions honest. Before the ball is even snapped, Beasley draws a defender off the side of the field that Elliott slips to, and the receiver at the bottom of the screen forces the cornerback to turn his back to the play behind him.

When I mention that the Cowboys reverted to plays that were a staple of their offense in 2016, this simple but effective screen game is certainly a throwback to much better times for the Cowboys offense.

PA5

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Prescott does a much better job managing the pocket on this next completion, again going to Elliott. The Lions take away any of the deeper options in this progression, as Austin is forced into the boundary defender carrying the go route up the field.

The linebacker trailing Austin is late to drop into coverage because of the play fake to Elliott, who quickly frees himself in the flat to turn this play into a positive.

PA6

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Geoff Swaim's touchdown was more about a great route combination from both him and Fullback Jamize Olawale, but the backfield action with Elliott is what allows for such a wide open throw.

Off the line, Swaim takes a fantastic angle, making it hard for any defender to go with him. Olawale sells his route into the flat well, running vertically first to appear as a lead blocker for Elliott. This action takes another defender away from Swaim, leaving just the safety that locks onto Elliott as a distant option to pick him up.

The Cowboys would love to see their tight ends get more involved in the passing game, and targeting them with play action is a great way to accomplish this. Prescott was able to do just that on a signature bootleg play much earlier in the game, leading to another big play from Swaim that we'll take a look at next.

PA10

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When this play is working for the Cowboys offense, it is a great sign that they're firing on all cylinders and executing across the board. A depleted offensive line and injuries at wide receiver turned this bootleg play into a scramble drill almost every time a year ago for Prescott, but that wasn't the case early against the Lions.

Watch the patience from Swaim to notice his defender slowly flowing towards Elliott. If Swaim sprints out of this cut and into the linebacker, he likely gives Prescott less of a target to throw to. By sitting under the defender and slowly working out to the flat, Swaim ends up with plenty of room to run after the catch.

 

PA7

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The next two plays we'll look at are both completions to Cole Beasley. While Beasley still has to beat his defender to receive this pass in stride from Prescott, he's given much more space to work with after the play fake.

All three Lions linebackers concede the middle of the field as Prescott carries out a delayed fake, with the fullback motion making this look like a trap run. Prescott is looking Beasley's way the whole time, expecting him to get to his spot and delivering an accurate ball on time to move the chains.

PA8

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Running a similar route off the line here, Beasley has to deal with the high safety as he comes across the field. Playing Cole's route well until he breaks it back to the outside, Prescott hooks up with his favorite target to convert a huge first down.

Subtly, Prescott was able to look Allen Hurns' way as he settles into the pocket just long enough to get the safety leaning that way, creating an even bigger window to fit the ball to Beasley with room to run after the catch.

PA9

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This last play was not a well executed one for the Cowboys offense. This time, Swaim does not take a good angle coming from left to right, running up the field into Gallup. If he's able to stay flat, even with Prescott under fire from the snap, he may have been in position to score his second touchdown of the game.

Elliott's speed to sprint out of the backfield also gives away that Prescott is keeping this ball, yet it's not until after Dak releases it that Elliott uncovers himself.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Dak Prescott went on to complete a total of 17 passes on 27 attempts, gradually bringing the Cowboys offense back to form with an efficient game sparked by Ezekiel Elliott.

The Cowboys letting their best play maker turn loose came at the perfect time, as they finished the first quarter of the season 2-2 despite looking lost on offense at times. Being an effective play action team moving forward could see the Cowboys not only remedy these woes but snap off a winning streak similar to that of two year's ago.

With no team taking early control of the NFC East, that may be all it takes for Prescott and Elliott to prove the Cowboys are here to stay.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Evaluating Dak Prescott As a Play Action Passer Against the Lions" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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 wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

Game Notes

#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone

Kevin Brady

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Fantasy Football - Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings - Week 2 2
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.

This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.

In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.

For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.

Bob Sturm on Twitter

I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.

Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.

Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.



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Game Notes

#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction

Kevin Brady

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Has RB Rod Smith Emerged As Ezekiel Elliott's Primary Backup? 2
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.

Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.

The Line

Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points. 

Dallas Cowboys

The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.

Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.

And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.

Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.

Indianapolis Colts

At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.

Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.

Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.

The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.

Trends

  • The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
  • The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
  • But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
  • The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
  • Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.

Prediction

The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?

Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.

A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.



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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Randy Gregory, Eagles

It was a dramatic win for the Dallas Cowboys but a win nonetheless. The Philadelphia Eagles gave the Cowboys one hell of a fight at AT&T Stadium in a great rivalry game. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting games this season has seen as it ended with a walk-off touchdown that gave the home team the victory.

Here is this week's Takeaway Tuesday on what we learned from such a thrilling match!

Amari Cooper Trade Shouldn't Even Be a Discussion

Once a complicated debate, the Amari Cooper trade has a clear winner. It's simple, really. If it wasn't for Amari Cooper, the Cowboys would not be 8-5 en route to the NFC East title. Cooper has literally saved the 2018 season for the once 3-5 Cowboys team.

Since becoming a part of the Cowboys, the former Oakland Raider has accounted for 40 catches, 642 yards and six touchdowns. Last Sunday alone, he was responsible for 217 yards and three scores. Not to mention the amount of times he's moved the chains for this offense. The 24-year old can seriously play football. Despite struggles, this offense is very promising with that caliber of a WR1 and an elite RB such as Ezekiel Elliott.

What was it again? A first rounder? Should've asked for more, Raiders.

Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player

Gregory's journey to be back on a football field was a difficult one. But it was worth it. Versus the Eagles, his presence was constantly felt by Carson Wentz. He was able to get in five pressures, one of which resulted in a sack.

The last couple of games, Gregory has drawn a few costly flags, but his play is still amazing. He's one of the fastest defensive ends in the league and he continues to improve in bending around the corner. He has five sacks in the last eight games. If you weren't convinced #94 should be our starting right defensive end, you should be by now.

Dalton Schultz

Tight Ends Rise

The lack of a tight end did not stand out this past Sunday. But Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin did. With Geoff Swaim out with an injury, this couple of young rotational players had their best games of their careers. Both were targeted in key moments of the game. Blake Jarwin had 56 yards in seven catches and a big third down conversion and Dalton Schultz finished the night with 37 yards.

A promising sign for the Cowboys moving forward. The offense is clicking at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, having a tight end (or a couple) stand up will only make this unit better.

Report: Jason Garrett "Not Going Anywhere" with Possible Extension Coming Soon

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, HC Jason Garrett

Garrett Deserves a Round of Applause

Whether or not you think Jason Garrett is a good head coach, the guy deserves an applause. I get why you might not like him. In fact, I still question if he should be in Dallas in 2019 if the Cowboys fail to have success in the playoffs. But the way this team has come back from such a terrible start can't be ignored.

The players on this team fight for this guy. The Dallas Cowboys went from a team everyone had written off from playoff contention to legit Super Bowl contenders since they fired Paul Alexander and got Amari Cooper.

Dak Prescott is One of the Best Facing Adversity

Dak Prescott's career continues to cause a great debate among Cowboys' fans. You see, in the NFL, things are not white or black. When judging a player, there are a lot of gray areas. Take last night's performance from Dak Prescott. He threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball once and pretty much played bad football for three quarters. But his night ended with 455 yards and three touchdowns and a 78% completion percentage in 54 attempts.

In the NFL, not any quarterback comes back from turning the ball three times. With the help of his tremendous defense, Dak did. In the fourth quarter, he completed 17 out of 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. His performance was clutch.

This isn't a one thing either. Since 2016, Dak is tied for the most game-winning drives in the NFL. Prescott might be inconsistent and can have some pretty bad plays. But he's one resilient quarterback. As T.O. would've said: "that's my quarterback."

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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