Well, that one sucked.
The Dallas Cowboys lost yesterday afternoon to the rival New York Giants in heartbreaking fashion, 20-19. But by now, you probably know that.
What we need to get to is what went wrong, and specifically how the Cowboys can fix it this week before they have to travel to Washington.
Because it’s not going to get any easier in Washington whatsoever.
One of the first places that any fan can see there was a clear problem was with the Cowboys ability to run the football. The highly-touted offensive line and hyped running attack was unable to ever really get going.
I am yet to watch the end zone view of the game, so I will hold off on official judgement of the running backs’ reads or the offensive lines’ run blocking (I will not be holding off on this in a few days), but there were issues which could clearly be seen from the broadcast view.
Not the least of which of these issues was dealing with New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon. While Vernon had a quiet game pass-rush wise, he seemed to be in on just about every tackle in the run game. Particularly against the Cowboys’ inside zone scheme.
A key element to Vernon’s success was his aggressiveness down the line of scrimmage when left unblocked. Time and time again we saw Tyron Smith take his zone step down and ignore Vernon, as he is supposed to, only to have Vernon beat the tight end and crash down to make the tackle.
It is the great kryptonite of the zone scheme, when the backside end is able to use his athleticism to make plays from that backside. But with Dak Prescott in at quarterback, the Cowboys answer to this problem should have been simple.
Zone read option.
As you see on this play, the Cowboys allow Vernon to crash down at will and block their normal inside zone scheme. However, Prescott is given the option to pull the ball and run for the first down. It works to absolute perfection here, and yet the Cowboys refused to go back to it throughout the game.
This was not even the first time the Cowboys looked good on that zone-read play with Prescott. During the preseason, Prescott ran the zone and power read plays and had much success doing so.
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Cian Fahey provided a good breakdown of this particular play on Twitter last week. Prescott reads the Seattle defensive end, and pulls the ball for a nice gain.
Hindsight is 20/20, I understand that. But if you are going to start Dak Prescott at quarterback, you should be willing to utilize his entire skill set. I thought the Cowboys play-calling overall was way too conservative. Too many underneath routes, too little of a downfield passing game, and not enough creativity in the running game. What’s discouraging is that not one of these was a problem with Dak in there during the preseason.
It might seem like too simple of a fix, but if the Dallas Cowboys can mix in more of these zone and power read plays, I believe we will see their run game hit the stride we all expected.