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Why 2017 Cowboys’ Offense Gives Me High Hopes for 2018

John Williams

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Dak Prescott Weighs in on Cowboys "Dak-Friendly" Offense Approach

There's been a lot of talk this offseason about the Dallas Cowboys offense and what they need to do to be better. A lot of that talk has been centered around the wide receiver group and the tight ends as the most glaring question marks for the Cowboys offense.

As we look back to the 2017 season, it's easy to see that the Dallas Cowboys have a tremendous offensive foundation from which to build on.

All statistics are courtesy of Graham Barfield from FantasyGuru.com as well as Pro Football Reference.

Also, statistics don't tell the whole story. They're a part of the whole when analyzing the productivity and efficiency of an NFL team. Anyone who watched the Dallas Cowboys in the second half of the season will tell you that they struggled and they weren't good.

The fact that they were bad on offense in the second half of the season makes what I'm about to show you even more remarkable.

Don't forget to check out my 2018 seasonal outlooks for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.

Understanding Cowboys Remaining Offseason "To-Do List" 2

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

How the Dallas Cowboys Stacked Up In 2017

Plays Per Game - In plays per game, the Dallas Cowboys ranked 18th. That isn't surprising considering the style of offense they play. As a run first, control the clock team, they'll likely never led the league in plays run per game on offense. It just isn't their nature.

Run:Pass Ratio - This statistic won't surprise Cowboys Nation at all, as the Dallas Cowboys were third in the NFL in rushing percentage. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills ran the ball at a higher percentage than the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys ran it 47.9% of the time while throwing it 52.1% of the time.

In total run and pass plays per game, the Dallas Cowboys had the fifth most runs per game and the third fewest passing plays per game. Those numbers are exactly what they want to be on offense. I'd imagine 2018 looking similar.

Total Yards Per Drive - They were really good at moving the ball in 2017 as they again were inside the top 10 in total yards per drive, finishing ninth with an average of 32.5 yards per drive. In order to run plays in the Red Zone, you first have to get to the red zone and this indicates that Dallas was really good at moving the ball into scoring range in 2017.

If you imagine most drives starting at the 25 yard line after a touchback, the Dallas Cowboys on average move the ball past the opponent's 40 yard line. That's right around Dan Bailey's field goal range. So, on average, the Dallas Cowboys got into field goal range.

The Chicago Bears were the worst team in the league at 25.64 yards per drive, meaning they'd barely get across the 50 yard line if their average drive started at the 25. The New England Patriots (39.23) led the league in this category and were three yards per play ahead of the Atlanta Falcons.

Percentage of Plays Trailing - This one may surprise Cowboys Nation, it surprised me, but the Dallas Cowboys had the ninth fewest plays run when trailing.

Even when we think of the first half of the season and they got steam rolled by the Denver Broncos in week two, and then struggled on offense in the second half of the season, they still had the ninth lowest percentage of offensive plays run while trailing.

That's a sign that the team is becoming more and more balanced on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. That even when the offense wasn't playing at its best, the defense was helping to keep games close.

In the first half of the season when the defense was struggling without Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens, the offense kept the games close.

Scoring Percentage - Scoring Percentage from Pro Football Reference indicates the amount of drives that end in an offensive score.

The New England Patriots led the league at 49.4% scoring on every other drive. The Dallas Cowboys were 13th in the NFL at 36.3%. There were three teams that finished ahead of Dallas but didn't make the playoffs: the Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49ers.

Dallas scored points on a little more than a third of their drives. Again, considering how they finished the season offensively, that's a pretty staggering number. It's further evidence of how good they were in the first half of the season.

Points Per Game - As a raw stat, points per game still is a good metric when looking at a team's offensive productivity. The Dallas Cowboys were 14th in the NFL, scoring 22.8 points per game. Over the first eight games of the season, they were scoring 28.25 points per game, which had they kept that up over the course of 16 games, would have been good for fourth in the NFL.

In the second half of the season they averaged 16 points per game. That includes two games against the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants where they scored 38 and 30 points, respectively.

For the other six games in the second half of the season, they averaged 10 points a game.

Points Per Drive - The Dallas Cowboys finished ninth in the NFL in points per drive with 2.08. In fact, the eight teams ahead of them in this category all qualified for the playoffs. The Detroit Lions join the Cowboys as teams that finished in the top 10 but failed to make the playoffs.

Red Zone Plays Per Game - While they were below the league average in plays per game, the Dallas Cowboys ranked seventh in red zone plays per game at 9.1.

As a caveat, I want to mention that doesn't account for their red zone effectiveness, just how many plays they ran in the red zone. That being said, there is a bit of a correlation between success and playing in the red zone.

Tied with the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints. The New England Patriots led the league at 11.9 plays per game, 1.5 plays per game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Aside from the Cowboys, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers were the only teams to finish inside the top 10 and not make the playoffs.

Red Zone Attempts - Pro Football Reference had the Dallas Cowboys reaching the red zone 52 times, the ninth best total in the NFL.

Red Zone Scoring Percentage - The Dallas Cowboys scored in the red zone 59.6% of the time. That was good for sixth in the NFL in 2017. So, they got into the red zone a lot and scored nearly two-thirds of the time that they reached the red zone.

Passing Yards Per Attempt - Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys were below the league average finishing 18th at 6.37 yards per attempt.

While not great, and below Dak Prescott's 8 yards per attempt in 2016, the 6.37 was better than playoff teams like the Carolina Panthers and the Buffalo Bills. And with the protection issues we saw with the Dallas Cowboys, it's no wonder the number is as low as it is. Dak had to get rid of the ball quicker than he probably would have liked, or risk getting driven into the turf for the umpteenth time.

Over the first half of the season it was just over seven yards per attempt. In the second half it dropped to 6.52. Not a huge difference, but definitely indicative of him trying to get the ball out quicker to his shallow-depth targets.

Only three teams in the top 10 in passing yards per attempt failed to make the playoffs. The Los Angeles Chargers, Detroit Lions, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Though the Chargers and the Lions both finished with a 9-7 record, the Bucs went 5-11.

So that should tell you, that while it's an important statistic, as it can indicate your ability as an offense to stretch the field, it isn't everything.

Rushing Yards Per Carry - The Dallas Cowboys finished third in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt in 2017, despite missing Ezekiel Elliott for six games and his yards per carry number dropping a full yard per carry from 5.1 in 2016 to 4.1 in 2017.

Prescott's yard per carry increased dramatically from 4.9 yards per carry to 6.3. That's nearly a yard and a half more per carry on average from 2016 to 2017. Not only did Dak run more last season than he did his rookie season, he was better at it as well.

Percentage of Runs Stuffed - The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best running games in the NFL, led by the three All-Pros they have on the offensive line. That offensive line should be better in 2018 than 2017, but in 2017, they had the sixth fewest runs stuffed. A run that got stuffed is one that went for no gain or a loss.

Only 17% of the Dallas Cowboys' runs in 2017 were "stuffed." Out of 480 rush attempts that comes out to be 81.6 carries over the course of the season that went for a loss or no gain. An average of 5.1 per game. With teams knowing that the Dallas Cowboys want to run the ball and loading up the box to play the run, that's a pretty good rate.

The New Orleans Saints led the league in this category at 15%, but ran it 36 fewer times than Dallas.

Yards Before Contact Per Attempt - If there was one thing the Dallas Cowboys struggled with in the run game, it was yards before contact.

They were very good at creating space for Ezekiel Elliott to run in 2016, but the downgrade along the offensive line from Ron Leary and La'el Collins at left guard to Jonathan Cooper, as well as missing Tyron Smith for much of the second half of the season, obviously hurt the running game last season.

They ranked 21st in yards before contact, a full half a yard behind the league leaders, the New Orleans Saints.

The holes for the running game weren't nearly as big in 2017. Don't expect that to repeat itself in 2018.

Pressure Rate Allowed - This was the story of the Dallas Cowboys 2017 season.

Though not nearly as bad as some other teams, the Dallas Cowboys had the 11th highest pressure rate at 36.6%. The Houston Texans were the worst team, allowing a pressure about every other drop back at 46.4%.

While some of it was the play on the left side of the offensive line, we also know that Dallas receivers weren't getting open with the same proclivity, which would force Dak to hold onto the ball longer than he'd like. So, hopefully some scheme restructuring and bringing in receivers who can use quickness and route running to get open, will allow Prescott to get rid of the ball quicker.

Sack Rate Allowed - Though the Dallas Cowboys ranked 11th in pressure rate allowed, Dak Prescott did a good job avoiding sacks as they only allowed a sack on 6.4% of his drop backs, good for ninth in the NFL.

So, they kept the sacks down, but Prescott was still under a tremendous amount of pressure. Connor Williams in at left guard and improved depth at tackle should help if there is another Tyron Smith injury.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

While none of the above numbers in and of themselves stand as a basis for determining an offense's worth, as a whole it's clear the Dallas Cowboys were a good offense in 2017.

We've outlined here several times that the Cowboys' 2017 season was a tale of two halves.

Amazingly, despite how incredibly bad the second half of the season was for the Dallas Cowboys, as the stats above show they were a really good offense. It just shows you how good they were on the offensive side of the ball in the first half to carry them through their insanely poor first half of the season.

Have hope Cowboys Nation, the Dallas Cowboys have a really good offensive team and will be one of the better teams in the league in 2018.



I didn't start out as a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quickly as I could. I grew up a Joe Montana fan when he was with the 49ers and followed him to the Chiefs, until we moved to Texas. I've now been a Fan of the Boys since the Dark Days of the Post-Aikman, Pre-Romo era of abysmal quarterback play, now relishing in more than a decade of franchise quarterbacking for America's Team.

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4 Comments
  • Ethan Chazin

    Some of the BEST pure analysis that qualifies as news this past off-season. Well done, john! I might add that given how Dak felt forced to throw to Dez and his reliance on Witten may have greatly adversely impacted quite a few of those stats.

    • John Williams

      Hey Ethan. Thanks for reading and the feedback.

      I agree with you that Dak seemed to really be working hard to make the Dez relationship/chemistry work. But, this one of those things that just never looked right. Aside from the Playoff game against Green Bay.

      I think he’ll miss Witten’s reliability even if Witten had been declining, but I think that Allen Hurns will fill that over the middle safety valve role for Dak this season.

      • Ethan Chazin

        I actually like what the FO did with the entire wr unit added some nice picks Thru FA and draft they are going to surprise a lot of folks also like the TEs even if unproven I like all the pieces they added coupled with a dedicated /refocused Zeke and powerhouse O line

  • Jeremy X

    With all that being said
    This tells me, in a nutshell, that Dallas, in all actuality, won’t necessarily be better, but at least just as good as last year

    Allow me to clarify :

    Dallas played much worse than what they were last season
    They underachieved for multiple reasons

    So this year I anticipate better, but better will be what they were capable of last year

    Feel me?

    Now with this said, u also would be disappointed if they don’t far exceed last year
    And yes, that’s considering no Dez Bryant or Jason Witten

    Dallas can’t be as predictable because they’re almost a totally different team

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Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Sean Martin

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Despite Late Push in Year One, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See the Field in 2018? 1
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.

These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.

Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.

Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, DT Maliek Collins (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.

This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.

Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.

The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.

It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.

Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.

As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.

For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.

Tell us what you think about "Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain

Jess Haynie

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La'el Collins

When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.

Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.

La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.

For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.

That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.

But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.

La'el Collins' Position Flex Could Come in Handy for Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys OT La'el Collins

If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.

But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.

If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.

Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.

They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.

While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.

Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.

If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.



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Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.

Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.

Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.

You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.

Or does it?

Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.

Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.



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