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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.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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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

Game Notes

Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle

Sean Martin

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Kris Richard's Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond Defense in Meeting at Seattle 1

Through just two games, the Dallas Cowboys addition of Kris Richard to their revamped coaching staff appears to be the team's best move of the offseason. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli revealed that Richard is calling the team's plays on defense, which explains their attacking style of play so far.

It was the Cowboys blitzes that disrupted the Giants offense enough for Dallas to earn their first win a week ago. With the schedule set up favorably for the Cowboys to build off this win, Richard must lead his defense past his old team in Seattle for Sunday's week three match up.

On paper, the Cowboys defense should be able to limit the Seahawks thanks to their strong pass rush and lengthy secondary. Welcoming back Xavier Woods at safety, the Cowboys are getting even better in the back end against the Seahawks, allowing Richard to throw even more looks at Seattle with his front seven.

Starting wide receiver Doug Baldwin and guard Ethan Pocic will both miss this game for the Seahawks.

With an offense still trying to find its footing though, Richard' profound impact on the Cowboys staff has extended past the defensive side of the ball this week. Perhaps the most criticized Cowboys coach this season, Offensive Coordiator Scott Linehan has sat down with Richard to study the Seahawks defense - coordinated by Richard against the Cowboys specifically.

Kate Hairopoulos on Twitter

Scott Linehan and Kris Richard have been spending a good chunk of time together this week dissecting Seattle's approach. Richard obviously knows Seahawks well. Linehan said Richard has great recall, taking him through each play of teams' previous games.

At 1-1, the Cowboys are still looking to put a complete game on the field and prove they deserve to sit atop the NFC East. The defense being their strongest unit through an ugly loss in Carolina and grind-it-out win against the Giants, Linehan's offense creating some explosive plays against the Seahawks could be all the Cowboys need to exit CenturyLink field as winners on Sunday.

Since Linehan officially took over as the Cowboys OC, he is 0-2 against Seahawks defenses coordinated by Richard. When Kris left Seattle, it was believed that he got out at the right time, with the Seahawks defense declining in talent ever since 2015 (his first year as DC).

The NFL's top scoring defense in 2015, the Seahawks were a full point per game worse in 2016, and nearly 2.5 points worse than that in 2017. So far this season, the Seahawks have allowed 27 points to Case Keenum's Broncos and 24 to the Mitch Trubisky lead Chicago Bears.

Kris Richard's Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond Defense in Meeting at Seattle

The Cowboys biggest problem against Richard's defenses had been finishing drives, something they improved on against the Giants last week. Both Cowboys losses coming at home, the Seahawks kept Dallas out of the end zone in both week eight of 2015 and week 17 a year ago.

Last year's loss to the Seahawks should still sting those at The Star who saw a desperate push for the playoffs hit a wall against Seattle's defense - holding the Cowboys to 282 yards in Ezekiel Elliott's return from suspension.

Not having to rely solely on motivation for revenge while sitting back and trusting Elliott to carry them, Richard could be the key to the Cowboys passing game finding some rhythm. After all, his official title beyond "offseason steal" is Passing Game Coordinator - a position occupied previously by Linehan himself back in 2014.

With a win, similarly to 2014 when the Cowboys came out of Seattle victorious, Dallas would go a long way in earning respect around the league.

This goes for both the offense, where the Cowboys will remain a work in progress regardless of result, and on defense where Dallas can expect Maliek Collins (knee) and David Irving (suspension) to return in the coming weeks.

Kris Richard's focus has been on bettering the Cowboys since they added him to the organization with a clear path up the ranks. Just how far Richard ascends, and how quickly, will depend on the Cowboys performance - expecting to be more than ready for the challenge ahead this week thanks to the coach responsible for building the "Legion of Boom".

The Cowboys kickoff in Seattle being FOX's game of the week, this team has never been one to back away from the spotlight, and winning under it with Richard on the sideline would give the Cowboys all the momentum they need returning home for week four.

Tell us what you think about "Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Coming into their week two match up against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys knew they could control the game with -- for the first time in years against Eli Manning -- their pass rush and strong secondary. Exposing a weak Giants offensive line went well beyond the Cowboys front four in this win though.

The Cowboys put Manning on the turf six times, with Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard relentlessly dialing up pressure. With the depth at linebacker to match up with Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram, along with Byron Jones' efforts on Odell Beckham Jr., it's no secret how the Cowboys defense forced Manning to dump the ball to his running back for 14 receptions.

Barkley's longest catch going for ten yards, this was a nearly flawless game for Rod Marinelli's defense to even the Cowboys record at 1-1. Expecting much of the same from their front seven against a poor Seahawks OL, now is a good time to look back at some of the pressure packages the Cowboys used in week two.

With a core of versatile linebackers they can trust, the Cowboys deployed Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, and Leighton Vander Esch all over the field to present the Giants with different looks. What made the Cowboys defensive play calling so successful was their LBs ability to cover ground quickly and create depth in coverage.

By doing so, the Giants could not take any chances down the field, their longest passing play going for 37 yards.

Blitz1

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

On this play, even with the Giants looking to get the ball out quickly, the pressure from Smith and Wilson disrupt the timing. Sean Lee, the only Cowboys linebacker not sent after Manning on the play, ends up rallying from his starting WILL position to get in on the tackle. The Giants did not have the numbers up front to block Damien Wilson attacking from SAM, although more impressively, Smith was able to rip through a partial block from the right guard and get ahead of Wilson on their rush.

Blitz2

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

This next blitz shows off the Cowboys strong coverage downfield against the Giants. Cornerback Anthony Brown had his fingerprints all over this game in the back end for Dallas, but on this play comes out of the slot after Manning. Sensing the pressure at his feet, Manning steps up and actually puts himself in position to deliver a good ball, but is forced into yet another check down.

While linebacker blitzes are part of the "Richard effect" on the Cowboys defense, a well-timed slot blitz is a staple of Rod Marinelli's scheme. Using Brown a number of times in this role off the strong side, the Giants had no answers for the different pressures Dallas sent their way against Ereck Flowers at right tackle.

Blitz3

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Even when Smith was picked up, as he was in the above play, the Cowboys capitalized on missed blocking assignments to get home with their front four. Taco Charlton the benefactor at RDE here, watch as Barkley rushes to keep Lee from having a straight run at his QB - allowing Charlton to do the same off the edge. Running untouched on the play, Charlton does a nice job taking a sharp angle to Manning and chasing him to the ground.

Blitz4

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

As much as the Cowboys cornerbacks were a huge part of the team's confidence in sending pressure, their safeties also performed well in coverage. I wrote about the above play on Monday morning in my Sean's Scout that immediately follows every Cowboys game:

"That's a fantastic play by Jeff Heath to run across the field and tackle Evan Engram short of the line to gain on third down.

The Giants drive would continue with a fourth down conversion, but the Cowboys defense did eventually force a punt.

The Cowboys safeties were primarily called upon to play in run support in this game, a role Heath has struggled in previously. Showing off his strengths as an athletic and rangy defensive back on this play, Heath didn't get pushed up the field by Engram on his release, hunting him down after the catch in front of a fired up Dallas bench."

Heath picking up Engram is just one example of a Cowboys defender exceeding expectations in coverage. Smith was able to run with Beckham Jr., as was Charlton on separate plays later in the game.

Blitz6

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

The only fitting way to conclude this film study is with a DeMarcus Lawrence sack. The Cowboys best individual defender, Lawrence had his way with Flowers as we all expected. Playing to another one of Tank's strengths here though, Lawrence rushes to the inside off a well-executed T/E stunt with Tyrone Crawford.

Also sending Brown at Manning again, the Giants pass pro leaves Lawrence unabated to the quarterback. Unlikely to escape the grasp of Lawrence on such a free rush, Manning does try to abort the pocket, but had Brown crashing down on him to collapse things.

Lawrence might not earn many easier sacks this season. None of the Cowboys starters on defense are more capable of using their own ability to get to the QB than Lawrence still, who is getting all the help he needs from Richard as his play caller.

Through just two games, the Cowboys commitment to forcing the issue on defense has potential to keep this team atop the NFC East as the offense comes into its own.

Depending on the development of their own passing game, this may have to be a defense that can win Dallas games. The only way to do so is with sacks and turnovers.

The latter is something Marinelli's defenses have always excelled at when at full strength (the Cowboys are expecting Randy Gregory back as early as this week and DT David Irving comes off suspension in week five). The former is something the Cowboys are creating with a deeply talented front seven, orchestrated by one of the best in the business.

The Cowboys will look to build on their nine sacks this season against the Seahawks on Sunday, a team that's allowed the most in the league at 12. Their timing to go after Russell Wilson will be tested more than it was against the Giants, with Richard also better positioned to aid the Cowboys against his former team.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Player News

Cowboys WR Terrance Williams Facing Multi-Game Suspension

Jess Haynie

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Terrance Williams
Ric Tapia via AP

An arrest last May for public intoxication may finally result in a suspension for Dallas Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams.

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, who reported the pending suspension, outlined the details of Williams' case. Charges were ultimately dropped once Terrance completed an alcohol education course and paid damages to the city.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/3RmwQOllim via @sportsdaydfw

However, as Cowboys fans know too well, the NFL reserves the right to suspend players under the Personal Conduct Policy regardless of legal outcomes. The 2017 season was marred by the league's persecution of Ezekiel Elliott for domestic violence despite no arrests or charges coming from any legal or police entity.

In Williams' case, there's no dispute of his guilt. It is unlikely he will appeal any decision the NFL makes.

The potential that Terrance will be missing for 2-4 games helps explain the Cowboys' move earlier this week to bring back WR Brice Butler. With both currently active, Dallas has an unusually high seven receivers on their 53-man roster.

It's already Friday, so the suspension is doubtful to come for this week's game in Seattle. But Terrance could easily be one of the seven inactive players on game day, having received the fewest snaps of any Cowboys WR last week against the Giants.

We'll see soon enough, likely as soon as next week, just what the league has in store for Terrance Williams.



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