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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

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.

Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.

Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.

  • A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.

The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.

Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.

If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.

  • Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.

The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.

On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.

Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.

  • Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.

Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.

I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.

  • The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.

Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.

Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.

His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.

Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.

Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.

Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.

  • Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.

Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.

Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.

Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.

It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.

This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons" 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 Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose

Mauricio Rodriguez

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3 Reasons Why RB Ezekiel Elliott Will Dominate in 2018

The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.

In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.

This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.

This time though, things should be different.

The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.

Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.

David Helman on Twitter

Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire

However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.

But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose" 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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Game Notes

DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.

Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.

Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.

Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.

Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.

Game Notes

  • Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
  • Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
  • Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
  • Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
  • Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
  • If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.



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