What is the Dallas formula for winning? Using a balanced offense, with equal parts rushing and passing the ball, engineer time-consuming drives that lead to touchdowns or field goals and keep the opposing team off the field.
This ball-control offense is led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Dak has the NFL’s top QBR rating, is fourth in passer rating, and sixth in completion percentage. Zeke is the NFL’s leading rusher, with almost 20 more yards per game than his closest challenger. Dallas and Buffalo are the only teams rushing the ball more than 50% of the time.
Overall, Dallas is fifth in the NFL in points per game, and second in points per drive, but first in number of plays and time per drive.
To keep these drives alive, converting on third down and occasionally on fourth down is critical. If you don’t, you are forced to punt or try for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
When it comes to third down, Dallas is now sixth in the NFL in third-down conversions after a miserable one for nine performance against the Vikings. (This had an obvious impact on the Dallas offense, which sputtered for most of the night.) But Dallas is the only team to convert 100% of its fourth down tries - seven for seven - bringing their overall third and fourth down percentage up to 48.5%.
It is on these pivotal plays where Cole Beasley has excelled.
When running the Pro Football Reference Game Play Finder for 2016, you discover that on 142 third downs and seven fourth downs, Dak has been sacked eight times. On the other 141 plays, 101 have been passes, and 40 have been runs. The passes have yielded 48 first downs, for a success rate of 47.5%.
Of those 101 third- or fourth -own passes, 25 have gone to Cole Beasley. He has caught 20 of them, for 80% catch percentage, and converted 17 into first downs, for a 68% first down conversion percentage. No one else on the Cowboys is even close in the number of conversions, and only Geoff Swaim and Lucky Whitehead, who are a perfect three for three between them, exceed Beasley’s success rate.
Here are the totals ranked by number of first downs converted.
This success is one of the reasons that Beasley remains the #1 receiver in the NFL in Pro Football Outsiders DVOA metric, at 37%. DVOA is explained here, but in short, it values plays that yield first downs much more than those that don’t.
Interestingly, when you look at the Cowboys rushing success on third and fourth down, there is a higher conversion rate than on passing plays (24 for 40), but no one is close to Beasley in the number of first downs gained on these plays, or even his percentage rate when you get above two conversions.
Beasley’s success rate in 2016 is also higher than anyone experienced in 2014, the last time the Cowboys had a comparatively successful offense.
Jason Witten was the man in 2014, with 22 first downs on 38 targets, for a conversion rate of 59.4%. Dez was second with 16 first downs on 33 targets, for 48.4%. Cole Beasley had 11 first downs on 17 targets, for 64.7%.
As the shortest (5’8”) and lightest (180 lbs.) player on the Cowboys roster, it’s amazing what the little guy can do. Like this touchdown here.