It’s early, but we now have two games to look at. Some things are still hard to determine, but others are taking shape. Here are three things to be excited about in the 2016 season.
You can’t do a piece covering the good things about the Cowboys without leading with Dak Prescott. Whether you are evaluating him as a backup quarterback or just a regular NFL starting quarterback, he’s been outstanding. Prescott just takes away a lot of the uneasiness that fans felt when watching the offense last season. Nobody is panicking about him turning the ball over because he just doesn’t do it. Where are those errant throws? What about when he gets rattled and buckles under pressure? We hear about those things happening to rookies, but up until this point, they haven’t been an issue for Prescott.
He’s just making all the right plays for the offense. Just got sacked? No problem, he’ll get the yardage back. Another third down? Not an issue, he’ll convert it. Whether he’s in the pocket or rolling around, he’s able to put the ball where it needs to go to help the offense drive down the field.
In 2014, the Cowboys sustained drives by having productive first downs. They led the league with a 7.04 yard average on first downs, largely influenced by strong runs. This season, the Cowboys are ranked 26th with 4.88 yards on first down. This is heavily weighed down by unproductive runs. But despite the bad start, Prescott isn’t fazed. He keeps rolling along by making good plays. And third down hasn’t been a problem for the Cowboys like it was last year. After a terrible 34.6 % conversion rate last season, the Cowboys are converting third downs at a rate at 55.2 %, which ranks them second in the NFL.
Just imagine how good he’s going to be when the running game gets going.
When he became the Cowboys offensive coordinator, many were worried about him being pass-happy because of what he had did with the Detroit Lions. That narrative got debunked early as the he helped the Cowboys become one of the top running teams in the league. It’s really simple – give him weapons and he’ll use them. That’s good news if there are some good weapons. In 2014, he had the Cowboys offense humming, producing the second most points (467) in franchise history. The offense operated with a strong running game and efficient passing. Dallas would score on 44.1 % of their drives, ranking third in the NFL.
Last year, he lost a lot of those weapons. Matt Cassell, Darren McFadden, and Terrance Williams were the 2015 triplets. The Cowboys would finish 31st in the league with a pitiful 17.2 points per game.
But now, with a current triplet arrangement of Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dez Bryant – the offense is getting back to form. And Linehan is doing all kinds of new stuff this season. The Cowboys aren’t running on first down all the time like everyone expects them to. Instead, they bootleg or play-action and catch the defense with their hand in the cookie jar. Cole "chain moving" Beasley is a big part of this offense. And all the great skills Prescott brings to the team are being utilized.
The result? The Cowboys have scored on 52.6 % of their drives so far in 2016, ranking them second in the league.
Pass rush help is on the way
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou is a movie about three escaped convicts who have misadventures while looking for a buried treasure. It’s also the question I ask myself as I watch the Cowboys pass rush. The Cowboys only have five defensive hurries on the season. Only the Oakland Raiders have less. And this is an issue that has plagued the Cowboys for the last three seasons.
NFL rankings for hurries according to SportingCharts:
- 2015 31st
- 2014 32nd
- 2013 32nd
So, needless to say, it’s looking to be another dismal season getting after the quarterback. Failure to disrupt the passer reduces the defenses chances of getting off the field. The Cowboys must get pressure on the quarterback to cause incompletions and create turnovers. The lack of pressure makes the defense susceptible to big plays. Dallas is tied for sixth-worst in big passing plays allowed this year.
But it’s going to get better. And maybe even as early as Sunday night.
The Cowboys veteran defensive tackle was asked to move outside against the Redskins and it paid immediate dividends as he made a key sack in the final minute of the game. Was this just an isolated incident or could it be a sign of more things to come? We should find out shortly as Crawford should see more snaps at defensive end against the Chicago Bears.
Why is a player that is cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars going to make a difference? Because he can rush the passer. In 31 career games, he has 11 sacks, which puts him ahead of any other player currently on the roster. He might not add much value in other areas of the defense, but that’s okay – he won’t be asked to. Davis is a specialist who will see snaps on pass rushing downs.
Only two more non-Tank games left. Once Lawrence returns from his suspension, the Cowboys will have solved half of their defensive end problems. He was giving Tyron Smith fits in camp and should return with something to prove.
The Cowboys coaches haven’t developed the secret formula in creating a pass rush, but they have come across some discoveries. It may take some time, but they should be able to eventually find a group that works.
What have you seen that has you most excited?