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How Scott Linehan has created one of the NFL’s most lethal offenses in Dallas

Scott Linehan has the perfect combination of offensive philosophies that has led him to create a lethal offense in Dallas.

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NFL: Preseason-Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Linehan has always described his offensive philosophy with the word “attack”. It goes back to his introductory press conference for the Rams when he credited his Idaho coach, Dennis Erickson, with the influence of “attacking” opponents. The Cowboys have certainly been an offense that has plenty of firepower and they most definitely attack opposing defenses.

With a punishing running attack, the Cowboys can control the clock and break the will of a defense. One area where the Cowboys could improve from last season is their passing offense, where they ranked 23rd in yards per game.

That’s didn’t necessarily hurt them; they still had a rookie quarterback pass for 3,667 yards, throw 23 touchdowns with only four interceptions, run for six touchdowns, and rank third in total QBR. They also had the league’s leading rusher put up over 1,600 yards on the ground with 15 rushing touchdowns of his own. It’s safe to say that the Cowboys offense under Scott Linehan is not shy on the ability to attack. However, will Linehan look to put the ball in the air a little more in 2017? Linehan does have a history of bringing out the best in his quarterbacks.

When Linehan got his first gig with the Vikings back in 2002, quarterback Daunte Culpepper was beginning his third year as the starter. Culpepper started all 16 games in 2002 (missed five games the previous year), and he also increased his passing yards by 1,241 yards to 3,853 yards for the season. Culpepper also threw four more touchdowns than the year prior with 10 rushing touchdowns.

Culpepper did have 10 more interceptions thrown in 2002 but the Vikings managed to crack the Top-10 in total yards (2nd), passing (9th), rushing (1st), and points per game (8th). Culpepper improved even more the following two years with Linehan and had his best season in 2004 with 39 passing touchdowns to 11 interceptions and 4,717 yards.

Linehan went to the Dolphins for a year before becoming the head coach of the Rams. Though his career there is pretty forgettable, don’t forget that in his first year as the head coach he inherited a team in transition. With Marc Bulger as his quarterback, going 8-8, Linehan’s offense ranked sixth in total yards, fourth in passing, and 10th in points per game. Bulger, Steven Jackson, and Torry Holt all made the Pro Bowl too.

Scott Linehan also deserves some credit for Matthew Stafford’s best years with the Detroit Lions. From 2011-2013 after returning from shoulder surgery, Stafford threw for 5,038, 4,967, and 4,650 yards respectively. He also amassed 90 passing touchdowns and won NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2011. Everyone remembers what Tony Romo was able to accomplish in his time with Scott Linehan, having an MVP-caliber performance in 2014. So, will Dak Prescott be ripping it up in 2017?

The answer to that question is another question in itself, does he really have to? Dak had an amazing rookie year and there is no doubt that he’ll get better as he becomes more comfortable in the offense. However, the formula for the Cowboys is as steady as they come. Run the ball to set up a deadly play action. That’s where Dak Prescott shines his brightest as PFF noted:

“Dak Prescott ran play action on 23.6 percent of his dropbacks last season, fourth most of any quarterback in the league. No QB was more effective at utilizing the play action fake though, as Prescott led all quarterbacks with a 124.4 passer rating and 76.1 percent completion rate. The rookie QB also ranked top five in both passing yards (1,176) and yards per attempt (10.1) on play action passes, and tossed six touchdowns to go with an impressive zero interceptions.”

What made Dak Prescott special was his ability to keep defenses guessing. Dak is athletic and well-built for a quarterback. A few defenses gave him trouble but he’s still learning on the job. Scott Linehan’s mantra is to keep his quarterback as comfortable as possible. Realizing Dak’s attributes and how to utilize them is what makes Linehan special. Dak also had the ninth-best completion percentage on deep passes and never threw an interception deep either. To top it all off, PFF also rated Prescott second in the league in quick passes. On passes that took less than 2.5 seconds, Prescott had a passer rating 110.2, second to only the league MVP, Matt Ryan.

For Scott Linehan, ranking 23rd in passing is almost by design. Will he allow Dak to take more chances? Absolutely, but his quarterback was already one of the most successful passers in 2016 despite passing for only 226 yards per game. That old saying,” if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind. He spent ten years without a dominating rushing attack and every year he’s had a Top-5 rushing offense, he’s also had a Top-10 scoring offense. Linehan’s “attack” offense is one of the most proficient in the NFL. It’s because Scott Linehan knows how, when, and where to attack his opponent, making him one of the NFL’s most lethal coordinators.

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