Our Danny Phantom just penned a post going over the controversy from the Giants game last Sunday when, faced with first-and-goal from the three-yard line, the Cowboys chose three passing attempts, instead of giving the ball to Ezekiel Elliott even once, and failed to score a touchdown. That led to a lot of second guessing after the game, including from me in my Dak and Zeke report.
On first down, Danny Phantom’s article has a nice screen shot of the lineup showing nine Giants in the box against six blockers for Dallas. It’s possible a running play to Zeke could move this pile a yard or two even being outnumbered. After all, on 24 runs on the night, Elliott gained at least three yards on 20 of those runs, and he only lost yardage once (the other runs were no gain, one yard, and two yards). But lets concede for a moment that a run in that situation was not likely to reach the end zone.
What I’d like to focus on is the second down play. Thanks to Bob Sturm’s Decoding Linehan article this week we have two very clear GIFs of the play. Here’s the first one.
Watch the play. This is a run-pass option. As Bob Sturm describes it, the key thing Dak Prescott is watching for is Landon Collins. He’s lined up to the outside of Jason Pierre-Paul, and he’s there to set the edge for the Giants. If he crashes down to stop the run, Dez Bryant should be wide open on the slant inside, with only the trailing cornerback to stop him.
Because Landon Collins crashes down, Sturm concludes that the right play was the pass.
But if you look at the play closely, at the hand-off decision point for Dak and Zeke, La’el Collins has fully engaged Jason Pierre-Paul and Landon Collins has crashed down so far he’s moving inside of Pierre-Paul.
What this opens up is an easy stroll for Zeke to the pylon in what would have been a certain touchdown. Pierre-Paul couldn’t have disengaged enough to cut off Zeke, who could have easily outrun him to the edge. Nor could Landon Collins have reversed himself to cut off Zeke’s path to the corner given the speed and momentum differential between the two players. Nor could the cornerback trailing Dez Bryant have reacted in time to reverse field. Moreover, even if any of these players could have laid a finger on Zeke, he could have easily run through them for a couple of yards and reached the end zone.
What confirms that a handoff was the right choice is the next GIF posted by Mr. Sturm, from the end zone behind Dak.
This is not a perfect angle, because you don’t see it from Dak’s eyes. But look at the traffic between Dak and Dez. There is no lane for this pass. Dak has to throw it over his own linemen and the two Giants mentioned above - Landon Collins and Jason Pierre-Paul - and yet try to get it to come down so Dez can catch it, all in the space of 10 or so yards. This was not an easy throw. It is not surprising to see that Dak ended up sailing the ball over Dez because he first had to get it over the traffic in front of him.
When you look at the odds of Zeke scoring off a handoff here being close to 100%, versus making a difficult arching throw to Dez, it’s pretty clear that the handoff would have been the right choice.
It’s hard to fault Dak for this choice, because his coaches gave him the key - if Collins crashes down, make the throw. But when you look at the play, this was the wrong decision.