The Dallas Cowboys and its offense exploded Sunday en route to annihilating the Jacksonville Jaguars by the tune of a 40-7 score. The Jaguars, led by the likes of Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, and Calais Campbell, are widely considered to have one of the league’s top defensive units. Meanwhile, Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Dak Prescott have received tons of criticism for the lack of offensive firepower. On paper, it seemed like a horrific matchup for those in silver and blue.
That did not matter on Sunday.
Dallas came out with an aggressive gameplan against the Jags, wanting to enforce their will on one of the league’s top defenses. Dak Prescott, who arguably had his best game of the season, looked as comfortable as ever in the pocket and Linehan dialed up some effective play-calls that got his unit in a rhythm that kept rolling all afternoon long.
As good as Dak looked tossing the football against an elite secondary (17/27, two touchdowns, 107.5 rating), the story of the game was how effective Prescott was when he tucked the ball and ran. Prescott, either by design or when the play broke down, was able to hurt the Jaguars with his legs on the way to setting a career-high in rushing yards with 82. In order for the Cowboys to reach its fullest potential offensively, Dak will need to use his legs.
In the first quarter, the Cowboys took an early 3-0 lead over the Jaguars. Soon after, the offense was back in scoring position with a chance to go up by two scores. Dak picked up some yardage with his legs on a play in which Ezekiel Elliott happened to be open, but Prescott made up for it on the next play. Prescott keeps the ball and follows some excellent downfield blocks from Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Tyron Smith on his way to the end zone.
Dak Prescott is dynamic when he runs the football. Here, he keeps it and gets some downfield blocking on his way to the end zone. pic.twitter.com/EuM3LnykoL— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) October 15, 2018
The read-option isn’t really anything new to this offense — we have seen it quite a few times over the course of the Dak and Zeke era — but it is still definitely a play that allows Dak to have the option to hurt defenses with his legs while also forcing the defense to account for another potential ball carrier. For example, the Giants had to think twice about sending the house in Zeke’s direction, because Prescott showed that he is capable of making plays on the ground, too:
This play can be very effective, because it forces whoever is on the edge to think twice before crashing down and heading for Zeke. pic.twitter.com/08XxW7GMJW— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) October 15, 2018
Prescott was very effective in this style of offense during his days at Mississippi State, where he was a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender and considered one of the elite players across the nation while accounting for over 1,500 yards on the ground in his final two seasons.
It’s not just read-options, though. Prescott has the ability to pick up yardage on the ground when the play breaks down or when the coverage is downfield, which leaves a running lane available for him. We saw more of that on Sunday than we have for the most part in other games this season. Here is an example of Prescott utilizing his legs and nearly moving the chains on yet another touchdown drive.
Dak can make plays when the play breaks down, and he does it here — turning a near huge loss into a near first down. pic.twitter.com/OsOxdF5VOe— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) October 15, 2018
Then, of course, the bootleg. Prescott does well when he is on the move — either when passing or running. The bootleg gives Dak the opportunity to do just that. He picks up the first down, and the Cowboys eventually get into the end zone later in the drive.
The bootleg allows Dak to get on the move, where he seems to be most comfortable. Here, he keeps it and moves the chains on a touchdown drive in the second quarter. pic.twitter.com/vxK4w16Oe0— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) October 15, 2018
Dak is a dynamic player when he has the ball in his hands, and this offense is better because of it. Since entering the league, Prescott has rushed for more touchdowns from the quarterback position than anyone else in football. He has earned the respect of defenders in that regard, which, as a result, gives one of the elite running backs in the game opportunities against less defenders.
Week one’s loss was certainly forgettable, but there was a play-call that I liked late in the game. It was the only touchdown that the Cowboys scored versus the Panthers, which happened to be a drive where Dak picked up first downs with his legs. Linehan dialed up a speed-option look with Dak and Zeke near the goal line. The end couldn’t let Dak keep it, and the linebackers weren’t quick enough to get out to Zeke. Six points.
Speaking of Dak running, I would love to see the speed-option implemented during critical third-down or red-zone situations. Can't be easy to defend both Dak and Zeke in short yardage. pic.twitter.com/RRsYirWTWQ— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) October 15, 2018
Now, the debate becomes how much running the quarterback is too much? Putting your quarterback in danger is never a goal, but in the case of Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have a unique player in that regard. Prescott is more built like a Cam Newton than he is an RG3; he can handle some hits here and there and keep being effective. Jerry Jones was asked about whether or not he is fine with Dak running the football like he did versus Jacksonville. His response?
“I am. Yes, I am,” Jones said. “I’d rather see him running like that and sliding than getting chipped and nipped away at the ankles and the sacks that come in with what’s in that pocket. I’m fine with that. That will basically cause us to open it up. We don’t have to rely on that because we’ve got Zeke [Ezekiel Elliott] when we’re at full bore out there. Our antidote is really directly Zeke. We don’t have to depend on a lot of downfield connections for those two. You can hand it off to him or you can keep it.”
While Dak mentioned that his running ability open things up against the Jags’ man-to-man look.
“It just opened everything up,” Prescott said. “Some of it was called runs and just read options. The end game was to read, keep it and a lot of them were just man-to-man protection and man-to-man coverage, and the protection was solid, and I was able to get out of the pocket, and make them pay. At that point, it was making them get a spy guy making adjustments on their part, and it opened up everything for our offense.”
Prescott is right in that — his ability to hurt defenses with his legs opens the offense up for both Ezekiel Elliott and the passing game. Defenses cannot zone-in on Elliott, and as Prescott mentioned, the Jaguars were forced to adjust by assigning a spy on the quarterback.
Cole Beasley, who he himself had a big game on Sunday, had some interesting comments about what Dak brings to the run game, mentioning that he believes the team is turning the corner.
“Well, if you’ve got to defend him and Zeke in the run game — it’s almost impossible, I feel like. Linemen have got to hold their spots, and ends — when they’re coming down, they can’t really come all the way, because Dak can pull it at any moment. When you have that dynamic, it’s tough to stop our run game. And then off that, we’ve got RPOs and all kinds of stuff to work off of that. We’re getting there. I think we’re possibly turning the corner.
Implementing somewhere around three-to-five designed QB runs, in addition to three-to-five more scrambles and improvisations from Prescott, would give this offense another element and force defenses to gameplan for another dynamic. We heard about a ‘Dak-friendly’ offense all offseason long, and Dak’s legs gives the Cowboys opportunities to attack opposing defenses in numerous ways — through Zeke, through the QB run game, and through RPOs.
Where Dak may struggle in the pocket, his talent of creating plays with his legs has the chance to change the dynamics of the season and help the Cowboys get back on track in a struggling NFC East.