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Dak Prescott’s failures are a symptom of an overall failing offense

Dak Prescott is failing but so is everything around him including teammates and coaches.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys colossal failure in Seattle this past week didn’t help quarterback Dak Prescott. For the fifth game in a row, and ninth in his last eleven games, Prescott failed to reach 200 passing yards, a universally doable task for all NFL quarterbacks these days. The loss that dropped the team to 1-2 also did no favors for a coaching staff that has come under fire.

While both the quarterback and coaching have been critiqued and blamed, it’s only part of the problem. It’s peculiar that more people aren’t talking about how wildly inconsistent the rest of the offense has been in the past three weeks but now is a good time for a reminder.

Suspect Protection

There is no denying that Prescott has been at fault for a few of the hits he’s taken, he even admitted that much after the Seattle game. There was a popular stat being used to discredit theories about poor line play on Monday. It was determined that the Cowboys quarterback has the third-highest amount of time to throw at 2.99 seconds. Though that may be true, there was also a noticeable coincidence with that stat and another too:

Quarterback Throw Time (Rank) Sacks (Rank)
Josh Allen 3.30 (1) 11 (5-T)
Deshaun Watson 3.29 (2) 10 (7-T)
Dak Prescott 2.99 (3) 11 (5-T)
Tyrod Taylor 2.87 (8-T) 13 (3)
Aaron Rodgers 2.87 (8-T) 10 (7-T)

Five of the Top-10 quarterbacks with the most time to throw are also in the Top-10 of most sacked quarterbacks on the season. Of those five, Deshaun Watson and Tyrod Taylor are the only two with clear WR1’s in reputation and stats. No other quarterback even has a receiver in the Top-30. Last week’s opposing QB Russell Wilson, the most-sacked QB in the league, ranks 13th with 2.78 seconds to throw. Wilson’s tight ends had to chip DeMarcus Lawrence all game long to avoid another six-sack nightmare.

Dak is on pace to get sacked 59 times, which would tie Tony Eason at ninth all-time for single season sacks taken. Sacks are one measurement but don’t forget QB hits. Prescott took 81 last season, he’s already been hit 22 times in three games. Without question, his timing, ball-placement, pocket awareness, and mechanics have all been wildly inconsistent but we can’t say protection hasn’t been a problem.

Are we possibly guilty of downplaying the absence of Travis Frederick, who may be the best center in football? It’s not a slight to Joe Looney, who hasn’t been a liability but he’s nowhere near the level of the All-Pro he’s subbing for. Connor Williams has been beat badly at times but he is a rookie learning on the job. The real problem with this line right now is that they are far more comfortable with run-blocking than they are in pass protection.

Ezekiel Elliott had costly mistakes in Seattle but he ran for 127 yards and almost eight yards per carry. The team basically could run the ball at will but it didn’t matter and that’s troubling when it’s the formula for the offense. They couldn’t protect the quarterback against a Seahawks pass rush that ranked 29th in sacks before the game.

Tyron Smith just had an uncharacteristically bad performance with Frank Clark on Sunday. La’el Collins has struggled in his second season at right tackle as well. In three games, Smith and Collins have combined for seven penalties that have hurt potential drives. You can live with mistakes made by Looney or Williams. However, this team has to hang their hats on this offensive line and especially Tyron, Collins, and Zack Martin. Right now, this unit is struggling on an offense that is dependent upon them for success.

When the offense surrendered six sacks one week, zero the next, then five against a defense that could manage only three in two previous games, you got problems. That’s instability by definition and plays its role in erratic play from the quarterback.

What’s the plan at receiver because no plan isn’t working

The Cowboys made a lot of big-time decisions in the offseason to put pass catchers around Dak Prescott that would fit his “spread the ball” style. They took hard stances due to last year’s receivers not getting separation or yards after catch. So far, it looks as though every concern about an offense without any outside threats has come true.

Dak’s ball placement is one thing but even when he throws a nice ball, it’s getting dropped, tipped, flipped, and intercepted if Earl Thomas is near. As sure as it is that Dak is missing open targets, his guys aren’t doing him any favors. According to Next Gen Stats, 2.77 yards of separation is average for NFL receivers and tight ends are almost always well over that mark. The Cowboys only had four pass catchers even qualify to be charted with targets being so low:

Player Avg Cush Avg Sep Targ Air Yds Targ Rec/TD Catch % YAC/Rec EYAC EYAC +/-
Cole Beasley 7.7 2.8 7.6 16 12/0 75 3.8 5 -1.3
Geoff Swaim 5.6 4.1 3.7 11 8/0 72.7 5.2 8.7 -3.6
Deonte Thompson 5.3 2.1 11 12 9/0 75 1.5 2.8 -1.3
Allen Hurns 5.6 2.5 10.4 9 4/0 44.4 3.4 4.3 -0.9

So, separation and cushion are related which is why tight ends usually have higher numbers in both. Geoff Swaim is getting four yards of separation because often the closest defender is five yards away. Also, receivers can have below the 2.77 average and still be very successful but those that do usually have good yards after catch numbers. That’s what’s so concerning about the Cowboys. All four qualifiers were below their expected YAC when the ball was thrown. Now, here’s the separation stats for the Cowboys in each game:

NFL Sep. Avg (2.77) Seahawks Giants Panthers
Player Avg. Sep. Avg. Sep. Avg. Sep.
Geoff Swaim 4.14 -- 3.96
Deonte Thompson 3.02 1.83 2.02
Cole Beasley 3.01 1.83 3.33
Allen Hurns 2.91 2.04 2.12
Michael Gallup 2.05 0.58 2.02
Rico Gathers -- 2.83 --
Terrance Williams -- -- 2.34

First, look how much separation the Cowboys were getting in the Seahawks game in contrast to week’s one and two. The reason those separation numbers are so high is because the Seahawks weren’t concerned with them, they were too busy harassing Prescott. Also, look at how bad things have been for Michael Gallup, he’s had drops but also caused one of Dak’s two interceptions on the day.

As down as these charts might be on these receivers, they are related to the suspect protection, playcalling, and quarterback play over these three games. Also, where’s Tavon Austin? He’s done more with two receptions than anyone else has with four times the amount. Blake Jarwin has played a higher percentage of the offensive snaps and doesn’t have a single catch.

More than anything these charts tell you that the Cowboys just don’t have much of a plan with these guys. Cole Beasley and Geoff Swaim are the pass catchers with the highest snap percentages. The Cowboys have made Allen Hurns an exclusive slant route runner, he’s not offering much after the catch. Gallup may be making mistakes but he and Tavon are your two most explosive receivers playing a combined average of 36% of the snaps. The only way for the rookie to improve is to give him more opportunities. There is no respect from opponents to these receivers because they know:

A.) They will rarely have the QB throw 20+ yards off the line of scrimmage

B.) Even if they do throw 20+ yards off the line, they are 1-4 on those throws

C.) Of the two threats that can beat us in Elliott or Tavon, one will rarely see the field

D.) Corners can sit in their zones on these receivers, we can send the hounds at the QB

The passing game is broken therefore the offense is broken too. They can be a run-first team but these struggles they have had make them a run-only team. When their best players have games like they just did, there is no chance for success at all.

These coaches can be creative but they can’t commit to staying there. The players can execute the plays but they have a tendency to self-sabotage. It’s on the coaches to get their players prepared to play, it’s on the players to execute the gameplan. Right now, the gameplan has been completely pedestrian and the players have been atrocious at carrying it out. It’s clear that this offense is like any failing relationship, it can’t succeed without trust and commitment. Those are two things that everyone involved seems to be really short on at the moment.

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