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Tale of the tape (offense): This Cowboys offense is going to be just fine

What did the All22 have to say about the Cowboys offensive performance in week five?

NFL: OCT 06 Packers at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a tough week four loss to the New Orleans Saints on the road, the Cowboys hoped to bounce back at home and take out the Green Bay Packers in AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys failed to do so, and that makes for a tough film review to try and make sense of what went wrong.

For the remainder of the year, we will try and make these sessions focused on one side of the ball, and possibly have two a week on each side of the football. This week, we will focus on the offense since there was so much good, but also too many bad plays as well. Let’s dive in.

The game couldn’t have started better for the Cowboys. After forcing a three-and-out on defense, the offense got the ball and moved it with ease, until they decided to shoot themselves in the foot. After picking up two yards, 23 yards, and 12 yards on the first three plays of the game, Dak Prescott looked to hit Amari Cooper on a deep post, working off of play-action for what looked to be a huge gain, if not a possible touchdown. Instead, the ball was tipped in the air off of Cooper’s hands and was intercepted by Jaire Alexander for a return of 37 yards. This is a ball that has to be caught even with it being behind him. When slowed down, you can see that this ball is still inside of Cooper’s cylinder, and he also doesn’t have to extend at all to get his hands on the football. The drops for Amari Cooper have been an issue so far throughout the year, but his positive production has outweighed the drops.

While the makeup of the game forced the Cowboys to go away from the running game early, it was still pretty effective when they needed to go to it. It’s great to see a player like Blake Jarwin make some strides in the blocking game, something he’s struggled with in his young career. This is great awareness from Jarwin, who is supposed to block Za’Darius Smith coming from the backside. Jarwin notices how far Smith’s rush has taken him upfield, and looks for work in front of Ezekiel Elliott’s running lane. The result was a nice pancake block on the Packers defensive back, that opened up some extra yardage for Zeke and the Cowboys offense.

The theme of this post so far may seem to shine a negative light on Amari Cooper, that isn’t the case, but there were some plays he left on the field. On the Cowboys second drive of the game, Dak hits Amari Cooper on a flat-vert route (wheel-route) where Cooper sells the route in the flat, before breaking up field vertically. This is an effective concept because of the pump-fake Dak gives to sell the throw to the flat to Cooper. With the pump, Alexander must react to the route, which then gives Cooper all the space he needs to win vertically. Dak gives Cooper a floater that allows Cooper to run under for what should have been a touchdown, but Cooper looses his footing at the catch point and fails to maintain his balance. At the time, it’s hard to be negative about a play that resulted in a 47-yard gain, but the Cowboys did not pick up points on this drive, and would punt just a few plays later after a third-down sack took the Cowboys out of field goal range.

It’s been nice to see Kellen Moore get Tavon Austin involved in the game plan the last two weeks. While none of his touches have resulted in huge plays yet, it just feels like it won’t be long before one finally breaks big. While Austin’s skillset is evident, he has to be sure to hold onto the football. Austin has dealt with fumble issues throughout the entirety of his career, and this play gives a perfect example of the player Tavon Austin is/can be.

Dak’s second interception was one that should have never been thrown, but the defender who picked it off isn’t the reason why. Pre-snap, Dak knows that this is going to be a zone look from the defense, Chandon Sullivan just plays this perfectly, and Dak trusts his arm a little too much. Sullivan drops into coverage and starts to shade to the play-side to cover Ezekiel Elliott in the flat, but again, he’s not in man coverage. Sullivan does a nice job of staying in his zone, and forcing Prescott to check the football down to Ezekiel Elliott for a minimal gain, or force a tight window throw to Randall Cobb that he can make a play on. Prescott chooses the latter and the ball is picked off due to an excellent play from Chandon Sullivan.

My issue with this throw isn’t even with the interception, it’s about the decision to throw this football given the coverage Prescott should have noticed pre-snap. Given it’s a cover two look, throwing the football to the middle-sideline is going to be an extremely difficult completion due to the look Green Bay’s defense gives pre-snap. This is something Prescott has to be better in, especially given the down-and-distance (2nd and 11), field position, and time and score of the game.

The offensive line had a rough day at the office against the Mike Pettine defense. Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith wreaked havoc all night against Cam Fleming and La’el Collins. On 3rd and 4, and a drive the Cowboys needed to get points on, ended up resulting in a sack because both of the Cowboys offensive tackles lose their matchups. The success of this football team comes and goes depending on how the offensive line plays. If they do their job up front, the Cowboys offense normally clicks on all cylinders, when they don’t, it normally takes some time to get things going.

Cam Fleming had a very rough night filling in for Tyron Smith at left tackle. To lose this rep the way he did is just something a starting caliber offensive tackle cannot do. This is an RPO look from the Cowboys offense. Dak Prescott is reading the linebackers, and the ball is either going to be a give to Ezekiel Elliott following the pulling guard, or a quick slant to Michael Gallup. As soon as Dak see’s the linebacker come forward off the play-fake, it’s a pull to the pass. The issue here is Fleming gets beat inside, which is the only thing he CAN’T do given this play-call. Getting beat inside allows Za’Darius Smith a clear path to Dak Prescott with the ball needing to come out fast, and a clear path to make a play on Ezekiel Elliott if that was the post-snap read. Thankfully, Dak and Gallup were able to somehow connect and pick up a nice chunk of yardage on 2nd and 10.

Another nice concept and connection for the Cowboys passing game. The Cowboys have man coverage across the board and use Amari Cooper as a clear-out receiver on this play to take the play-side corner and deep safety out of the play. Randall Cobb is able to win off the line of scrimmage with his release. Cobb uses his speed to create enough separation on the route to give Prescott a throwing window along the sideline. The chunk plays were there for Dallas all night, and they hit on a high percentage of them, but at times they couldn’t make mistakes yet they always did.

It’s time to finally come to the realization that the Cowboys have a WR1(a) and a WR1(b). The connection that Dak Prescott and second-year wide receiver Michael Gallup have early in the season is tremendous. Gallup has shown his ability to be a big-play threat, a chain mover, but most importantly, a reliable option for Prescott to go to when nothing seems to be there for him. Gallup runs a simple stutter-go route, but with the defensive back playing off coverage he doesn’t gain too much ground coming out of the double move. With pressure coming in hot, and no one else open, Prescott gives Gallup a chance with the deep ball and Gallup is just too physical for the defensive back, hauling it in for the touchdown.

In a week where a bunch of Cowboys fans have seemingly jumped off the Dak Prescott bandwagon, my little bit of advice is I’d say that’s a bad idea. Dak Prescott wasn’t perfect on Sunday and made three-to-four head-scratching plays. Still, when we review the entire game, the really good plays outweighed the few bad ones. All Cowboys fans should want Prescott to play better because he can improve, but this game showed a lot of the same things we saw in the first three weeks of the season.

It’s tremendous how well Amari Cooper wins off of his release at the line of scrimmage. His footwork off the snap makes it practically impossible to jam him at the line of scrimmage. Even after winning at his release, Jaire Alexander does an excellent job of recovering and giving Prescott a limited window to fit the football in. Prescott drops an absolute dime, and Cooper does an excellent job of getting both feet down for the catch. There’s no other place for this football to be thrown, and with very limited to space to work with, the probability of this ending up a completion is little to none. Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper were both just brilliant on this play.

Another example of the brilliance from Dak Prescott and his receiver on this play. This was the play after the 15-yard penalty handed to Jason Garrett for “abusive language” (Amari Cooper catch from above), so the Cowboys were looking at a 1st and 25. Ezekiel Elliott runs a killer wheel route out of the backfield using his eyes to sell the flat-route before getting up the field vertically. This is an extremely difficult catch for Elliott that he makes look easy, and a tough throw from Dak with the safety over the top plus the linebackers chasing in coverage, and the pressure getting home at the time of the throw. Another example of a throw that couldn’t have been placed any better given the position of the safety and coverage defenders.

Here is another great play from Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, a common theme in these breakdowns. We’ve seen in previous years Dak Prescott’s inability to navigate the pocket at a high level. This is a really nice example of the improvements he’s made in that aspect of his game. With pressure screaming off the edge, Prescott see’s a step-up lane, doesn’t hesitate, and delivers a nice ball to Amari Cooper for another big gain. Cooper then takes matters into his own hands, spinning out of a touchdown saving tackle to walk in the end zone for six.

The final play we're going to break down is Dak Prescott’s final interception of the game. As you can see from the sideline view, Dak Prescott has released this football before Michael Gallup comes out of his break. Meaning that this is a route he’s banking on Gallup being on time and in the right spot. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the referees forgot how to call illegal contact, defensive holding, and defensive pass interference all in one play. It’s unfortunate that the Cowboys had to lose this game this way, but that’s the way the ball bounces. With all that being said, if the Cowboys cleaned up on even half of the mistakes they made in the first half, the Cowboys likely win this game, and probably by a nice margin.

While the majority of these videos are positive regarding the Cowboys passing game, there are still plenty of areas to improve on. In this game, Prescott threw three interceptions, but only one of those was entirely his fault. The additional one that was picked but called back by penalty was by far his worst read/throw of the year, and one he can’t make. But there’s still plenty to see in this game to see just how good Dak Prescott is in 2019.

While it took the offense time to get going, the defensive struggles where the main cause for this loss. We will look into the All22 of the defensive side of the ball later in the week to see what went wrong against the Green Bay Packers.

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