In the aftermath of Sunday’s Dallas Cowboys loss to the Minnesota Vikings, many people are wondering just what the team was thinking on their penultimate offensive possession. You know what happened. You’ve watched it several times by now. The Cowboys, trailing by four, ran the ball on both second and third down, ultimately lost three yards through both plays, and failed to score a touchdown. It was unbelievable.
When the game initially ended we started to get a bit of an explanation from the Cowboys. The team stuck to the company line that they were trying to run some clock down as the sequence essentially began right out of the two-minute warning. Considering the Cowboys hadn’t been able to stop Minnesota for much of the night, they were scared of putting their defense on the field. That’s not ideal but it makes sense.
The thing is that this line of logic (that Stephen Jones corroborated on Monday) doesn’t make sense when you consider what actually happened.
Let’s set the stage one more time
The Cowboys came out of the two-minute warning facing a first and 10 from the Minnesota 19-yard line. A quick completion to Amari Cooper picked up eight yards so it was second and two and this is where everything collapsed.
Remember that the Cowboys have been telling people that they ran the ball so as to drain time off of the clock for fear of giving the Vikings the ball with too much time left. If that’s the case, why did they snap the ball on both second and third down with about half of the play clock left?
Cowboys have said that part of the reason for the second- and third-down runs late against Minnesota was due to wanting to run some clock.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) November 11, 2019
The ball was snapped with about 20 seconds left on the play clock on both plays. How is that running clock? pic.twitter.com/HgLTh4djXa
If you’re trying to run some clock shouldn’t you, I don’t know, run some clock? Either the Cowboys are trying to cover up this mess with a half-put-together explanation or they failed at even running the clock properly (twice at that). Neither situation is ideal.
The Cowboys are also telling people these were RPOs
Another piece of information that the Cowboys are giving people is that these plays were run-pass options. This means, obviously, that Dak Prescott is then the person that made the decision for it to ultimately be a run play, defecting blame towards the guy that kept you in the game isn’t necessarily the best idea for what it’s worth.
As our own Connor Livesay noted though... it’s hard to believe that the second down play was an RPO based on the fact that there was no real pass option.
The HC told us this was an RPO.— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) November 11, 2019
Anyone wanna show me which receiver is running a route for the pass-option?
Also the entire OL looks to be run blocking.. My friends, the OL, WR, and TE have no idea there's a pass option on this play, but the HC does. Insane. pic.twitter.com/ZYy9WW39jC
Connor chimed in for his full thoughts here. It’s hard to believe there was an RPO happening.
“So on the 2nd and 2 run to Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott is reading the DE (Hunter #99) from the snap. On an RPO, the QB is often reading a down safety, or play side linebacker. If either of those players step down to attack the run, the ball is normally pulled and thrown in their empty space. But that’s not the only issue to debunk this issue. On this play, the OL is run blocking the whole way for an inside zone run. Along with the lineman, none of the wide receivers are running routes. Receivers show releases off the snap, before getting into their engage sequence in their block. The HC told us Monday morning that on both 2nd and 3rd down that there were more options than just a run, but that doesn’t seem to be the case on 2nd down.”
Again, it’s not ideal to have this level of either (a) cover up or(b) miscommunication happening with your football team in a moment that had game-deciding ramifications. Nevertheless, here we are.
What’s more is that how the Cowboys handled fourth down doesn’t make sense either
After the Cowboys failed to convert both second and third downs, losing yards on the latter, they were all of a sudden facing fourth and five with their game (and many felt their season in some respects) on the line. With three timeouts in their pocket they chose to not call one and move forward in a bit of haphazard fashion.
Other thing about end of Cowboys/Vikings-— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) November 11, 2019
DAL was going to try on fourth down without calling a timeout (despite having three). It was MIN who called one.
Obvs they would later need the TOs to stop the clock but you don't want to make sure you have THE play in that situation? pic.twitter.com/IFzsj9Om1f
Obviously all three timeouts would prove to be critical as the Cowboys would use them to stop the clock on their next defensive possession so as to get the ball one more time, but wouldn’t it have been a good idea to call one here?
I realize that calling a timeout forfeits your ability to potentially get the ball back if you don’t convert (which ended up being the case as mentioned), but you’re already inside of the 15-yard line. You have a much higher chance of scoring the needed touchdown at this point than if you go play defense, burn your timeouts, get the ball back, and have much less time. It’s worth calling a timeout to make sure you have the play you feel the most comfortable running in that situation.
Ultimately the Minnesota Vikings ended up calling a timeout and to be fair it’s possible that the Cowboys may have done so themselves as time continued to bleed. That would have been the first time over those three plays that they actually bled the clock albeit when it was the supposed purpose of running the ball on the previous two plays.
This possession was a mess. A gigantic one at that.