The Dallas Cowboys are scoring points in 2019. How does that make you feel? I’ll answer that for you - super fantastic!
It’s really great to see a team that struggled to score points find the end zone nine times already this season. In fact, among all the NFC playoff teams from a year ago, the Cowboys are the highest scoring team.
One of the reasons the team is putting up points this year is that they are not settling for field goals once they get into the red zone. They have ventured into the red zone six times so far this season, and all but one has resulted in a touchdown. That’s quite the contrast to last season where the team was the fourth-worst red zone team in the league. The Cowboys have gone from bottom five to top five, so it shouldn’t be all that shocking that they’ve moved into the top five in points scored as well.
What a difference a year makes. Sure, it’s way early to declare success, but this is great sign for a team that had so many problems once they got deep into their opponent’s territory.
But why the change? There’s a lot of different factors that come into play, but let’s check the tape so we can get a good sense of what’s new about this 2019 Cowboys offense.
The influence of new quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna is very apparent as Prescott is setting his feet well and ripping it. To be successful in the red zone, you have to get there first, and these big time throws from Prescott are putting them into position to get points.
Reason #1 for the Cowboys scoring points - Dak's delivery.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2019
Watching Dak Prescott release the ball is a thing of beauty. His footwork is very consistent as he steps into his throws and delivers strike after strike. pic.twitter.com/BKhGkmIEDX
Seeing the offense move is like watching synchronized swimming as everyone is working in unison. Kellen Moore provides a lot of window dressing pre-snap, and you can see the defense shuffling around in disarray. There is no doubt he keeps the opposition guessing. But what Moore manages to do so well on a consistent basis is create space. Looking at the successful plays so far this year all contain a common theme - wide open spaces. Moore spreads his pieces out, getting defenses zigging one way, and then, boom! The play goes the other way.
Reason #2 for the Cowboys scoring points - Kellen creating space— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2019
On this play, WR goes in motion, and everyone moves to their right once the ball is snapped. The entire defense follows anticipating a run. Devin Smith runs a quick slant with a wide open throwing window for Dak. pic.twitter.com/VUDOaYO31I
Last year, we were puzzled by the red zone struggles, and wondered if it had anything to do with three of the team’s key players not being on the field. Jason Witten had retired, Travis Frederick was out all year, and Dez Bryant was released last offseason. Former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was the easiest scapegoat, but it should be noted that the Cowboys finished third in red zone percentage in 2016, and sixth in 2017 with Linehan calling the plays. There were definitely other attributing factors to their red zone woes, and the absence of these players certainly didn’t help.
The return of Witten didn’t have fans jumping in jubilation, but you just can’t overstate the reliability this guy offers his young quarterback. There is nothing flashy about how Witten plays, but he’s so fundamentally sound and is extremely consistent that you can set your watch to it. His presence in the offense has already produced results in the red zone, as he has two touchdown receptions.
Reason #3 for the Cowboys scoring points - Reliable Witten— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2019
On the first play, Witten stays patient and sells the block just enough to throw off the defender. On the second play, despite both defenders staying on Witten, he's still right where he's supposed to be for the TD. pic.twitter.com/uA9osotfH6
Even when Witten is covered, he’s not covered.
Ezekiel Elliott may have led the league in rushing last season, but would you believe he only had six rushing touchdowns last year? The team struggled in short yardage situations, and defenses stopped the Cowboys running game in their tracks when they got in the red zone.
Ezekiel Elliott has run the ball 38 times in the red zone this year. Even excluding touchdowns or short yardage conversions, 22 of those runs have been for 2 yards or fewer. 11 for no gain or a loss.— Tim Roberts (@21stCenturyTim) December 20, 2018
Not having their All-Pro center along the offensive line made a difference. Joe Looney was a solid backup, but he just doesn’t have the impact in the trenches that Travis Frederick does. Last year, the interior of the Cowboys offensive line got pushed back and it derailed many goal line opportunities. The team doesn’t seem to have that problem anymore, and Zeke already has two red zone scores.
Reason #4 for the Cowboys scoring points - Frederick's return— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2019
On this play, watch Frederick move Da’Ron Payne to his left, opening up a running lane for Zeke to punch it in for the score. pic.twitter.com/HO99OXSpi8
Not only does Frederick help the rushing attack, but his presence as a pass protector has already been felt.
Only three offensive lines have allowed fewer than 10 pressures through the first two weeks of the NFL season: 49ers (9), Ravens (8), and Cowboys (6).— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) September 18, 2019
That’s really an amazing stat considering Prescott was the second-most sacked quarterback in the league last season.
Dez Bryant had been a great red zone target in past season as he was one of the absolute best at hauling in contested passes in the end zone. After struggling his last season with the team, and not being around last year - the Cowboys were missing that red zone receiving threat.
But all that went away when they acquired Amari Cooper from Oakland. The talented, young receiver is such a proficient route runner that it almost grows tiring of listening to Troy Aikman constantly remind us about it. Almost.
Reason #5 for the Cowboys scoring points - That's Amari— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 19, 2019
Amari is great at finding the creases in zone coverage, and just sits down & waits for Prescott to deliver the ball. He's so precise with his footwork that even when the defense sniffs it out, they’re still just a tad late. pic.twitter.com/AEWQVVx8w9
All these things have helped the offense finish off drives this season. While they won’t sustain this level of success all year, it has to feel good to see this team show so much improvement. There is no reason to believe they won’t continue to be efficient in the red zone, and this will go a long way in helping them be a stronger offensive team this year.