Ezekiel Elliott has been one of the most dominant running backs in the NFL since he came into the league, but has stiff competition from other big names like Saquon Barkley. According to anonymous NFL scouts, Zeke is still the best in the NFC East though.
“Barkley is more explosive but Elliott is far more consistent and durable,’’ McMullen writes. “Many talk about Dak Prescott when discussing the Cowboys offense or the impressive WR corps which has now added CeeDee Lamb to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup but the straw that stirs the drink is Elliott. Everything is built on his sturdy foundation.’’
We’ll suggest that McCarthy may change some of that, based on how he ran his offense in Green Bay for all of those years; that wasn’t exactly a back-centric offense. But in total, the scouts think Dallas has the best running back in the NFC East - and that’s saying something.
Analytics is becoming all the rage in football these days, and for good reason. As the 2020 season gets closer, here’s an in-depth breakdown of the Cowboys-related analytics from last season. Spoiler alert: Dak Prescott looks good according to these stats.
Prescott performed well against both but was better against zone. There was no real kryptonite coverage against him. He performed worst against Cover-1 — man coverage with a single deep safety — but even then ranked ninth in EPA per dropback.
One big change last year was that Prescott threw downfield more often. In 2018, just 8.2 percent of his dropbacks resulted in downfield attempts; last year, that number jumped to 11.4 percent. Sports Info Solutions marked 52.9 percent of Prescott’s downfield throws as being on target. That ranked 12th out of the 25 quarterbacks who attempted at least 40 deep passes. Prescott’s average throw traveled 9.3 yards from the line of scrimmage, which ranked sixth. Again, that was a big jump from 7.6 yards in 2018, which ranked 26th.
Prescott ate up the blitz, averaging 8.3 yards per dropback when opponents sent five or more rushers. That ranked fifth. The Cowboys ranked 13th in play-action frequency, and Prescott was 16th in EPA per dropback on play-action throws.
The Cowboys struggled mightily on special teams last season, and it led to a coaching change on special teams with John Fassel leaving the Rams for Dallas. He has big changes to make, as the Cowboys’ dismal kicking game cost them some wins last year.
Against the Packers in Week 5, the Cowboys trailed by 10 in the final two minutes but kicker Brett Maher missed a 34-yard field goal to prevent any chance for an onside kick and getting the game to a one-score possession.
Against the Jets the next week, Maher did make a 62-yard field goal, but missed one from 40 in an eventual two-point loss.
Against the Giants in New York, the Cowboys gave up 181 kickoff return yards. Against Minnesota the next week, mass confusion occurred on the sideline at the end of the game. Tavon Austin signaled for a fair catch despite having plenty of room to return a punt and perhaps give the Cowboys a chance to win the game.
And there was New England, where the Cowboys had a punt blocked that led to the Patriots only touchdown. Dallas also couldn’t figure out the wind and rain as the weather elements caused all sorts of problems handling kickoffs.
With the coronavirus still an ongoing pandemic, the state of the 2020 NFL season is still a bit uncertain. On Tuesday it was announced that the Cowboys will hold their training camp at their regular team facilities in Frisco instead of Oxnard.
The decision was hard, with everything swirling around it, but ultimately it was taken out of the Dallas Cowboys’ hands. Each year for the last decade plus, the team has escaped the Texas summer heat to conduct their annual training camp in the breezy conditions of Oxnard, California. It allows the team the bonding experience of getting away from home for six weeks, in addition to being a more suitable environment with temperatures in the 60s and 70s as opposed to potential 100-degree days in the heart of Texas.
However the coronavirus pandemic, limits to interstate travel and general concern for being in facilities not completely owned by the team seem to all have factored in the league’s decision to not allow the Cowboys to travel to California, but instead hold their training camp in the friendly confines of The Star in Frisco, team headquarters. In fact, all teams will remain at home.
Last week, the governor of Texas outlined a potential re-opening of sports venues to fans, allowing for 25% capacity in open-air stadiums. That could be the first step towards Dallas actually hosting their slate of home games during the 2020 season. The planned season opener is on the road against the Los Angeles Rams, in their new SoFi Stadium.
The analytics suggest that the Cowboys were incredibly successful on play-action last year, but the problem is they barely used it. With offensive guru Mike McCarthy coming to town to help Kellen Moore grow as a play-caller, could we see more play action in 2020?
Nick: I would think you will see a lot of variables this year. Yes, it’s the second year for Kellen Moore, but I would expect Mike McCarthy to have a big say in the type of play calling the Cowboys use in 2020. McCarthy knows how to run an offense so yes, I would imagine you’ll see big changes in the way the game is called. Let’s hope so, at least.
Jonny: I could see there being more play action on first down. I don’t think they were fundamentally opposed to the idea last season. They just had a great running back and wanted to give him the ball. But early play action is a good step in the direction of making defenses respect just how many weapons you have. This offense has options, and keeping the defense on its toes might be better than “establishing the run.”
The Cowboys locked up Amari Cooper to a massive deal in the offseason, cementing his status as a top-tier receiver in the NFL, and drafted the highly-touted CeeDee Lamb in the draft. But while those two are getting all the attention, Michael Gallup is another formidable threat.
You want to ignore Gallup? Go ahead. He will have another 1,000 yard season and continue to be (arguably) the team’s best red zone receiving threat. Prescott and Gallup developed a consistent chemistry throughout the 2019 season, one that should only grow if Gallup sees as much single coverage as I’d expect he will going forward.
Of course, Lamb and Cooper will be excellent weapons as well. Each of these has WR1 potential, of which Cooper has filled repeatedly in Dallas. But you can never have too many dynamic pass catchers, especially in today’s NFL where your passing offense is likely the most important part of your team.
For an offense which is littered with firepower and famous names, it could be the underrated and under-recognized Michael Gallup which takes this Cowboys offense (and team) to the next level.
The next six or so weeks are going to be interesting to say the least for the Dallas Cowboys. Listen in to the latest episode of The 75O as Tony Casillas and RJ Ochoa discuss what they could look like with ESPN’s Ed Werder.
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