It took a few weeks for everything to fall into place, and a bye week to implement some much-needed tweaks, but Mike McCarthy’s Texas Coast offense has taken off like a rocket ship. The most impressive thing about these Cowboys is that the offense, led by a red-hot Dak Prescott, just keeps finding new ways to score.
The Cowboys had a relatively quiet day against the Panthers, “only” scoring three offensive touchdowns, but they still posted the third-best EPA/play for the week. Then, four days later, the offense returned to its steamrolling ways, putting up five touchdowns and averaging a ridiculous 8.6 yards per play.
It was in those two performances, just a few days apart from each other, that the true strength of this Cowboys offense became apparent. Prior to playing in Carolina, the Cowboys had been lighting up the scoreboard with a pass-heavy attack that featured CeeDee Lamb. In their first three games after the bye, Lamb had at least 11 catches and 150 yards in each game. Brandin Cooks also went off in the third game, compiling 173 yards against the Giants.
Playing on the road in a difficult environment, though, the Cowboys couldn’t replicate the same success against the Panthers. Lamb had just six catches for 38 yards, and Prescott himself didn’t even hit 200 passing yards. But the offense managed to move the chains anyway, as nearly a third of Prescott’s passes on the day went for a first down. It also helped that the Panthers gave them five first downs via penalty.
In addition to Prescott taking a dink-and-dunk approach in that game, Dallas also got their run game going after several weeks of middling results. Tony Pollard scored his first touchdown since Week 1 and averaged 5.1 yards, a much higher mark than the 3.9 yards he was averaging prior to that game.
Pollard carried that momentum over to the Thanksgiving game, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and notching another touchdown. The passing game got back to its routine of lighting things up too, but not by feeding Lamb. The star receiver had 53 yards on just four catches, but Prescott spread the ball out quite evenly with 10 different players recording a catch. Lamb and Cooks both scored, and so did some unusual suspects in Rico Dowdle and KaVontae Turpin.
Therein lies the danger this offense poses to any defense. Lots of teams talk a big game about feeding one receiver and then taking advantage of one-on-one matchups once the defense focuses on that receiver, but not every team can actually do it. Last year’s Cowboys learned that the hard way. But this year’s Cowboys fed Lamb a healthy portion of targets for three straight games and, since then, have managed to find success throwing it all over the field to other players.
On top of it all, the Cowboys’ impressive success through the air has opened things up for their run game. In the last two games, Pollard has run into a box with eight or more defenders on just 4.1% of his carries; for context, Ravens running back Justice Hill has the lowest rate on the year at 4.92%. The Cowboys are having so much success throwing the ball that it’s opening up their run game too, giving them that many more options to move the ball at will.
The most encouraging part of all of this is how the Cowboys are gradually seeing all of these different approaches pay off each coming week. They spent three weeks feeding Lamb, then got the run game going, and then found success with advantageous matchups outside of Lamb. The way that McCarthy has called this offense since the bye week has helped shape the unit into one that can seemingly do whatever they want.
Not buying it? Consider this: since the bye week, the Cowboys are averaging 0.243 EPA/play. For the full season, the 49ers lead the league at 0.157 EPA/play. That’s how outrageously good this offense has been lately. Even their biggest weakness - red zone offense - has been fixed. Since the bye, the Cowboys are scoring a touchdown on 69.6% of their red zone trips; the Chargers rank second on the full year with a 66.7% red zone touchdown rate.
The Cowboys are moving the ball in a variety of ways and they’ve figured out how to punch the ball into the endzone instead of settling for field goals. The offensive line, finally healthy again, has been doing great work too, living up zero sacks in the last three games. There’s very little this Texas Coast offense can’t do right now, and that should strike fear into any defense left on the Cowboys’ schedule.