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Thread: Sturm: Decoding Linehan - Nothing Comes Easy As Offense Sputters Along

  1. #1
    One-armed Knife Sharpener Iamtdg's Avatar
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    Sturm: Decoding Linehan - Nothing Comes Easy As Offense Sputters Along

    By Bob Sturm, Special contributor

    We won't attempt to insult anyone's intelligence about the state of the offense at the present time. There is no question that this offense that was described in this space as recently as Week 9 as a "machine" is nothing close to that and is in desperate need of some big plays again.

    Big plays, where have you gone.

    In the first 8 games of the season - with Ezekiel Elliott on the active roster - this team was capable of big plays. At the time, there were plenty of complaints about how few big plays there were, because the number would not make the Saints or Patriots blush, but by Cowboys standards, it was pretty solid. Elliott didn't have his hands on the majority of them by any stretch - he had 6 of the 26 the offense had accounted for in the first half of the season - but, he obviously attracted enough attention that others had opportunities.

    In the first 4 games of the season (where the Cowboys were sputtering at 2-2), they had 14 explosives (20 yards or more on a single play). In the next 4 games (Cowboys went 3-1), they had 12 explosives and were able to feel pretty good about where their offense was overall after a decisive win over the Chiefs in Early November.

    But, evidently, no Zeke means no threat of a big pass.

    Now, they have played 4 games during the suspension and we see the issues of the big plays - or lack thereof. There have been 7 explosives in 16 Quarters of football.

    No team in the National Football League has fewer explosive plays in the last month of football than the Cowboys.

    Not one.

    It gets worse. Of those 7 explosives, only 4 are pass plays. Only 3 other teams have fewer than double that during this stretch. Chicago (6), Cincinnati (6), and Buffalo (5) have more than Dallas, too, but not double.

    It is pretty bad around here at the moment.

    You may remember the 4 pass plays in the last 4 weeks that have broken the 20-yard barrier, but in case you have chased those out of your mind, here they are from profootballreference.com:



    So, yeah, 4 games and 4 passes of 20+, including zero against the Eagles on that Sunday Night we don't like to speak about. Worse yet, they don't seem interested in attempting them, either.

    We may need to see some signs of life soon from this passing game if there is to be any chance to put a run together.

    It all starts with what appears to be a combination of elements that include - a QB who is not putting the ball where he would like to put it, a WR group that has no real ability to win downfield (aside from the red zone fades to Dez Bryant), pass protection seeing a lot more pressure that forces the ball out quickly, and a play-calling staff that is not interested in gambling beyond 5 yards and a cloud of dust up front.

    Meanwhile, opponents are aware of Alfred Morris and Rod Smith behind this hulking offensive line, but they are also not afraid of big plays, so they are happy to allow the Cowboys to take 4-5 yards and force 12-play drives without a penalty or a 3rd down stumble and take their chances.

    Clearly, based on the Cowboys going 1-3 during this run, the defenses are doing fine.

    Below, please find the 11 times in the NFL as of Thursday in which a NFL team passed for less than 100 yards in a game. To my shock and amazement, the league is actually 6-5 in games in which a team does not get to 100 yards. 3 times, the Redskins have allowed less than 100 passing yards in 2017, which seems under-reported, but this is the first time they have lost a game like that. Chicago has actually won 2 games this year without piercing that mark.

    And, now the Cowboys have put one in the win column with just 93 yards in net passing. Nothing comes easy at the moment.



    In this space, we attempt to offer some reasonable defenses of QB play when the Cowboys offense struggles. There is so much more to evaluating an offense than just QB. For years, when Tony Romo would struggle - yes it would happen - we would look at all sorts of elements to justify sharing the blame in many spots. Even though this fan-base currently seems oddly divided between Dak Prescott and the fairy tale scenario under which Romo leaves the broadcast booth and returns to play QB, despite a broken down body, this sort of conversation is back.

    Let's address this right here: I have not seen Prescott play this poorly at any point since his draft. He needs to be better and appeared to lose confidence at a very high level on Thursday night. If he is going to lose his most impressive quality - his unshakeable mental resolve - than it is time to get awfully concerned.

    Luckily, he made some key throws at key moments on 3rd down and despite looking horrendous early, helped the offense extend drives and convert 50% on 14 3rd downs. This, and a rare defensive performance (and special teams) that carried the day allowed them to get their 6th win of the season.

    But, if the defense hadn't come through, it is tough to say with any conviction that the offense was good enough.

    Prescott is in a remarkable slump and he needs to get a grasp on this steering wheel in New York to hold off the idea that 100% of his success is attached to having the best RB in the business. In 2 weeks, it won't matter if it is true. It will be perceived as true throughout the football world.

    WEEKLY DATA BOX



    Once again, the offense does not get to 300 total yards. This happened twice (thrice if you count the exhibition in Week 17 in Philadelphia) in 2016 and has now happened six times in 2017. They have three wins in those nine occasions - At Minnesota last December, At Arizona in Week 3, and now this game - so there must be something about prime time games to allow these poor yardage performances to get into the Win column. But, again, yards per play at 4.2 suggest you just aren't even coming close to big plays.

    DAK PRESCOTT THROW CHART



    I would not call this difficult to defend right here.

    No big plays means no defensive fear. No defensive fear means they sit right on top of you. So, if the defense is up in your face and you continue to try to throw it underneath them, you see what we have this week - a frustrated offense that won a game but still isn't right.

    PERSONNEL GROUPINGS



    The play-action game seems reduced dramatically to RPO's and not much else. Defenses have stopped playing run on those bootleg rollouts and it is clearly affecting early-down play-calling where the Cowboys ran 39 times on 1st/2nd down to only 11 passes. 78% even includes several early down passes before halftime or it would have been well above 80%. If you are only going to let your QB throw the ball on 3rd down, he will see some much more complex looks.

    So, it becomes chicken-and-egg with a QB who is not making confident throws. Do you fight through it and keep going to him? Well, you haven't broken 10 points in a month. A pragmatic view is the only possible view when trying to keep your playoff hopes alive. You pound the rock repeatedly and hope for the best on 3rd down. But, going back to when Prescott was really good, you would notice that his big throwing plays were often found on 1st and 2nd down. Of his 62 career passes of 20 yards or more, only 18 were on 3rd down. Why? Because you have populated secondaries. The other 44 were on plays where the defenses are sitting on the run on early downs.

    Here are the Shotgun Empty numbers by week. I know they want to do this to read coverages easier, but it is very inconsistent from week to week:

    SHOTGUN EMPTY NUMBERS



    But, you don't want him to throw on 1st down because he has no confidence. And round and round you go.

    Let's look at some tape:



    Here is an early 3rd down that ends up a sack of 9 yards. You can pretty easily see that the Cowboys routes take forever to get to the top of the stem and when Washington is blitzing 6, there is no time for this. Watch Williams at the bottom of the screen who is unable to get out of his cut until Prescott is already under siege. This is so frustrating. You need quick breaks on 3rd and 7 and the protection was not holding up. Give your QB a little help and this starts with the play-call. Things have to happen quicker at this spot of the field. Punt.



    Here is the next drive. 3rd and 7 again. I think Prescott has to let it go to Beasley quicker here. He is starting to feel the pressure and hesitates until the throw is too late. If you anticipate Beasley's break better, I think this is a conversion. Easy from this view, but you can feel Dak questioning everything after such a poor Thanksgiving.



    Now, here is 3rd and 8. This is a heck of a job from Prescott to make this throw because once again, things are breaking down in his protection before these guys are getting open. He throws in anticipation of Dez and that window is awfully small. But, Dak keeps fighting and converts this one nicely. You can see the Redskins cheat to Beasley on the crosser. They have to start hitting Beasley going across the middle more, but defenses know this, too.



    They come back to Beasley. But, this one is a real disappointing throw on 3rd and short. 3rd and 2 and this throw is just an example of Dak being "off". This throw is so poor that I have looked at it to detect his arm being hit, but I think it just is a poor throw. Have to connect here to back defenses off.



    3rd down and 6 late in the 3rd Quarter. It is still a very tight game here. The Cowboys keep going empty even though there are seldom too many connections made here, but the Dez Bryant DIG route is available and Dak slings it in there nicely. Dez does the rest. No route has been more of a staple for Dez than this one. He cuts it at 13 and then does some nice YAC work behind it. After a 3-10 start on 3rd downs, Dak connects on several in a row in the 2nd half and they finish 7 of 14. 50% is a great day on 3rd down.



    Because they hit that last one, this was available 3 plays later on another 3rd down - 3rd and 5 to start the 4th Quarter. The fade route to Dez Bryant. I really admire Bryant's night to make sure he made a difference on these 3rd downs. He absolutely did and it was a source of real encouragement moving forward. One of these for a touchdown and another for a Pass Interference to the 1.

    When you can move the chains, you allow your offensive line to finally wear down an opponent. That really occurred in the 2nd half.



    The offensive line can still do this, but you have to give them reps. Here is a quick 9 on a cutback off a zone stretch right.



    13 personnel and the Redskins have to cheat to that strong side. Then watch Frederick turn his hips and wall off 72 from the hole. Huge lane for Morris. 15 yards.



    The very next play, now here comes a stretch play to the front side and the Redskins are wilting to the scheme. Great job all around, but it is only possible if you keep the score and situation in your favor so this actually has an impact.

    If you are behind by 10, this means nothing. But, because of some great defense and special teams along with 3rd down conversions, the Cowboys were able to follow their recipe - even without the explosives.

    But, as you can see, winning without big plays is very difficult. And since there have been no big plays in a month, the Cowboys still look pretty feeble on offense.

    They got the win, but we should not assume things are all fixed yet.
    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

  2. #2
    Teh Acester Texas Ace's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Iamtdg View Post
    3rd down and 6 late in the 3rd Quarter. It is still a very tight game here. The Cowboys keep going empty even though there are seldom too many connections made here
    And this right here is exactly why there is ZERO chance that the Cowboys run the table.

    On top of the fact that Dak has to improve significantly on his own, and the defense has to be very good for the rest of the reason -- two things that are highly unlikely at this point of the season -- you also need this sorry coaching staff to not be themselves and that just isn't going to happen.

    Here we are coming off the worst 3 game stretch in franchise history, and these guys started the game on offense the exact.same.way. they started the previous 3 games. No change in playcalling, no change in philosophy, no attempt to give the team a much-needed shot in the arm or morale boost. They simply rolled out there as if they were completely oblivious to what had occurred over the past 3 weeks, but this is Jason Garrett we're talking about who wouldn't acknowledge an earthquake was occurring even if the ground he was standing on split in two.

    So as Sturm points out, there they are in 3rd quarter of the umpteenth game in a row in which the empty set has not been anywhere near successful enough to continue on with it so much, but yet there they go calling for it.

    They never adjust, they never learn anything, and they simply lack the mental aptitude to both help this QB and the team as a whole. They aren't going to get better at coaching overnight.....this is who they are.

    So you can forget about getting any sort of coaching advantage from them.

    This staff gives us no chance to win 5 in a row, so just stop it. Season is over, move along.

    The best we can hope for is great draft position and an offseason where this front office finally makes some good moves.

    We aren't going anywhere this season and this staff is the biggest reason why.
    2013 DCC Fantasy Football Champeen

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  4. #3
    Senior Member L.T. Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Texas Ace View Post
    And this right here is exactly why there is ZERO chance that the Cowboys run the table.

    On top of the fact that Dak has to improve significantly on his own, and the defense has to be very good for the rest of the reason -- two things that are highly unlikely at this point of the season -- you also need this sorry coaching staff to not be themselves and that just isn't going to happen.

    Here we are coming off the worst 3 game stretch in franchise history, and these guys started the game on offense the exact.same.way. they started the previous 3 games. No change in playcalling, no change in philosophy, no attempt to give the team a much-needed shot in the arm or morale boost. They simply rolled out there as if they were completely oblivious to what had occurred over the past 3 weeks, but this is Jason Garrett we're talking about who wouldn't acknowledge an earthquake was occurring even if the ground he was standing on split in two.

    So as Sturm points out, there they are in 3rd quarter of the umpteenth game in a row in which the empty set has not been anywhere near successful enough to continue on with it so much, but yet there they go calling for it.

    They never adjust, they never learn anything, and they simply lack the mental aptitude to both help this QB and the team as a whole. They aren't going to get better at coaching overnight.....this is who they are.

    So you can forget about getting any sort of coaching advantage from them.

    This staff gives us no chance to win 5 in a row, so just stop it. Season is over, move along.

    The best we can hope for is great draft position and an offseason where this front office finally makes some good moves.

    We aren't going anywhere this season and this staff is the biggest reason why.
    Zero chance isnít an actual correct assumption. There are astounding odds of not being a favorable outcome but until there is another loss, zero chance will have to wait.
    Since Day One

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    Senior Member p1_'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by L.T. Fan View Post
    Zero chance isn’t an actual correct assumption. There are astounding odds of not being a favorable outcome but until there is another loss, zero chance will have to wait.
    dont worry, the odds are high that that loss is just waiting around the corner.
    Romo's gone. Dak is the new boss.

  6. #5
    Senior Member ravidubey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by L.T. Fan View Post
    Zero chance isn’t an actual correct assumption. There are astounding odds of not being a favorable outcome but until there is another loss, zero chance will have to wait.
    Quote Originally Posted by p1_ View Post
    dont worry, the odds are high that that loss is just waiting around the corner.

  7. #6
    Senior Member pdom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by L.T. Fan View Post
    Zero chance isn’t an actual correct assumption. There are astounding odds of not being a favorable outcome but until there is another loss, zero chance will have to wait.


    We don't even have to wait for another loss. Based on who we've already lost to -- Rams, Falcons, Packers -- we could win out and still miss the playoffs.

  8. #7
    Senior Member pdom's Avatar
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    I'm still unsure how a legitimate QB like Cousins could have such a horrible day passing against us.

  9. #8
    Senior Member Cowboysrock55's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdom View Post
    I'm still unsure how a legitimate QB like Cousins could have such a horrible day passing against us.
    He looked shell shocked from the pass rush. It's a perfect example of how a great pass rush can make a really good QB look like shit. I know guys like Chidobe were great in coverage but I saw plays that could have been completed by Cousins except the rush was right in his face.

  10. #9
    Senior Member Genghis Khan's Avatar
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    I don't think cousins was horrible at all.

  11. #10
    Teh Acester Texas Ace's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Genghis Khan View Post
    I don't think cousins was horrible at all.
    They dropped a lot of passes on him including one that would've put them up 7-0, not to mention all the fumbles.

    I didn't think he was part of the problem that night.
    2013 DCC Fantasy Football Champeen

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