Conservative. Safe. Brandon Weeden-like. Those are just a few of the terms used to describe Dallas’ offense from Sunday.
While wildly ineffective and lacking explosiveness, a “conservative” approach it was not. In fact, I would argue the opposite. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were the first rookie quarterback-running back combo to start a season opener for Dallas in nearly 50 years, leading one to believe that playing it safe was the only option left. After all, the Cowboys ranked 32nd, 24th, and 29th in offensive plays per game over the last three seasons. To think they would suddenly pick up their pace with a fourth-round play-caller under center is asinine.
Low and behold, the Cowboys ran 75 plays on Sunday, third-most in the league. Only the Seahawks (78) and Chip Kelly’s fast-paced Niners (77) ran more.
I’m not sure what Dallas’ offensive game plan was in Week 1 of 1969, or if Roger Staubach and Calvin Hill even wore helmets back then, but OC Scott Linehan clearly didn’t hesitate in giving his rookie quarterback free reign. Eight of Prescott’s 45 passing attempts were charted as “zone read”, a type of double option that I can’t recall Tony Romo running once.
Prescott also attempted six passes of 20-plus yards, five which were thrown to Dez Bryant. As shown below, hauling in those throws was an entirely different issue.
Now comes Washington and, more importantly, perennial all-world cornerback Josh Norman. Those four passes to Bryant on the right side of the field (as shown above) are significant since that’s where Washington would preferably like to keep Norman. Per the Washington Post’s Master Tesfatsion, Jay Gruden is hesitant to have Norman shadow a specific receiver because it alerts the offense that the defense is in man coverage.
If Dallas chooses to think anything like Pittsburgh, they’ll simply get creative with Bryant’s placement on the field. Ben Roethlisberger, for instance, targeted Antonio Bryant at least 15-yards downfield four times on Monday night. All four targets occurred on the left side of the field (against Bashaud Breeland) and resulted in 92 yards and two scores. The Steelers didn’t attempt a single pass deep to the right side of the field all night long.
Dallas’ success against Washington’s secondary also entails that it find a way to keep Bryant involved (beyond avoiding Norman). Although that seems simple, his career averages without Romo under center are underwhelming, to say the least.
It will be interesting to watch whether the Cowboys’ offense can piece together a few explosive plays — rather than one 21-yard pass to Geoff Swain — against Washington’s secondary in Week 2.
One thing’s certain: they can’t be conservative.
What were your thoughts on the Cowboys' young offense on Sunday? Let John know on Twitter @notJDaigle.