Dallas finds its offense:
Diverse game plan now on display
Diversity, creativity vs. Giants show signs from memorable 2016 season.
ARLINGTON, Texas – Ezekiel Elliott let out a long, highpitched “WOOOOO!” as he bounced along the hallway that led from the playing field to the Cowboys locker room Sept. 16 at AT&T Stadium.
With a 20-13 victory over the NFC East rival Giants, a weight had lifted from the shoulders of the third-year running back and all of his teammates, particularly those on offense.
Just one week earlier, the Cowboys offense looked nothing like the once-promising and potent attack built around Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. Instead the unit had managed only 232 yards and two successful third-down conversions on 11 attempts in a 16-8 snoozer against the Panthers.
Instead of showing anticipated signs of maturation, Prescott appeared overwhelmed and ineffective while getting sacked six times. His poor play sparked questions about coach Jason Garrett’s game planning and ability to position his young stars for success. The ineptitude of the offense, coupled with owner Jerry Jones’ everabounding Texas-sized expectations, also raised questions about Garrett’s job security.
But on the night of Sept. 16, the scrutiny subsided and the pressure eased.
The Cowboys’ performance wasn’t at all perfect. The unit still struggled on third downs, converting on 3 of 10 attempts. And Dallas fell shy of the 300yard mark and ventured into the red zone only three times all game (managing one touchdown on those trips). The Cowboys didn’t even win the time of possession battle.
But a more diverse game plan, better execution on first downs, persistence in the rushing department and a handful of big plays (along with the support of a defense that registered six sacks and a fumble recovery) translated into the first win of the season for the Cowboys.
The performance also showed the blueprint for further success for Garrett’s unit.
“We executed a lot better than we did last week, but there were some things in the plan (that made a difference),” explained Prescott, who completed 16 of 24 passes for 160 yards and a TD, wasn’t sacked at all and rushed for a career-high 45 yards on seven attempts. “We wanted to spread them out and run the ball from the spread a little bit more, from the gun. We wanted to do that. But we executed better, bottom line.”
Indeed, Dallas’ strategy featured more creativity and diversity compared to the approach against Carolina. Garrett and his assistants composed a script that better supported Prescott while also better capitalizing on the strengths of his skill players.
Dallas used a variety of looks to keep the Giants defense guessing. Prescott lined up under center, in the shotgun and the pistol. He handed the ball off. He used the play-action attack. He used run-pass option plays, sometimes keeping the ball and running, other times faking the handoff and zipping the ball to a receiver.
With a number of quick-hitter passes, the Cowboys got the ball out of Prescott’s hands quickly to avoid the pass rush. Those plays came after Prescott and speedy wideout Tavon Austin connected for a 64-yard TD pass on the game’s third play.
“That play was very big because the (defensive backs) couldn’t sit on our routes more, because they were worried we were going to go deep,” said Austin, who flashed in the first quarter running a 15-yard reverse. “The biggest thing is we stayed ahead of the chains, which we didn’t do last week. When you get into secondand-12s and second-and-15s, it really limits what you can do.”
Teammates agreed with that assessment. So while the point of emphasis in the coaches meetings involved arming Prescott with a better game plan, the coaches stressed to players the need to execute better on first downs because manageable situations on second and third downs translate into more diverse play calls.
But through it all, the Cowboys remained committed to balance. Prescott attempted 25 passes, and Garrett also called 25 run plays. The commitment to the run wore the Giants down, as was evident during a 14-play, 82-yard fourth-quarteropening scoring drive that featured eight runs, the last of which was a 6-yard rumble into the end zone by Elliott, who finished with 78 yards on 17 attempts and the TD.
This is the kind of identity and creativity the Cowboys have to use. That’s all Jerry needs to remain happy.
“I’m very pleased with how we looked and very pleased with how Dak played and gave their defense something to think about,” Jones proclaimed outside the locker room.
Dallas’ Dak Prescott said of the win, “We executed a lot better than we did last week, but there were some things in the plan (that made a difference).”