Certain teams are always playing under the microscope. The New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Lakers, for example, always carry an expectation of success. In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys carry a similar burden; no matter what happens, they’re simply expected to compete.
This season, however, has been far from ideal. The Cowboys streaked out of the gate, before falling flat in their next three games. While they might have righted the ship against Philadelphia, there’s one specific play the Dallas offense should rely on tonight.
The Dallas Cowboys’ season so far
When the 2019 NFL season began, everything went exactly how the Dallas Cowboys would have drawn it up. Ezekiel Elliott rejoined the team in time for opening night, and everything seemed to click. The club started the season with two comfortable victories over NFC East opposition, before cruising to a 3-0 start with a win over the Miami Dolphins.
At that point, however, fortunes started to change. The Cowboys lost a tight game, falling 12-10 to the New Orleans Saints; the next weekend, they fell to the Green Bay Packers. Those two games also saw starting offensive tackles, Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, suffer injuries. Without those two studs protecting Dak Prescott, Dallas endured a third-straight defeat, losing to the struggling New York Jets in Week 6.
Once Smith and Collins returned, however, things seemed to return to normal. The Cowboys thumped the Philadephia Eagles in Week 7. They then headed into their bye and return to action tonight against the New York Giants.
The Dallas Cowboys’ playbook
It doesn’t take a football mastermind to identify what the Dallas Cowboys are trying to do on offense. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore might be a rookie, but he’s pretty predictable.
Given their offensive line and star running back, Dallas dreams of taking the lead and keeping the ball on the ground. Once their running game is established, they have room to improvise; it’s easier to move Dak Prescott into the shotgun or call a play-action pass if you know that you can run for a first down if necessary.
Things fall apart for Dallas, however, when they are playing from behind. Without the ability to run the ball—whether that’s due to the score or injuries to offensive linemen—opposing defenses can sit back and dare Prescott to beat them. More often than not, he isn’t able to.
Play-action passing against the New York Giants
Tonight, the Cowboys will travel to New York, looking to solidify their grip on the NFC East. Given the Giants struggles, Dallas will want to rely on one specific section of their offensive playbook.
The Giants have been ineffective on defense this season, giving up almost 387 yards per game. They’re weaker against the pass than the run, setting up an interesting situation for Dak Prescott and the visiting Cowboys offense.
Dallas would be wise to utilize run-pass option plays tonight, allowing them to have their cake and eat it, too. If the Giants try to pack the box and smother Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott can simply throw over the top and feast on New York’s weak pass defense. If New York tries to compensate for that weakness with additional defensive backs, the Cowboys can simply run it up the gut.
This season, the Dallas Cowboys have been at their best when they can settle into a rhythm, control the clock, and set up big plays off the RPO. Tonight, the New York Giants should present the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.