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Revisiting the 2019 NFCE Rankings: Cowboys Offense

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Hogs Haven does a film rewind to the 2018 season to evaluate key players in the Cowboy offense

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Earlier in the offseason, we evaluated the major players on NFCE teams in order to rank the teams in the division by position group.


Here’s a link to the entire “Ranking the NFC East” series


Since the Redskins are facing one of those division rivals this week, now might be a good time to revisit those player evaluations as a preview of the upcoming matchup. This article covers a few of the major players on the Cowboys’ offense we reviewed this past off-season.


Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys vs. Eagles Week 10 Highlights

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, September 11, 2019

[1:58] Dak doesn’t get the chance to step into his throw here but that doesn’t matter because the defense had it covered. He should’ve dumped the ball to Olawale (standing on the 10 yard line) instead of taking the risk that almost resulted in a pick 6.


Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, September 11, 2019

[5:46] Dak does a great job standing strong and stepping up in the pocket and shows excellent ball placement to Beasley to keep the momentum going.


Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, September 11, 2019

[5:55] You can’t really tell with the camera angle but in coaches film on game pass you can see that this is a very good read by Dak and another good throw. I’ve highlighted this with a screenshot above the video.

In short I think Dak can be very dangerous and efficient with his arm and legs which is why he has more wins than any other QB in the division since entering the league, but at times he will lock on to WRs and end up taking unnecessary risks or missing open reads.


Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys

Amari Cooper was selected 4th overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 2015 draft. At the Combine, he had posted a very good 4.42s 40-yard dash (showing good deep speed), but also produced an elite 6.71s 3-cone drill (agility), and 3.98s 20 yard shuttle (acceleration). At 6’1” and 211 lbs, he also has very good (though not elite) size for a WR. That good deep speed, with elite agility and acceleration shows up on tape as well.

His time with the Raiders was productive, but wildly inconsistent. Although he managed more than 1000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons, most of those yards seemed to come in about 30% of his games. He was traded to the Cowboys in the middle of last season (the 4th year of his rookie contract) for a 1st round pick in 2019 draft, and Cooper had an immediate impact, seemingly jump-starting the Cowboys offense and helping them to a division championship.

In the video I reviewed of Cooper (all after the trade to the Cowboys), he looked like a very good WR, just one step down from elite (not quite a Julio Jones or Antonio Brown). His only obvious weakness is as a blocker in run support, where he doesn’t quite have the strength and physicality to excel. Other than that, he is good to elite in all the traits of a WR.

He is an excellent route-runner, excellent (and prolific) at selling fakes, and has elite change-of-direction ability to shake DBs loose in order to get open or break tackles. He is also a much tougher and higher-effort player than I had previously realized, able to hang on to make contested catches, and often reaching forward after contact to gain a few extra yards.

He has good deep speed, but is more of a home run threat due to his ability to get open and break tackles, rather than just because he just runs past everyone. Still, he forces teams to respect the deep game, and I often saw him get an easy completion on a crossing or out route because the DB gave him a lot of cushion in order to defend the deep routes.

Amari Cooper can play every WR position: X, Z, and slot, and the Cowboys used him all over the field to exploit matchups. The only reason I put him below elite is that he rarely faced double teams, but was neutralized by them when he did.

Amari Cooper

Cowboys @ Eagles, Week 10 highlights | NFL 2018 on YouTube

Posted by Bill Horgan on Sunday, July 7, 2019

[2:21] Cooper (bottom of screen) runs forward to act as a blocker, but whiffs on his initial attempted block and can’t really get push on anyone. Cooper did a poor job on the few plays I saw him used as a blocker, and seemed to get pulled from the field by the coaching staff on many running plays.


Everyone can ignore this (and more to follow). I just needed a place to publish some GIFs that I want to embed elsewhere.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Sunday, July 7, 2019

[5:16] Cooper lines up outside and fakes a break outside, causing Jalen Mills to bite hard on the fake, and leaving Cooper wide open when he redirects inside. Cooper does a good job after the catch of fighting hard and leaning forward for a few extra yards, despite having already made the first down. This play highlights Cooper’s ability to sell fakes (he’s excellent at selling fakes to get open) and his toughness and effort in fighting through contact for extra yards.


Amari Cooper

Cowboys vs Redskins, Week 12 highlights | NFL 2018 on YouTube

Everyone can ignore this (and more to follow). I just needed a place to publish some GIFs that I want to embed elsewhere.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Sunday, July 7, 2019

[7:17] Cooper, in the slot, runs a slant route, blowing by Fabian Moreau to get open and secure the catch; he then does a good job redirecting outside to break Moreau’s poor tackle and run free. Once he’s free, nobody in the secondary can catch him. This home run ability forces defenses to guard the deep field against Cooper and sometimes causes CBs to give up short crossing and out routes to him because they are afraid of him running deep. Note, however, that he didn’t make the big play by simply running past everyone with deep speed, but, rather, by using his sudden acceleration and route running ability to get open, and then using his agility to break tackles until the defenders were left behind.


Amari Cooper

Cowboys @ Saints, Week 13 highlights | NFL 2018 on YouTube

ignore this

Posted by Bill Horgan on Sunday, July 7, 2019

[1:45] Cooper does a great job seeming to run deep and selling a slant route inside. Marshon Lattimore buys it at first, and gives enough cushion to allow Cooper to get open when he redirects outside. Lattimore is so fast that he closes in for a tackle as soon as the ball arrives, but Cooper does a great job making the catch through contact and keeping his feet in bounds for the reception. This play highlights Cooper’s ability to make tough catches, as well as the awareness and body control to keep both feet in bounds for the reception. It also highlights his ability to get open on crossing and out routes because CBs have to guard against the deeper routes so diligently.


Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the most consistently productive RBs currently playing in the NFL. Not only is he a rare talent at RB, he plays behind an elite offensive line in an offensive scheme designed around the run; in short, a perfect combination of talent, supporting cast, and usage. He’s been a thorn in the side of division rivals for years now, and although I didn’t find any big surprises watching tape of him, I did gain a more nuanced appreciation of his skillset.

Zeke is another RB I would describe as having no major “weaknesses”, just some things he’s better at than others. He is an all-around complete RB who can run with power and vision up the middle, cut outside and accelerate up the sideline for a big gain, stay back to protect the QB on a blitz, or line up in the slot to catch passes. He runs with a bit more power, vision, and decisiveness than Barkley, though he’s not the same level of elite athlete as Barkley; I think Derrius Guice and Ezekiel Elliott have a similar levels of athleticism.

However, it was clear watching the film that another important difference between the Elliott and Barkley is the teams that they play for.

Barkley’s offensive line was often a liability, allowing him to get hit in the backfield and creating few openings up the middle for him to run through. In addition, Barkley was often running against a stacked box of defenders even on 1st down.

In contrast, Zeke’s offensive line often blocked several yards for him, kept him clean in the backfield, and defenses respected the Cowboys passing game enough that the box was usually a balanced 7-man front on 1st down situations. Note that both of the Cowboys games I watched were after the Amari Cooper trade, meaning that defenses had more to worry about than they had in the first half of the season, which helped Elliott and the Cowboys’ offense immensely.

2018 - Cowboys vs Seahawks, NFC Wild Card


Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, September 12, 2019

[0:47] This play is a good introduction to Elliott’s abilities as a rusher. No big holes are blocked for him up front, but he manages to gain 5 yards. He has the vision to cut back and avoid a defender who penetrated the line, then follows his blocks and powers forward through contact for a nice gain. This is the kind of play Zeke makes all the time that, while not sexy, allows the Cowboys offense to rely on safe 4 or 5 yard gains on early downs, making later downs much more manageable. It’s also worth pointing out that the Cowboys OL pushed back the Seahawks DL by about 3 yards on this play, so 3 of those yards were blocked for him (also typical of many plays I saw).


Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, September 12, 2019

[17:37] It’s 3rd & 1 and the defense expects a run up the middle, leaving nothing there. So Zeke bounces the run outside, quickly accelerating up the sideline for a big gain. This play really showcases Zeke’s acceleration and speed as he blows past defenders who simply can’t keep up with him.


Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, September 12, 2019

[35:56] This play really highlights Zeke’s strength, power, and body control. The Seahawks block up the middle, so Elliott bounces the run outside. Although CB Shaquill Griffin is guarding the edge and gets to him in the backfield, Zeke easily grabs him with one hand and forces him to the ground without breaking stride. Then races up the sideline for a big gain.


2018 - Cowboys @ Rams, NFC Divisional


Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, September 12, 2019

[19:03] This play shows Zeke’s pass protection abilities pretty well from the QB point of view. Zeke sees the opening in the OL and sees blitzing LB Mark Barron rushing up the center and moves to undercut him. If not for Zeke’s blocking, Dak would have likely been sacked and the Cowboys would not have made a crucial long TD.


Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, September 12, 2019

[1:23:30] Even though this ends up being an incomplete pass, I think this play shows Zeke’s ability as a pass catcher. He runs with good hustle down the sideline, shows good sense of timing by turning around as the ball is approaching him, does a good job tracking the ball in the air, and shows good hands as he goes up and gets the ball. Rams LB Cory Littleton does an excellent job forcing Zeke out of bounds to make the pass incomplete, but Zeke could easily have caught it for a big gain in other circumstances.


Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, September 12, 2019

[1:59:48] This is, perhaps, a bit of a nitpick, but I think this play shows a bit of a weakness in Zeke’s game, and I saw it on more than one occasion. He lines up in the slot and runs a short crossing route. He does a good job ensuring the breakpoint is past the first down marker and does his RB best to try to fake out the DB before breaking (I’d expect more from a WR, but it’s fine for a RB). However, he doesn’t seem to be able to accelerate nearly fast enough from a stop to break away from the LB (Littleton again), and the pass gets broken up. It’s still better than many RBs would do, but I think Saquon Barkley or Le’Veon Bell would be able to break loose on this play and make the catch, meaning that there’s room to improve.


Having reviewed these players, how do you think the Cowboys offense stacks up to the Redskins defense? Has anything changed since the preseason to affect your confidence?

Poll

Which of these players presents the biggest threat?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Dak Prescott
    (71 votes)
  • 24%
    Amari Cooper
    (46 votes)
  • 32%
    Zeke Elliott
    (61 votes)
  • 3%
    Other (explain below)
    (7 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which offense is more daunting?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Eagles
    (41 votes)
  • 78%
    Cowboys
    (154 votes)
195 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If you could force the Cowboys to trade one player (contract included) on offense to the Redskins for a late round pick, who would it be?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Dak Prescott
    (33 votes)
  • 8%
    Amari Cooper
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    Michael Gallup
    (10 votes)
  • 20%
    Zeke Elliott
    (37 votes)
  • 11%
    Tyron Smith
    (22 votes)
  • 6%
    Travis Frederick
    (12 votes)
  • 14%
    Zack Martin
    (27 votes)
  • 15%
    No thanks, I’m good
    (28 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now