Week 4 Film Notes: All-22 Takeaways of Cowboys Offense


The Dallas Cowboys won a thrilling midday contest this past Sunday and finally showed life on the offensive side of the ball. Scott Linehan did add some new wrinkles, depending on one’s definition of the term. But was that the main reason Dak Prescott threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 15 yards per completion?

Let’s take a look at the tape. Here are my notes from the All-22 film of Dallas’s 26-24 win over Detroit:

First Half

-Terrance Williams out, was excused from practice last week with a non-injury issue. Brice Butler active but didn’t record a snap.

-DE Ezekiel Ansah out.

-Scott Linehan and Dak Prescott intimated they added “a few new wrinkles” in this week’s gameplan. Cowboys have executed much better at home than on the road this year.

-First play of the game was a power sweep to the strong side. The power/counter sweep has become the signature running play for this offense. Lions were ready for it.

-Center Joe Looney continues to perform well in place of Travis Frederick. Good strength and movement.

-Geoff Swaim 31 yards was a bootleg pass from outside zone action but without sift motion. Joey Ickes of The Athletic previously mentioned that motioning a TE across the line after the snap (sift) was a clear tendency.

-Before Sunday’s game, Dallas only called three bootleg passes, all used sift motion. They’ve had 32 runs from a formation with the QB under center, but only used sift motion on four of them. This means they were potentially telegraphing their rollout passes to the defense.

-Michael Gallup 37 yards on play-action go. Good throw by Dak, good hands by Gallup. Cowboys travel from own 10 to opponent 15 yard line in three plays. But drive would stall.

-Ezekiel Elliott four yards on 3rd-and-4 early second quarter was a schemed rub concept for the RB. They’ve called this play in consecutive weeks and need to call it even more. Almost broke a huge gain but LB Davis showed excellent awareness. It’s the first play in the video below.

-Tavon Austin has flashed as a run blocker, although the first block could’ve been called a hold (or tackle).

-Austin injured on a similar play-action go route as Gallup’s. Well-defended by CB Slay, but Austin could’ve caught it. He later returned to the game.

-Cowboys have upped their usage of duo runs with a WR in the sniffer position this game.

-As was said on the TV broadcast, Dallas has used more up-tempo this half. Seems to be working for them.

-Elliott 19 yards before two-minute warning was a counter sweep to the strong left side. Both RG Martin and RT Collins pull blocked from the back side. That hasn’t usually worked for Dallas until today.

-For whatever reason, the Cowboys have played much better at home than on the road this year. It’s normally the other way around.

-Cole Beasley showed excellent change of direction and agility despite nursing an ankle injury. His route running was crucial on a number of key plays.

-Elliott 38-yard TD was a fake jet sweep play-action slip screen inside of two minutes. This was essentially the same play on which Zeke scored long TDs against Pittsburgh and San Francisco the past few years.


Second Half

-Lions have been a predominantly single-high defense, both man and zone coverage.

-Cowboys offensive line winning the battle in the trenches against the Lions. Dallas’s strength lined up with Detroit’s weakness and they’ve made the most of it thus far.

-Austin ran a fake orbit motion swing pass near the end of Dallas’s first drive of the third quarter. An example of a “new wrinkle” for this week. Play negated by Zeke penalty.

-Dak has looked calmer and poised in the pocket. A lot of that can be attributed to the offensive line’s performance and the Lions missing their best pass rusher.

-All of the read-option runs have been handed off to Zeke. Lions reacted to well to that play.

-Devon Kennard sack on 3rd-and-18 was a critical mistake by Prescott. Lost his poise in the pocket and left early, then lacked awareness of the pass rush and took the offense out of FG range. Outside of a handful of plays like this, he performed much better than last week.

-Elliott 41 yards to open next drive was an outside zone from 13 personnel in a run-heavy formation. Zeke showed good balance to break two arm tackles.

-Next play, Zeke nine-yard gain on a split zone run, although he’s still holding the ball loosely in traffic.

-I haven’t charted the numbers, but Dallas appears to have slightly increased their use of pre-snap motion and stack formations. One thing they undoubtedly did more of was play-action.

-Dak missed a wide open Allen Hurns in the end zone on 2nd-and-10 from the Lions’ 12-yard line. He had a good pocket and came off of his read a tick too soon. I’d like to see him trust his protection more in that spot.

-Swaim goal line TD was a play-action Y-corner route in the end zone. His first career TD.

-Elliott 14 yards early fourth quarter was a zone lead to the strong side. The cutback lane was wide open for him. LB Davis lost sight of him and over-pursued.

-Beasley 19 yards mid-fourth quarter just outside the red zone was an out-breaking route from a fake over off of play-action. Pass protection held up and Beasley ran an excellent route vs CB Agnew.

-There have been a few new plays and/or new wrinkles to existing plays, but this offense remains largely unchanged. The biggest difference in the offense’s ability to move the ball has been better execution from the offensive line and Dak.

-Interesting concept from the goal line. Austin jet motioned like his push pass TD last week, Zeke and Swaim jetted the opposite way with Dak sprinting right with them. Zeke cleared space for Swaim, whose route acted like a follow concept. He was open, but Dak’s throw was a tad too high.

-Next play was the failed fade to Rico Gathers from a 3×1 X-iso position vs CB Lawson. Throw was too flat and a little inside, but Lawson also had good coverage. Pass incomplete.

-I applaud both of the above play calls by Linehan. They just didn’t work out this time.

-Dak’s strip fumble recovery and scramble throwaway was critical playmaking on his part. Saved the team from a catastrophic result and kept them at 3rd-and-3.

-Elliott 34-yard catch on 2nd-and-10 with 1:23 remaining was a slot fade from an empty set. LB Davis in coverage and was flat-footed on Zeke’s stem. Excellent ball placement from Dak to hit his teammate in stride. To my knowledge, the Cowboys have never had Zeke run a fade from the slot.


Regardless of how one defines “tweaks” or “wrinkles”, Dallas’s offense was mostly the same with only a small number of slight alterations. Those changes made a positive difference, but the biggest factor in the team scoring 26 points was they simply executed better. As far as new or rarely used concepts, the slot fade to Zeke that set up the game-winning field goal and the rub concept to him on 3rd-and-3 in the first quarter were the types of plays Linehan must utilize more often. Increasing the amount of play-action passes was also a major plus. The two goal line plays in the fourth quarter, the first playing off of last week’s push pass touchdown to Austin, the second a fade to Gathers, were also noteworthy, even though both ultimately failed.

Overall, Dallas’s execution has rejuvenated hope in their ability to compete for the NFC East title. Both Dak and the offensive line deserve credit for their play on the field. Linehan, despite his critics, has shown a willingness to be a little more innovative. Does this signal a major evolution in the offense? Not drastically, but it could be enough to make them an asset to the team instead of a liability every week.

The Cowboys sit at 2-2 in a three-way tie for first place in the division. The season is still young and there’s room and time to grow. Now comes the next step needed for success: consistency.


You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22