Once again, the Dallas Cowboys’ offense was more sub-standard on the road than at home. Houston’s run defense bottled up the ground game and the Cowboys’ air attack failed to compensate. Dak Prescott threw for a few explosive gains, but none occurred in the second or third quarters or in overtime.
Scott Linehan employed Ezekiel Elliott in the passing game, but the Texans limited his impact. Some of Prescott’s throws weren’t perfect but were still catchable. Unfortunately, the receivers didn’t haul in enough of those passes in critical situations, and two passes were deflected at the catch point, leading to interceptions.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to view the All-22 film in time for this article due to the lateness of the game. So, these notes won’t be as in-depth, as they’re based solely on the TV tape:
-Part of Dallas’s gameplan was to get shots in on J.J. Watt whenever possible.
#Cowboys RG Zack Martin does a great job looking for work with a rib shot that sends J.J. Watt tumbling to the ground. Also a nice throw from Dak Prescott to Deonte Thompson pic.twitter.com/iNapcP1RPO— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
-Swaim 40 yards was a play-action tight end screen. Cowboys in a dual TE line of scrimmage (LOS) formation. Well-executed vs zone coverage.
Beautifully designed TE slip screen from the #Cowboys here. Zeke pulls defenders away from the screen and Swaim has nothing but green grass after a couple nice blocks from Zack Martin and La'el Collins pic.twitter.com/wyxfQoKuTY— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
-Drive ended on a failed swing screen to Zeke on 3rd-and-2. This was another attempt to get him the ball in the passing game. It didn’t work out this time.
-Next drive, Rico Gathers’s first career catch for 32 yards came on a bootleg pass. Dallas had success on play-action to start the game.
Here's the PA pass to Rico Gathers. I think DAL needs to use him more frequently in the pass game. Can't tell me that someone with as big of a catch radius as Gathers wouldn't help this abysmal passing attack pic.twitter.com/qeYwZCQQWo— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
-Texans front seven playing the run well. Getting penetration and winning their one-on-one blocks.
Tyron Smith beat badly inside by Jadeveon Clowney. pic.twitter.com/dZ6zt1JdAn— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
-Cowboys frequently used multi-tight end sets. Felt like they did this more than usual.
-Zeke 14 yards early second quarter came on a duo run. He bounced outside and beat LB Zach Cunningham to the perimeter.
#Cowboys running 'Duo' here. Really nice block by Connor Williams to get enough of the looping Jadeveon Clowney. Also, great vision by Zeke to cut into the open space for the big gain. pic.twitter.com/JJLnro21CC— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
-Kareem Jackson INT inside of two-minutes was a deflected pass off of Tavon Austin’s hands. Tavon ran a dig, the pass was high but somewhat catchable. Dallas was in max protection; only two receivers ran routes.
I'd place this INT on Dak for the poor placement. Because of the traffic around his legs, Dak doesn't gain enough ground with his lead foot, which leads to weight transfer issues and poor placement on the pass. pic.twitter.com/DS5dPP9xsy— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
-First play after the DeAndre Hopkins fumble, Cowboys ran the “Linehan Special”, the RB screen with orbit motion that’s been so successful for them.
-Another good example of using misdirection and getting Zeke the ball in the passing game came on 3rd-and-2 near the goal line. Cowboys ran a fake-toss shovel pass to convert the down.
Loved play design to get the 1st down on 3rd and 2. Fake toss to Austin then shovel pass to Elliott. Nice 2nd level block by La'el Collins to creat the alley for Zeke. pic.twitter.com/RuyXiOJJuZ— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
-Two plays later, Allen Hurns’s goal line TD was a seam/post route in the endzone with fakes to the jet sweep and pitchout. Linehan has definitely upped the usage of misdirection.
TD to Allen Hurns was beautifully designed with well-executed fakes and a great throw by Dak. pic.twitter.com/9uv6E0yRpS— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
-Justin Reid INT off of another tipped pass, this time to Deonte Thompson on a comeback in man coverage vs Jonathan Joseph. The ball was too far inside, making it easier to contest the catch point.
2nd INT was definitely on Dak. If he places it to the outside shoulder instead of the inside shoulder, it's a first down instead of an INT. pic.twitter.com/zxiM4FiCfm— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
This is not Deonte Thompson's fault. pic.twitter.com/JlsVVISUBt— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 8, 2018
-They didn’t call a single power/counter sweep until the late third quarter. I’m not sure why it took them so long to call one. It’s been their most productive run play this year.
-The above run converted a 2nd-and-short.
-On Jadeveon Clowney’s sack on 3rd-and-5 late third quarter, he rushed from an off-ball LB position, something he does a few times per game. The pocket collapsed around Dak; there wasn’t much time for him to do anything.
-Zeke had two good runs in a row on the next drive. The first went for 11 yards, but the second run was negated by offensive holding on Connor Williams.
-Prescott 12 yards was a QB draw, his second of the game. Both plays were effective. The below video is of the first draw:
More QB draws, please. Obviously not ideal to put your QB in harm's way like this, but this offense needs to do everything it can to move the ball. pic.twitter.com/uZg9Ag7uIF— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 8, 2018
-Dak’s throws were a little off-target but mostly catchable. The receivers did him little favors by not hauling enough of them in.
-Outside of a couple of runs, Zeke has found little room in the ground game. A credit to the Texans’ run defense.
-Tavon Austin 40 yards came from a tremendous display of Prescott’s balance and scrambling ability. He slipped out of the grasp of Watt.
-Questionable decision punting on 4th-and-1.5 from the Houston 42. More often than not, Jason Garrett goes for it in those spots with the game on the line.
The lack of an effective running game meant that Dallas had a less than a 50/50 chance to win. They might’ve been able to sneak out with a victory thanks to their defense’s goal line stands, but the two interceptions were drive-killers. For a team that struggled on the road all season, every possession was at a premium.
The offense’s shortcomings are rooted in the organization’s misevaluations and the decisions that came from them this offseason. Some would argue they go even further back than that. Nearly every offensive-minded action from that time has led them down a path with no short-term upside. Fans wanting drastic change with instant results won’t get their wish.
At this point, not much can be done on offense to immediately change the team’s direction. Linehan is adding wrinkles, but these are only tweaks since implementing far-reaching changes would be impractical mid-season. Basically, they are who they are, and there’s little hope of a 180-degree turnaround in the passing game unless the quarterback and his receivers experience a sudden rise in performance. Unfortunately, nothing like that appears to be on the horizon.
As a whole, the 2018 Dallas Cowboys are mediocre at best in a division that’s below average right now. This team could finish 8-8, which means they might have a chance to compete for the NFC East. But they’re just as likely to end the season with five to seven wins due to an offense that’s completely one-dimensional.
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22