The Dallas Cowboys offense has been under a lot of scrutiny for much of the season and for good reason. They’ve alternated wins and losses going 3-0 at home and 0-4 on the road. The big difference being the play of their quarterback on the road.
Not only has Dak been pretty bad on the road, he’s been bad on third downs. NFL Matchup gave us the top five and bottom five at third down success rate. Dak Prescott‘s 21.3% success rate is the worst in the NFL.
It’s a bit surprising, because Dak Prescott had been so good his first year and a half at picking up first downs. He was able to extend drives by getting the ball to Cole Beasley on third downs or to use his legs to pick up first downs.
He has played some good defenses this season as the Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, and the Jacksonville Jaguars rank in the top 15 in third down defense.
Some of the blame for Dak Prescott’s third down inefficiency rests on Dak Prescott, but it’s a team thing as well.
Dak Prescott has been under a lot of pressure this season. Far more than he should be with the talent that the offensive line boasts. Among quarterbacks with at least 192 drop backs this season, Dak Prescott’s been pressured on 40.2% of his drop backs which is the third highest rate in the NFL. Only Deshaun Watson and Kirk Cousins have been under pressure more frequently. While under pressure though, Dak’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL with a passer rating of 79.1 which ranks seventh in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys are looking at how to improve the offensive line play and believe that Paul Alexander is some of the reason for the poor play. On Monday they fired Alexander and replaced him with former Cowboys Offensive Tackle Marc Colombo.
While pressure has been an issue, quality of play of the wide receivers has also been an issue. The Dallas Cowboys only have one receiver who has accounted for more than 10 first down receptions through the first seven weeks of the season; Cole Beasley. Beasley’s caught 19 first down receptions this season, which is 12 more than Allen Hurns. After Beasley, only Tight End Geoff Swaim has double-digit first down receptions. It’s one of the reasons why the Dallas Cowboys made the move for Amari Cooper. Compare that to the Oakland Raiders, who have four players that have caught at least 10 first down receptions.
Amari Cooper was tied for second with the Oakland Raiders with 14 first down receptions. 46% of Cooper’s targets result in a first down. Cole Beasley, who is 37th in the NFL in first down receptions, converts his targets for first downs at a 45% clip. Swaim is also converting at a 45% rate, but the next closest Cowboys wide receiver is Deonte Thompson who was turning 33% of his targets into first downs. Allen Hurns has only converted 22% of his targets, while Michael Gallup has only converted 28.5% of his. For reference, Adam Theilen who leads the league with 49 first down receptions turns 51.5% of his targets into first downs.
Quality of targets that Dak Prescott has had to throw to on third downs is one of the reasons for the poor play on third downs. Offensive line play has been an issue as well. The coaching staff can help the Cowboys get into more manageable third downs to help Prescott be more efficient in those situations.
Dak Prescott however, has to be better in those situations as well. He’s made poor decisions in the pocket — though better lately — and has held the ball too long at times resulting in negative plays.
The Dallas Cowboys will face the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football, who currently rank 23rd in the NFL allowing opposing offenses to convert 41.6% of their third downs. The Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott have a chance to improve their third down efficiency against a good defense, that like the Cowboys have a difficult time getting off the field on third downs. With Amari Cooper at WR Dak will have to be better chance at converting those third down opportunities. Obviously this will lead to more scoring opportunities, and just as important will keep the offense on the field longer and allow the already excellent defense to play fresher.