Cowboys aren't running much, how Redskins can counterattack on offense

Travis Somers

Each NFL team has played just the one game, but the reality of each franchise's fate begins to come into focus after an off-season of hope and optimism. Week 1 didn't award the Redskins with a victory, but the play of Case Keenum and emergence of Terry McLaurin provides momentum moving forward. 

On the flip side, the Redskins' next opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, laid a 35-17 beatdown on the New York Giants. Perhaps you're thinking to yourself: "Big deal. The Giants stink!" But it wasn't just the victory that has everyone talking about the Cowboys, but the way in which they achieved it.

To be honest, I knew I'd be writing this article, and I had mentally started prepping for it before the game was even played. After the Cowboys locked up Ezekiel Elliott to his mega-deal, I felt confident they'd be feeding him early and often in route to victory. After all, that's what they've done since drafting him No. 4 overall in 2016.

Cowboys run past

Above, you see how often the Cowboys ran the ball on first or second down going back to 2016. This is filtered to when the offense had a win probability between 20% and 80% to try to minimize effects from game script. As you can see, they were one of the most run-heavy teams in the league. So with Elliott locked up and ready to roll, this likely continued on Sunday, right? Wrong.

cowboy run current

On first and second down, the Cowboys were one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league. Again, just to reiterate, this was before the game was out-of-reach. One could make the argument Elliott was on a short week of practice and the Cowboys didn't want to overwork him, but that wouldn't necessarily explain why they went so pass happy rather than turning to a viable backup in Tony Pollard. 

Consider me among the believers in the Kellen Moore effect. Good coordinators inevitably have to learn to adapt, but in his debut, he made his presence felt. Going into next week, the Redskins will need to prepare for the Cowboys in ways they previously hadn't. With an aerial attack like we saw last week, Redskins fans might actually prefer to see the ball in the two-time league-leading rusher's hands.

Assuming the passing onslaught continues for the Cowboys, the Redskins will likely need Case Keenum to throw well to keep them in the game. 

So where are the Cowboys potentially susceptible in the air? Rather than focusing on just last week where game script played a significant role, let's look back at the 2018 Cowboys defense.

dallas 18 success rate def

What you're looking at is the success rate allowed on passes to the left, middle, or right depending on the depth of the target. 

The Cowboys did a pretty great job defending the middle of the field last season, as they were better than league average at nearly every depth. If there's value to be had against this Cowboys defense, it's on the perimeter in the 10-15 yard range. Beyond that range, Dallas seems to have tightened up and prevented a high number of big plays. If this trend continues, it may be tough for McLaurin to get loose the way he did against Philadelphia.

Dallas will likely be a significant favorite over Washington, and rightfully so coming off their dominant win in week 1. As the season progresses, we'll find out if this new-look Dallas offense is here to stay, and how the league will subsequently adjust. 

All data for this article was provided courtesy of nflscrapR.


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