On "Monday Night Football," the Dallas Cowboys were embarrassed by the Tennessee Titans at home. For a team that was essentially playing a must-win game, Dallas didn't show up on either side of the ball. However, this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone watching the team, specifically its offense. Midway through the 2018 season, it is now becoming quite apparent that the Cowboys' offense is broken.
Over the past 16 games, the Cowboys have averaged 17.6 points. That number drops even further when you account for special teams and defensive scores. It’s an offense that is, quite frankly, struggling to be mediocre. Here are the five most concerning stats surrounding the Dallas Cowboys’ offense.
1. Ezekiel Elliott’s 1st Down Success Rate: 46 percent
It’s no secret that the Cowboys want to run the ball. They are going to do so on first down regardless of the number of defenders in the box. They firmly believe in establishing the run to set up the pass. The goal is to get themselves into manageable second and third downs, but that hasn’t been the case this season.
Although I may personally disagree with this strategy, it has worked in the past for the team. In 2016 and 2017, the Cowboys were a dominant rushing team on first down, with success rates of 55 percent and 53 percent, respectively. This season, teams have loaded the box to stop Dallas on first down, and the Cowboys have yet to find a way to counter. Their first down rushing success has plummeted to less than 46 percent, well below league average.
If the Cowboys are a below-average rushing team, then they have little chance of becoming an even average offense in 2018. Over the final eight games, the Cowboys have to find some way to correct their run games woes.
2. Red Zone TD Percentage – 50 percent
As we always say here at Pro Football Weekly, the key to winning in the NFL is having success in the red zone. Since more than 75 percent of all offensive touchdowns are scored inside the oppositions' 20-yard line, the best teams in the league are the ones that score touchdowns and don’t kick field goals.
Whenever the Cowboys have had success over the past decade, it's largely been because of their red zone offense. Even in 2017, Dallas finished 7th in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on nearly 60 percent of their red zone trips.
However, in 2018, the Cowboys have one of the worst red zone offenses in the league, converting their trips into scores just 50 percent of the time (24th in the NFL). Considering that the team has Ezekiel Elliott and a supposedly powerful offensive line, that number isn't acceptable. Perhaps the addition of Amari Cooper will help, but as of right now, Dallas is struggling to score in the red zone, and it is killing the offense.
Part of the reason for their red zone woes is the play of Dak Prescott. He’s completing just 45 percent of his passes in the red zone this season, partially the result of not having a “go-to” receiver near the end zone. For the past two seasons, Dez Bryant has dominated in this area, gobbling up targets weekly inside the 20. But this season, Prescott has been asked to throw to lesser players — and it has hurt the team’s effectiveness in the red zone. Perhaps the addition of Amari Cooper will help — he caught a touchdown in the red area in his Dallas debut — but as of right now, the Cowboys are struggling to score in the red zone, and it is killing their offense.
3. Third Down Conversion Percentage – 33 percent
The Cowboys want to run the ball on first down so they can get themselves into manageable third downs. However, when they struggle to run the ball successfully on first down, it inevitably puts them into lousy situations on third down. Dallas' average yards to go on third down this season is 7.61 yards, 24th in the NFL. Because of this, they are converting third downs at the incredibly low rate of just 33 percent. The Cowboys don't have a high-flying, explosive offense. Instead, it's a ball-control attack that relies on consistency and efficiency. However, Dallas has been anything but that this season.
4. Second-Half Points – 9.6 PPG
With the way the NFL game has evolved, the league is now designed for the second halves of games to be high-scoring affairs. With the two-minute warning, timeouts and rule changes, there will almost always be more scoring in the second halves of games than in the first.
However, that hasn’t been the case for the Cowboys this season. Dallas is averaging just 9.6 points per game in the second half this season, which ranks 27th in the NFL. Surprisingly enough, Dallas is averaging the exact same number of points in the first half that it is in the second half. In both cases, Dallas ranks in the bottom tier of the NFL. The Cowboys simply don't have a way to rack up points quickly in a league that is built for scoring.
5. Sack Percentage – 11.76 percent
Finally, the most depressing stat for the Dallas Cowboys is their inability to protect their quarterback. According to Team Rankings, Dak Prescott is being sacked on more than 11 percent of his dropbacks, the worst in the NFL. Dallas currently has the most expensive offensive line in the NFL, but it's playing like one of the worst.
The biggest reason for the Cowboys’ struggles on their offensive line is the play of RT La’el Collins and LG Connor Williams. Together, the two have allowed 31 pressures, six sacks and have committed 12 penalties, according to Pro Football Focus. There is an argument to be made that each are playing out of position, but nevertheless, neither are playing well through the mid-way point of the season.
There is also the Joe Looney issue for the Cowboys. Though he has been serviceable at center, he’s not Travis Frederick. The plan for 2018 was to put Williams next to two All-Pro players in Tyron Smith and Frederick, but that obviously hasn’t happened. Frederick is one of the most important pieces on the Cowboys’ roster, and not having him is crippling their offensive line.
For a team that was built to protect the quarterback, it isn't getting the job done. If the Cowboys can’t figure out a way to get their offensive line to play at a higher level, they could ruin Prescott, if they haven’t already. The offensive line's performance this season has to be the most disappointing and discouraging aspect of the team.