Any Given Sunday

The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Jaguars

by Rivers McCown

If you watched Week 2's most notable game, where the Jaguars took down the Patriots, you could be forgiven for thinking that Football Outsiders was a little foolish in forecasting regression from Jacksonville in 2018. Blake Bortles looked so good, and the offense was so poised, and the defense had retained most of its talent ... and, well, it was almost enough to make you forget that this team is still quarterbacked by Blake Bortles.

So let's recount some facts that are relevant to what produced Bortles' ugliest start (by the numbers) in a long time:

  • Starting left tackle Cam Robinson tore his ACL in the middle of the win over New England.
  • Backup left tackle Josh Wells incurred a groin injury and was placed on IR after last week's loss to Kansas City. This puts third-stringer Josh Walker, a 27-year-old UDFA with zero career starts on four career teams, into the starting lineup.
  • Marqise Lee is out for the season. Leonard Fournette is expected to be out through their bye in Week 9. Corey Grant, who keyed the win in New England with some big third-down plays, is out for the season.

Meanwhile:

  • The Dallas Cowboys have a good pass rush. Per Sports Info Solutions, they had hurried the quarterback on 37.6 percent of their pass drops, the second-highest rate in the NFL.
  • The Cowboys added David Irving and Maliek Collins back to the defensive line rotation, two talented players who had missed most of the season to this point.

If I have foreshadowed this correctly, you should understand that Bortles was sacked three times in just 29 dropbacks, and was pressured many more times en route to taking seven quarterback hits. The Cowboys upped their seasonal rate of pressures to 38.1 percent. Per SIS, six different Cowboys had a hurry, and four of them had 1.5 or more, led by Demarcus Lawrence's 3.5.

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The Jaguars tried their best to protect Bortles and Walker. They ran the ball 38 percent of the time despite trailing for the entirety of the game. They attempted only six deep passes, completing just one of them. But where the game was lost was what happened when the Jaguars got to third-and-manageable.

Jacksonville popped up third-and-7 or less 10 times in this game, averaging third-and-5.1 for the game. They managed to convert the first down just three times. Sometimes there are deep and complex things we can take from a loss like this. Sometimes, you just tip your hat and say "Blake Bortles isn't going to consistently throw us out of third-and-short against a good pass defense."

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For the Jaguars, it's as simple as this: When Bortles is on, they can play with anyone. When Bortles is off, the defense had better pitch a shutout. Why do I feel like I've been writing that forever when the Jaguars have only been a playoff-capable team for 21 regular-season weeks?

Where the Game Swung

Per EdjSports, these are our five most impactful plays of a game that flat-lined:

Q1 11:14 -- Dallas GWC from 46.0% to 53.1% after Dak Prescott completes a third-and-9 27-yard pass to Michael Gallup to get the Cowboys into Jacksonville territory.
Q1 5:14 -- Dallas GWC from 59.9% to 66.2% after Prescott completes a third-and-5 15-yard pass to Cole Beasley to get the Cowboys to the Jacksonville 28.
Q1 3:47 -- GWC from 66.5% to 74.9% after Prescott's 17-yard rushing touchdown.
Q2 12:34 -- GWC from 70.8% to 77.7% after Prescott hit Beasley for 21 yards on third-and-11 to get the ball into Jacksonville territory.
Q2 9:28 -- GWC from 87.5% to 91.4% after Prescott hit Beasley for a 17-yard touchdown that made the score 17-0.

The Gallup catch was pretty; perhaps a sign of things to come? Well, the Cowboys had better hope so anyway. He took A.J. Bouye to the back shoulder.

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The Cowboys started the second half with a 99.0% GWC and the lowest it dipped was 96.8%.

By the (D)VOA

DVOA OFF DEF ST TOT
JAX -41.0% 2.1% -4.1% -47.2%
DAL 1.9% -26.0% 8.4% 36.3%
VOA OFF DEF ST TOT
JAX -44.3% 1.4% -4.1% -49.8%
DAL -5.2% -30.8% 8.4% 34.0%

The Jaguars did enough damage to themselves with this game to drop from eighth in DVOA to 15th.

Meanwhile, DVOA likes what the Cowboys did enough to give them a positive rating on offense for their work against the Jaguars despite a complete lack of passing.

NFL Offensive Genius Presents Idea Into The Wild: Dak Prescott Allowed To Run Ball

Absent Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, these Cowboys were always going to be a team that was overly reliant on the running game. Prescott has not shown well late in the down outside of his miracle third-down throw to Tavon Austin against Houston on Sunday Night Football. His receivers are young, raw, bad, or some combination of those traits. His tight ends are Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, Gendry Fulton, and Rico Gathers. And unless you follow football deeply, you probably aren't aware that I made up one of those names.

So the weird thing about the way this Cowboys team has played offense up until this game is that it just seemed to forget that:

a) Prescott can run the football! Prescott has precisely 57 runs in each of the last two seasons and has finished first and second in DYAR, respectively, in those seasons. The Cowboys have refused to expand upon this despite the fact that every time they do, he gives the defense an entirely new thing to worry about.

b) If you're going to make a big deal out of signing Austin, you've got even more reason to play with misdirection and numbers in boxes in the running game! Austin had 646 DYAR with the Rams as a runner.

The Jacksonville defense had played good run defense through five games in 2018, but were noticeably bad at it in 2017. (In fact, that was part of the reason why our projections liked them to regress.) Sure enough, Dallas was able to use both Austin and Prescott effectively to trounce them.

Prescott's was almost untouched on his touchdown run referenced above in the game swings:

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Barry Church couldn't find the right angle to attack, and wound up getting caught in the trash.

Austin's third-quarter reverse saw wide open spaces:

via Gfycat

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Unfortunately, Austin was hurt on this run. But as you can see, once he flipped past the first defender, he had daylight for 10 yards.

Beasley torched the middle of the Jags defense. Both Bouye and Jalen Ramsey had somewhat subpar games for them, but they were mostly just not targeted. Sports Info Solutions has them allowing just 52 yards in 10 targets in this game.

Despite what we saw here, I think there's a big enough track record to suggest that Dallas won't actually change much of what they're going to do on offense in future games. I think we just saw them operating at peak performance and hitting throws at the right times, and we saw the flashes that make us wonder why they won't take better advantage of what they have. It was a good matchup for them, and a nice reminder of the explosiveness that a running game can have in the right situation.

Comments

1 comment, Last at 19 Oct 2018, 3:10am

1 Re: Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Jaguars

by emmaferris // Oct 19, 2018 - 3:10am

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