FRISCO, Texas – Three topics during this Senior Bowl week, a key offseason benchmark as Cowboys brass rolls up their sleeves on the draft and a key assistant vacancy on the coaching staff:
- The O.C. landscape (no, not the 2000s teen drama)
- Offensive solutions and help on the way
- Romo equals ratings
the scoring dipped on Championship Sunday, but that's still where the 2018 Cowboys trailed this year's final four.
Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones summed things up well last Thursday on 105.3 The Fan:
"I don't know if it's an aberration or not, but you look at the final four teams this year and they're the top four teams on offense in terms of scoring points. We have to be better," he said. "We knew we were struggling with that from the start this year. I think we improved, and (wide receiver) Amari (Cooper) certainly helped that, but we have to be better if we want to get where we want to go and take that final step."
Indeed, this is the primary task for the next primary play-caller. The Chiefs (35.3), Rams (32.9), Saints (31.5) and Patriots (27.2) piled up points pretty consistently all year long. The Cowboys topped 30 points only three times: wins against Jacksonville, against Washington, at the Giants. They reached 27 points – New England's average – five times: the three above-mentioned wins, plus victories at Philadelphia and against Tampa Bay.
Cooper's impact can't be overstated. Scott Linehan is no longer coordinating the offense, but it must be noted that his group's efficiency and production rose after adding a true No. 1 receiving threat on the outside.
Here are the Cowboys' per-game stats in the first seven games without Cooper:
Total yards: 320.0 (28th in the NFL)
Passing yards: 183.1 (29th)
Rushing yards: 136.9 (4th)
Here are the Cowboys' per-game stats in the final 11 games (plus playoffs) with Cooper:
Total yards: 359.0, which would have ranked 17th in the NFL over a full season
Passing yards: 248.2, which would have ranked 15th over a full season
Rushing yards: 110.8, which would have ranked 18th over a full season (keeping in mind Ezekiel Elliott did not play Week 17)
I purposely saved the most significant stat for last:
Scoring offense pre-Cooper: 20.0 points per game (26th)
Scoring offense with Cooper: 22.2 points per game, which would have ranked 21st in the NFL over a full season
Not a major jump. Of course, the December shutout loss at Indianapolis was a major outlier. Then again, so was Dallas' 40-point outburst in October against Jacksonville.
With a young rising quarterback, an All-Pro running back and a legitimate 1,000-yard receiver, the pieces are in place to be a top-10 offense.
Which leads to the next point: How can they improve?
a returning Travis Frederick would do wonders for the offense in this regard: the red zone.
At the end of the day, it's all about finishing drives, right? According to NFL stats, the Cowboys finished 29th in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 48 percent of their trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line. They were only slightly better in goal-to-go situations: 52 percent conversion rate, which ranked last in the entire league.
Joe Looney did an excellent job filling in at center all season. But Frederick is a career four-time Pro Bowler in part because he's so good getting to the second level in the run game. The Cowboys have been at their best in the Zeke era when they've controlled the line of scrimmage in tight quarters. Elliott was a red-zone monster his rookie season, scoring 15 total rushing touchdowns. He had seven rushing touchdowns in 2017 despite missing six games. This year, he and quarterback Dak Prescott each had six.
First-year guard Connor Williams got overpowered at times and should benefit from a full offseason program this spring. As for Frederick, the Cowboys believe he can be ready for the start of the offseason program if his recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome continues on its current track. Great news on a professional and personal level for one of the team's leaders.
I Have No Idea…
if anyone's having more fun than Tony Romo.
As outstanding as he was playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys – make no mistake, it's a statistical resume worthy of Hall of Fame consideration – he's now on his way to becoming one of the sport's iconic TV analysts. Dare I say, Madden-esque?
As Cowboys fan Domenico wrote to me on Twitter during the CBS Patriots-Chiefs broadcast, listening to Romo is "like you're watching the game with a crazy smart close friend." He's right. Tony doesn't take the game too seriously. He blends casual fan-like enthusiasm with offensive whiz expertise, particularly pre-snap analysis from a quarterback's perspective. Jim Nantz sets him up perfectly. And, best of all, he'll drop in a subtle reference to "Happy Gilmore," the greatest movie of my generation.
I just love listening to the guy call a game. The Super Bowl should be a treat.