Dak to the Future
So we exit the bye and have our longest away trip of the season with a flight to Arlington, TX on the cards. I could have been hasty and Rushed into things and said we could beat Dallas' backup, but instead it looks like the Dak attack will be back on Sunday. Historically games against the Cowboys have not been in our favour. Can we right the wrongs of the past, get our team to 88 miles per hour, and go Dak to the future where things aren't so bad?
As per usual for our game previews, we'll look at their roster and stats, see how their team matches up with ours, and then make our usual fun but inaccurate predictions.
4-2, 3rd in NFC East, 4th in NFC, 5th in NFL
Expected W/L: 3.4-2.6
(Stats are now by game where possible due to teams [like our Lions] having a bye which would skew seasonal stats unfairly)
(Practise designations are from Thursday)
In the one game he has played so far this season, Dak (FP-right thumb) completed 14 of his 29 attempts (48.3%) for 134 yards, no TDs and 1 interception (3.4% rate). Dak is averaging 4.6 yards per attempt and 9.6 yards per completion, 5.6 of which are through the air. Pro Football Reference credits him with 11 "bad throws", so 2 of every 5 of his throws are off target. This gives him a passer rating of 47.2, and a QBR of 18.8. For comparison, his divisional rival Wentz currently has an 84.1 passer rating and a 34.1 QBR. So that bodes well for us for Sunday since Wentz is (unfortunately) the only QB we've beaten so far, and that was when he was coming off a decent performance against the Jags.
The Dallas OL on the surface appears to have faired a bit better than their QB situation. They are giving up 1.5 sacks per game (t-3rd best in the league) for a 4.6% sack rate (t-6th). Their QBs have on average 2.2 seconds in the pocket (t-3rd). However, they've given up 48 pressures so far this season, which is tied for 16th in the league, with a pressure rate of 24.5%, which is 23rd in the league. Therefore it could be said that Dallas' OL is actually getting bailed out by the QB who is able to manipulate the pocket so that pressure doesn't become sacks. Similarly, while the Cowboys average 2.3 yards before contact on rushing attempts, this ranks tied-21st in the league. These are numbers we can exploit if the defensive line has been putting the work in over the bye week.
Zeke averages 15.7 carries a game for 64.3 yards, 3.33 first downs, and 0.33 TDs. Pollard gets 9.2 carries for 48.7 yards, 2.16 first downs, and 0.33 TDs. So despite Pollard averaging more yards per attempt (5.3 to 4.1), Zeke is still their lead ball carrier. Pollard also averages 0.9 yards more after contact per attempt than Zeke (2.8 to 1.9), has 2 more broken tackles (5 to 3) and averages a broken tackle just over a third more often than Zeke (11 attempts per broken tackle compares to 31.3 attempts). This might suggest that Zeke runs between the tackles more while Pollard handles more outside zone concepts that get him into space, but either way, our linebackers better be on their A game.
Their pass-catchers are talented. Their wide receiver room is headlined by Ceedee Lamb and former Lions fan FA crush Michael Gallup. Their TE room includes my own draft crush from this past year, Jake Ferguson, as well as some guy called Dalton Schultz (FP-knee) who is also good. The leading receiver is of course former first-round pick Lamb (FP-hip), who is brought to the slaughter every week with 10 targets and 5.5 receptions a game for 68.2 yards (12.4 Y/R), 0.67 drops (6.7%), 3.5 first downs, 0.33 TDs, and an 80.5 passer rating when targeted. In the slot, fantasy superstar Noah Brown gets 5.33 targets and 3.33 receptions (62.5% catch rate) per game, for 48.2 yards (14.5 Y/R), 0.17 drops (3.1%), 2.5 first downs, 0.17 TDs, and an 89.2 rating. In his three games so far this season, Gallup averages 2.67 catches on 5 targets (53.3%), for 28.7 yards (10.8 Y/R), 0.34 drops (6.7%), 1.33 first downs, 0.33 TDs, and a 53.1 passer rating. Schultz gets 4.25 targets a game, for 2.25 receptions (52.9%), 0.25 drops (5.9%), 20 yards (8.9 Y/R), 0.5 first downs, 0 TDs and a 65.8 passer rating when targeted. Pollard gets 2.67 targets a game out of the backfield, catching 1.5 of them (56.3%) for 0 drops, 13.2 yards (8.8 Y/R), 0.5 first downs, 0 TDs and a 69.5 passer rating.
Given their talent at the receiver position, it is not surprising that the Cowboys favour 11 personnel. Last week against the Eagles, they ran 11 43 times (66%) for -0.08 EPA per play. Likewise, given their TE room, the fact that 12 personnel is their second favourite is also not surprising (ran 15 times (22%) for 0.22 EPA/p. The Cowboys went empty once last week for -1.62 EPA, and went heavy (13 personnel) once for 0.76 EPA. They also used 21 personnel twice for 0.17 EPA. As they were behind, they had to lean on the pass, leading to a 61% pass rate.
The Cowboys line gives up a lot of pressure but doesn't give up many sacks. This is the mirror image of our DL, which only converts 15% of its pressures into sacks (7 out of 44). It might be a battle of who can finish plays more, and I'm hoping that coming out of the bye, our DL will win. In the run game, I'd focus more on stopping Pollard on the outside zones, as I think Zeke will take care of himself trying to grind through the middle of the defence. In the passing game, I'd be tempted to try and tempt Dak to beat us deep; cut off the short-to-intermediate game and make them beat us with Dak's arm.
The Cowboys' pass rush has looked really good so far. They lead the league in pressures with 80 and sacks with 24. This is of course led by Micah Parsons, who has 16 pressures (6 sacks, 6 QB hits, and 4 hurries). He is followed by their DPR in Dante Fowler Jr., who has 12 pressures (3 sacks, 3 hits, 6 hurries). Tank Lawrence, who seemingly hates the Lions as it was he who sealed that defeat, is third on the team with 10 pressures (3 sacks, 2 hits, 5 hurries). The other man in their edge rotation is Armstrong, who has 9 pressures (5 sacks, 2 hits, and 2 hurries). On the interior, Odighizuwa has 5 pressures (1 sack, 2 hits, 2 hurries) and Bonhanna (FP-shoulder) has 1 pressure (a QB hit). Barr has been blitzed 14 times and has 5 pressures of this (0 sacks, 2 hits, 3 hurries). Therefore, it stands to reason that (thankfully) interior pressure will not be prominent, but it is rather at the tackles that we need to focus our protection schemes.
One way to negate a good pass rush is to run the ball, so it's in the back of their minds when they come for Goff. Luckily for us, we have a good run game and Dallas is vulnerable on the ground. LVE averages 6.5 tackles per game from his MIKE spot, 3.5 of which are solo. He also gets 0.33 TFLs a game. Parsons gets 4.33 tackles a game, 3.17 of which are solo, and 1.33 TFLs. Barr gets 3.67 tackles (2 solo) and 0.17 TFLs a game. Along their defensive line, Tank is their leading tackler with 4.83 per game, 3.17 of which are solo, and 0.83 TFLs per game. Opposite him, Armstrong gets 2.33 tackles (1.67 solo) and 0.67 TFLs a game. In his role as the DPR, Fowler gets 1.33 tackles, 1 solo and 0.67 TFLs a game. So it seems teams favour running on the edges, which seems to have worked. This is backed up by the fact that the interior doesn't get many tackles, but this could also suggest that inside runs regularly hit the second level. Odighizuwa gets 2.33 combined (1.67 solo) tackles and 0.67 TFLs a game. Gallimore (FP-wrist) gets 1.67 tackles, 1.33 solo tackles and 0.33 TFLs per game. Bohanna averages 1.6 combined, 0.6 solo and 0 TFLs a game. Therefore, if Swift is back, we can damage Dallas on the ground, but Jamaal could still do damage on the inside and in short-yardage situations.
Their secondary has held up well so far, but it is not without weakness. Diggs has been targeted 6.16 times a game for 3.83 receptions (62.2% completion rate), 58.7 yards (15.3 Y/C), 0.33 TDs, 1.5 PDs, 0.33 INTs, and an 89.0 passer rating in coverage. On the other side, Brown has been targeted 9.67 times a game for 5.67 completions (58.6%), 56 yards (9.9 Y/C), 0.33 TDs, 0.5 PDs, and an 86.6 rating. In the slot, per game, Lewis gives up 3.4 catches on 4.6 targets (73.9%), 31.6 yards (9.3 Y/C), 0 TDs and a 92.3 passer rating. This could be a great matchup to ease St Brown (FP-ankle) back into things. On the backend, Hooker has been targeted 1.67 times a game for 1.33 completions (80%), 10.5 yards (7.9 Y/C), 0 TDs, 0.17 PDs, 0.17 INTs and a 53.3 passer rating. Wilson has 3.67 targets a game for 2.17 catches (59.1%), 15 yards (6.9 Y/C), 0.17 TDs, 0.33 PDs, 0.17 INTs and a 64.6 rating. Former Lion Kearse has been targeted 2.33 times a game for 1.67 completions (71.4%), 16 yards (9.6 Y/C), 0 TDs and a passer rating of 90.2. In the middle, LVE has been targeted 2.67 times a game, with 2 of these being completed (75%) for 11 yards (5.5 Y/C), 0 TDs, 0.17 PDs and an 81.8 rating. Beside him, Parsons has given up 0.67 catches on 1 target a game (66.7%) for 10 yards (15 Y/C), 0.17 TDs, 0.33 PDs and a passer rating of 138.9.
The Cowboys were in one form of nickel defence or another for 54 snaps against the Eagles (77%), with 425 naturally being the most common of these given their even base front (42 snaps [61%], 0.04 EPA per play), and then 335 (10 snaps [14%], 0.23 EPA/p) being the second most common. However, they also ran a nickel formation with two down linemen (245) for one snap and -0.26 EPA. On that play, the Eagles took advantage and ran. The Cowboys ran base (434) for 2 snaps (3%), resulting in 0.14 EPA/p. They were in dime (326 or 236) for 13 snaps (18%) and -0.15 EPA/p. Overall the Cowboys saw a 43% pass rate last week, which makes sense considering the Eagles were ahead for most of the game, with the Cowboys seeing a pass rate of above 50% only on plays where the Cowboys were running an odd front.
Luckily for us, the Cowboys aren't great at getting interior pressure. If Sewell and Decker (FP-personal) can stand firm for most of the game, we can keep Goff upright and have hope of winning this game. Given they are weak against the run, using that to set up play action, drawing the linebackers and safeties in to run ARSB and Hock on intermediate routes could prove effective. While this sounds obvious, with Swift out, we have almost moved away from these concepts and it's shown in our offensive output. With Swift (LP- ankle/shoulder) and St Brown back healthy, we can get back to firing on all cylinders and hopefully cover some potential inadequacies on defence.
There's not much to say here. Their kicking game is okay, their return game is excellent. Can't wait to roast the Packers in a few weeks.
Keys to Win:
Run the ball- With Swift back, we can show different run looks, both to set up play action later in the game and to keep the Cowboys honest.
Get interior pressure- If AG is right, we'll have both Cominsky (LP-wrist) and Paschal back. This can take some pressure off Hutch's shoulders at the big end role, free him up to play some rush end (where CHarris [DNP-groin] has disappointed) and gives us more players to give different interior looks with.
Don't play hero- This goes for Goff and Campbell. We don't need to force things. When in doubt, follow KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid
Goff- 25/37 (67.6%), 280 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 98.7 passer rating
Swift- 8 carries, 60 yards, 0 TDs, 4 targets, 3 catches, 30 yards
ARSB- 11 targets, 8 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD
Cominsky- 3 tackles (2 solo), 1 TFL, 3 pressures, 1 sack
Rodrigo- 9 tackles (6 solo), 1.5 TFL, 1 pressure
Okudah- 6 tackles (5 solo), 0.5 TFLs, 1 PD
Dak- 15/30 (50%), 200 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 68.8 passer rating
Zeke- 15 carries, 60 yards, 1 TD, 1 target, 1 catch, 6 yards
Lamb- 11 targets, 6 catches, 60 yards
Tank- 4 tackles (3 solo), 1 TFL, 2 pressure, 0.5 sacks
Parsons- 6 tackles (4 solo), 0.5 TFLs, 3 pressures, 0.5 sacks
Brown- 4 tackles (3 solo), 1 PD, 1 INT
Hot take- Dan has a chance to redo his Vikings decision, and takes the FG for the win
Score- Lions 24, Cowboys 21
How do you think the game will go? Can our Lions win the battle against the team that could be considered our biggest enemies outside the division, or will Dan Campbell be left looking like Doc Brown after the game? Who do you think will be the stat leaders, and what will the final score be?
Pod Links: linktr.ee/roarofthelionsuk