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Film room: 3 tendencies Kellen Moore needs to break the Cowboys' offense from, like predictability under center

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  • Film room: 3 tendencies Kellen Moore needs to break the Cowboys' offense from, like predictability under center


    By John Owning

    The NFL's best play-callers do a great job of optimizing their offense's talent. Despite the fact that the Dallas Cowboys reached the divisional round of the playoffs last season, it was clear that then-offensive coordinator Scott Linehan failed to optimize the talent he was given.

    Sure, things got better once Amari Cooper was brought in, but Linehan's play-calling still left a lot of points on the board. The Cowboys finished 24th in offensive DVOA -- which "measures a team's efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent," according to Football Outsiders -- 22nd in points and yards per game, and 26th in red-zone scoring percentage.

    If the Cowboys hope to improve on those woeful numbers, it will be paramount that new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore makes sure he breaks the play-calling tendencies that eroded the offense's effectiveness a year ago.

    With that being said, let's discuss a few of the play-calling pitfalls that Moore needs to avoid next season to optimize the Cowboys' offense.

    Too conservative after sacks

    One of the biggest complaints levied against the offense last year was the conservative nature of Linehan's play-calling. The conservative play-calling was illustrated best by his tendencies after a first-down sack.

    Sports Info Solutions' Bryce Rossler compiled what Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh called "reactive offense," which is "how play-callers might behave differently following a particular outcome on a play." In that post, it was revealed that the Cowboys called a pass play just 50% of the time after a first-down sack, which defies logic and illustrates just how conservative Dallas was with Linehan calling the plays.

    Running the ball after a first-down sack essentially concedes the possession to the defense. In second-and-11-plus situations -- which is what the down and distance would be after a first-down sack -- the Cowboys had an abysmal success rate (17%) on the ground, according to Sharp Football Stats. (Dallas would have needed to pick up 60% of the yards to go in those situations for the play to be deemed successful.) Making matters worse, the Cowboys were almost twice as successful through the air in the same situation, accumulating a 30% success rate.

    Given their poor success rate running the ball in second-and-11-plus situations, the Cowboys willingly put themselves in too many third-and-longs, a poor recipe for an effective offense considering they picked up the first down less than 50% of the time on third-and-medium (4-7 yards to go; 45% first-down rate), long (8-10 yards to go; 34%) and extra-long (11-plus yards to go; 12%), according to Sharp Football Stats.

    Like a cornered cat, the league's best offenses actually became even more aggressive after a first-down sack. Of the teams that finished in the top five in points per game (all of which won a playoff game), each one passed the ball at least 80% of the time after a first-down sack. In fact, the Indianapolis Colts (fifth in points per game), New England Patriots (fourth), New Orleans Saints (third) and Los Angeles Rams (second) all threw the ball 100% of time after a first-down sack.

    Linehan's conservatism simply gave away too many possessions last year -- the pass rate after a first-down sack was just one of the most egregious examples. Moore would be wise to take a page out of the books of the top offenses -- stay aggressive, or be even more aggressive, when things don't go according to plan on first down.

    Too predictable under center

    If you were trying to guess whether the Cowboys were going to run or pass on any given play, you'd be right 75% of the time (or more) by predicting they would run the ball when Dak Prescott was under center (75% run rate; second-highest in the NFL) and pass when he was in shotgun (78% pass rate; 18th), according to Sharp Football Stats.

    Another one of the biggest gripes about Linehan's offense was that it was simply too predictable. The Cowboys' playing-calling tendencies from under center and in shotgun just further illustrate the point.

    The most egregious is Dallas' 75% run rate from under center because it makes little sense in today's NFL, where passing is king. This is not to say that running the ball is bad, or that running the ball more than 50% of the time from under center is bad (every team ran the ball more than 50% of time from under center), it's just that running the ball that frequently is inefficient.

    The Cowboys had a 49% success rate when rushing from under center, but posted a 61% success rate when passing from under center, according to Sharp Football Stats.

    Some would argue that Dallas' success through the air when Prescott aligned under center was actually due to its overwhelming tendency to run the ball from under center. And it makes sense in theory, as a defense gearing up to stop the run would be more vulnerable to the pass, but that theory was proven to be false. Nathan Ernst of Hawks Blogger said it best: "The conventional wisdom that teams should establish the running game or maintain some kind [of] run/pass balance does not appear to be supported by evidence."



    The best way to become more balanced from under center would be to replace some of the runs with play-action passes. Prescott has proven to be more effective off play-action than with traditional drop-back passes, completing passes with a higher frequency and averaging 2.1 more yards per attempt.

    Furthermore, his pass rating drops by 18 points when comparing passes with play-action to ones without play-action, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Moore would be wise to bring more balance to the offense's under center/shotgun play-calling tendencies. That would make the Cowboys less predictable and, therefore, tougher to prepare for and stop.

    Not running enough on third-and-short

    For most of this article, we have discussed situations in which the Cowboys ran the ball too much. Now it's time to discuss a situation in which Dallas didn't run the ball enough:

    Third-and-short (1-3 yards to go).

    Though they ran the ball at a higher rate than most teams on third-and-short, given their success in those situations, the Cowboys should have leaned more heavily on the run game. On third-and-short, they passed the ball 48% of the time with a 52% success rate (four points below the league average of 56%). The Cowboys ran the ball 52% of time in the same situation with a whopping 74% success rate (six points above the league average of 68%).

    This means that even though the Cowboys were overwhelmingly more successful on the ground than through the air on third-and-short, they still decided to use both at almost the same rate.

    But running the ball more frequently on third-and-short doesn't mean they should run more jumbo or condensed formations against stacked boxes and jam the ball between the tackles. Instead, as we've discussed before, the Cowboys should use their personnel groupings and formations to force defenses to take defenders out of the box, making it easier to run between the tackles.



    Furthermore, third-and-short situations are great opportunities to incorporate Prescott's legs into the play design. Prescott is an extremely talented and efficient runner, which is why the Cowboys should lean on his legs a bit more this season.

    Even though the Cowboys should run the ball more frequently on third-and-short, they shouldn't do so to the point that it makes them too predictable and brings diminishing returns. It's a tight rope to walk, but it's important in maximizing the effectiveness of the offense.
    defense wins championships

  • #2
    Is Moore calling plays?

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Sheik View Post
      Is Moore calling plays?
      Supposedly, yes. Although I have a feeling that Garrett will stick his hand up his ass and work his head eventually.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by boozeman View Post

        Supposedly, yes. Although I have a feeling that Garrett will stick his hand up his ass and work his head eventually.
        I don't think he will if Moore comes out and shines. Jerry would never allow that.
        2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Iamtdg View Post

          I don't think he will if Moore comes out and shines. Jerry would never allow that.
          Call me a pessimist, but I will be absolutely floored if Moore comes out and lights it up. I think there will be some struggles and when that happens Garrett will take charge.

          It will probably happen so quick nobody even realizes it.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by boozeman View Post
            Call me a pessimist, but I will be absolutely floored if Moore comes out and lights it up.
            Oh, I am with you. But, if by some miracle he does well, Jerry will build a wall between Garrett and the playcalling.
            2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Iamtdg View Post

              Oh, I am with you. But, if by some miracle he does well, Jerry will build a wall between Garrett and the playcalling.
              Will Jerry even know? Garrett took things back from Callahan in 2013 and it apparently went on for several weeks before Jerry was even aware of it.

              Also... I wouldn't be so sure struggling would be when Garrett got more involved. If they struggle with Moore, that's Garrett's out. It's if things go well that I'd be worried about Garrett wanting to be more involved so he can then take credit for it.
              2014=2009, 2015=2010?

              The Garrett Song

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              • #8
                Originally posted by boozeman View Post

                Call me a pessimist, but I will be absolutely floored if Moore comes out and lights it up. I think there will be some struggles and when that happens Garrett will take charge.

                It will probably happen so quick nobody even realizes it.
                I don't think it would be too hard to be better than Linehan. Although I've got a fear that Moore will go too far the other direction and make us pass happy again. Linehan ran the ball more than almost any other coordinator and it ultimately worked for us. If only for limited purposes. No one wants to go back to the pass happy days we saw before Linehan got to Dallas.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Cowboysrock55 View Post
                  Although I've got a fear that Moore will go too far the other direction and make us pass happy again
                  Yea I won't be surprised at all if he gets too cute the first couple games .
                  2018 DCC Super Bowl Bingo Champion

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by jsmith6919 View Post

                    Yea I won't be surprised at all if he gets too cute the first couple games .
                    I think you will see some of the Moore playbook during the preseason season but I also think Dak will have a different look in the regular season. To much has already been sacrificed protecting him in the pocket. He will be forced to react quicker now or make his own time extension during passing plays.
                    Since Day One

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                    • #11
                      Most of us have been complaining for quite literally years that we telegraph run/pass with pre-snap alignments, most notably whether or not the QB is under center. Stuff like this is a very simple fix but given that it hasn't happened for years despite how obvious it is, I have no faith that it will now. Garrett has made a point to mention how the play-calling/offensive design is going to be a "collaborative" type of effort, so I have no doubt that he will curb anything that Moore wants to do that is dramatically different.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Simpleton View Post
                        Most of us have been complaining for quite literally years that we telegraph run/pass with pre-snap alignments, most notably whether or not the QB is under center. Stuff like this is a very simple fix but given that it hasn't happened for years despite how obvious it is, I have no faith that it will now. Garrett has made a point to mention how the play-calling/offensive design is going to be a "collaborative" type of effort, so I have no doubt that he will curb anything that Moore wants to do that is dramatically different.
                        Is that dramstic though? Passing from under center? I mean that seems pretty obvious and something Garrett wouldn't forcibly object to.

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                        • #13
                          I mean, Garrett's been here for damn near 15 years now so if there are blatantly obvious tells that we're seeing that haven't ever been changed then Garrett probably would consider it dramatic. Any normal-brained person wouldn't of course.

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                          • #14
                            We need offensive coaching that doesn’t get up its own ass.

                            That simple

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                            • #15
                              The offensive needs a leader that tailors the offense to the talent that is available rather than trying to make everyone fit a prescribed system. The idea of a team needing to establish an identity is so much rhetoric if the players are being utilized correctly.
                              Since Day One

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