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Sturm: Decoding Kellen Moore, Week 1 - Cowboys coordinator’s near-perfect debut against the Giants

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  • Sturm: Decoding Kellen Moore, Week 1 - Cowboys coordinator’s near-perfect debut against the Giants


    By Bob Sturm Sep 10, 2019

    What a performance to open up the 2019 NFL season. The Cowboys were able to put up such a show in Sunday’s first six drives that the fourth quarter ended up being a waste of time. They had moved on to Week 2.

    The Cowboys scored on five consecutive drives; an extremely rare feat for just about any offense, but the Cowboys had not done it since 2014 in Chicago. With over 450 yards of total offense at the end of the third quarter and an average of over nine yards per play, the Kellen Moore offense had arrived in force. Everything the Cowboys tried seemed to work. Every playcall seemed connected and purposeful.

    Doing it all after a season when the masses wondered whatever happened to some simple creativity and ingenuity created a true spectacle.

    Yesterday, in the Morning After, there was plenty of time spent on Moore himself. I invite you to review that, and I plan to continue to demonstrate all of those points again in the film study below, but I do think we should spend a little time on what might have been the very best performance of Dak Prescott’s career.

    In my 22 years, very few Cowboys have been analyzed and scrutinized quite like Prescott (Tony Romo would likely qualify) and there are reasons that we could elaborate on for years. However, I think the nature of the beast and the publicity the Cowboys seem to attract cause Prescott to actually become a bit underrated by his own fanbase, which is generally next to impossible. Around the league, it’s very easy to find homers propping up their teams’ QB beyond any rational explanation to those that watch him play. Yet here in Dallas, it almost seems like he is thought of with less regard than he actually deserves.

    I certainly don’t wish to go over that again today, but it is interesting to me how Prescott’s most vocal critics are generally fans of the divisional rivals in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. It should not surprise anyone to know that rivals run down each others’ players, but in this case, Prescott has played his best football against NFC East teams. In fact, as we talked about on Friday, he is now 14-5 in 19 divisional games and has had nine of his 12 biggest passing days inside the division.

    DAK PRESCOTT VERSUS THE NFC EAST, 2016-2019
    2016 6 104 183 56.8 1203 200.5 6.6 4 3 53 10 77.3 3 3
    2017 6 104 174 59.8 1169 194.8 6.7 7 3 81 9 86.1 5 1
    2018 6 155 225 68.9 1834 305.7 8.2 12 2 90 19 107.5 5 1
    2019 1 25 32 78.1 405 405 12.7 4 0 62 0 158.3 1 0
    19 388 614 63.2 4611 242.7 7.5 27 8 90 38 95.3 14 5
    It feels like the QB of this operation has really turned a corner since the Amari Cooper trade. The addition of a No. 1 receiver has helped the entire offense become a far more impressive machine. They still left plenty of plays on the field and frustrated a fair amount in the red zone down the stretch in 2018, but the signs were there that this offense might be ready to explode if its design was improved.

    We saw it all on Sunday. We saw so much pre-snap motion to identify coverages that it has become a major talking point. We saw more play-action and RPOs than ever. We saw route concepts that appeared drastically adjusted to use rub routes or mesh concepts, then isolation and spatial advantages to free up playmakers with room to operate.

    It was almost like the entire Kellen Moore playbook was an answer to years of complaints about the simplicity and predictability of his predecessors. It is difficult to look at the results of Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett over the years and suggest they did not know what they were doing, as that is not the bigger point here. Rather, it felt like they were a bit stubborn to use everything at their disposal to give this team as many advantages in their offense as could be had. The conservative and risk-averse nature of things has seemingly been a bit infectious, and it is difficult in 2019 to see cautious offenses being rewarded with great success.

    This offense needed ambition, aggressiveness and some tactical design that would confuse and deceive opponents. While understanding that the Giants aren’t great and that there are far greater challenges ahead, there are numerous examples of the offense doing exactly that below.

    First, let’s look at some broader findings from Sunday:

    WEEKLY DATA BOX – NEW YORK – WEEK 1




    Let’s start with that absurd yards per attempt of 12.7 in a league where 7.4 is the current NFL average. There were two games in Cowboys history that exceeded that number, but only two. Craig Morton had a big day in 1970 against Houston in the Cotton Bowl, and Tony Romo did so in the 2007 season opener against these same Giants. But both of those performances did come with a turnover. So, from that standpoint, you could argue this was the best offensive performance in Cowboys history — the highest yards per attempt for any Cowboys passing performance without an interception.

    Add to that the 60% conversion rate on third downs and 100% in the red zone, and you could not have possibly asked for a better day. Not allowing a sack on top of the lack of turnovers makes Week 1 even harder to believe.

    Here is Prescott’s passing map:

    DAK PRESCOTT NEXT-GEN THROW CHART




    The biggest observation I would have on this chart would be that the Cowboys attacked the middle of the field, particularly the deep middle. Young Prescott has been a very safe thrower and looking to the sidelines to avoid trouble, but it is sometimes difficult put up top-level production without making the defense defend everywhere. If they can unleash Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup down the middle more with Randall Cobb and the tight ends down the seams, this could be quite powerful moving forward. PERSONNEL GROUPINGS




    We keep this chart each week to see which personnel groupings worked and which did not. We should understand sample sizes and so forth. 21 Personnel would have looked considerably different had the offense hit on the wheel route to Jamize Olawale, but that will have to wait until next week or beyond. I am sure they will come back to that concept for sure.

    PLAY ACTION LOG



    It is possible that we have some disagreement on chapter and verse, but this is what I came up with for Sunday’s play-action attempts. I think it will be interesting to break them down in a number of ways as the season goes along. Thanks to both John Daigle and James Brantley for their assistance with the info in this series.

    Now, as we run this series every Tuesday, the film study below is probably the meat on this plate. We look at the good and bad of each week’s game and talk about what we see. I will try to limit the session to ten plays or so. As you probably anticipated, there wasn’t much in the way of negatives.

    FILM STUDY




    1Q – 12:26 – 3rd and 5

    This is the only play we’ll feature that really didn’t click on Sunday. It came during the very first drive of the game. The Cowboys had marched past midfield and faced a third-and-manageable, lining up in 11 personnel and running a mesh underneath with Olawale and Cooper to give the QB a nice easy target at the sticks. It appeared Prescott didn’t make a very good throw because BJ Hill got his hand up, but you can see that Cooper was easily open and this is absolutely a concept they will use because it is so hard to defend. Cooper is the third player from that bunch on the left. With Cobb and Witten releasing vertically, defenders will have a heck of a time getting to Cooper before he is off on his crosser. It works against man or zone, as you can see.



    1Q – 4:47 – 2nd and 10

    I let everything roll on this video because I want you to see how all of this pre-snap motion allows a normal screen pass. The Cowboys always operate a little easier with the window dressing and wrapping paper of Moore’s offense. They start with trips left, then Cobb goes in motion, then Cooper, then Witten. After that, Cobb comes back left and this draws two linebackers wide. Now, once they run the screen right, they are badly outnumbered. This is the type of play that can go for a touchdown with one final move from Zeke, but he ran out of room and this will simply be an easy move of the chains. It is not a new play, it is just set up better with 10 seconds of pre-snap theatrics. If the Giants don’t react, there is an option off of this to get Cobb the ball. And thus, smart football: Make them defend everything and spread them out too thin to defend anything well.



    1Q – 3:25 – 2nd and 10

    Three plays later, here is the first touchdown of the season. Notice the run-action with a pulling Connor Williams to the right to lead Zeke into the hole. This looks like an RPO where Dak can give the ball to Zeke, the offensive line blocks for a run, and he can elect to read the defense and pull it back for a throw if he sees what he likes. Clearly, he liked nobody defending Jarwin behind the linebackers. This is the first time we saw how poor the Giants safety play would be all day. They both seem to have no idea what they are looking at.



    You have to really love when you fool a defense so badly that an atrocious throw is still “good enough,” but Prescott would have loved to make this a bit easier for Jarwin. Thankfully, the Giants already did most of that themselves. Is this straight play-action or a RPO? Usually, you can tell because straight play-action looks more like pass protection and a RPO looks like run-blocking, but on this one, I am torn as it almost looks half and half. I will say RPO, but I am sure the Cowboys want everyone to keep guessing. Keep that in mind.



    2Q – 13:40 – 2nd and 8

    Here we are with pre-snap motion to decipher that the Giants are in man coverage. The Cowboys are now to a point where, in man coverage and 11 personnel, they are comfortable with Dak taking a shot and being opportunistic for chunk plays. We saw this in 2018, and the key was connecting a bit more often. Prescott sees man coverage and fancies Michael Gallup versus the rookie DeAndre Baker #27 on the outside. The Giants are blitzing so he has to get the ball out quick. Once you can see there is no chance for a safety to be there, all it takes is a good throw.



    Now look at the location of the throw. This is magnificent. It is also a sign of an offseason of determination to start hitting these more often. If you go to camp, you can see the red line on the field that guides these throws so that the receiver gives the QB enough space to find a target. It is simply then a matter of having outside leverage, and the cornerback has no chance. This is aggressive offense in a safe manner. If they start hitting on these….



    2Q – 10:54 – 3rd and 10

    Here we go again. They drag motion over to declare coverage and now we have three-over-two on the right. Prescott reads the safety help and goes to the other guy. This is where you appreciate Randall Cobb and his competitive strength to get to the sticks and extend drives by overpowering his man. He has done this for years, and I think Cowboys fans will grow to appreciate how much more dynamic and talented he is than Cole Beasley. Beasley was good at what he did as a slot receiver, but Cobb can do just about anything as a slot or as an outside/vertical threat. Health takes a toll, but he is a player capable of a different level and to have him as the third option is scary.



    2Q – 10:23 – 1st and Goal

    Ah yes, the zone-left, bootleg right to gain leverage advantages down by the goal line. Witten has to time this well and really sells the inside action until the last moment. This is executed well, and the sort of simple tactic you see around the league where red-zone success is about simple concepts run precisely. Jason Witten back in the end zone is a product of just that.



    2Q – 7:26 – 2nd and 4

    You may notice as we enter Drive No. 4 how many second-down pass plays we are seeing, and how often they are schemed-up throws to make things easy on all involved. Look at this concept, which is nothing more than Randall Cobb circling around in a way he does several times as a decoy. Yet, this time, there is no decoy. It is designed to set up a one-on-one situation with his man corner who must run through the traffic across the field and try to navigate all the way to Cobb on the run. Hit him in stride and gain 18 easy yards, because we are using horizontal space to free up playmakers. This is when I started to really enjoy Kellen Moore’s view of football. It feels modern and sensible relative to the top offenses in the industry.

    STOP-DOWN PLAY OF THE WEEK



    2Q – 1:19 – 3rd and 6

    This next play actually includes five videos. You’ll enjoy them all. The Cowboys are up 14-7 here and this is a big drive before halftime where they used to be happy with a field goal to push it to 10 points. Instead, this group is going for the touchdown on 3rd-and-6 and this again is a simple concept against a team with Janoris Jenkins. Motion him out of the way and pick on the rookie deep and without help. Baker may have a nice career, but he won’t forget his first game in Dallas or Amari Cooper, will he?



    Notice the Giants pressure here. They are bringing a linebacker up the middle and then dropping an edge rusher to try to deal with routes at the sticks. Prescott is messing with the safety by trying not to give away anything early, but he was always planning to target Cooper. Another perfect throw, by the way, as Cooper gives him a nice window to place the throw.

    Now, check out this video below from the Cowboys’ excellent “Sounds From the Sideline” series that you can see here.



    This short clip is that play and you can hear Dak and Amari discussing that it was “easier than Philly.”

    Well, they were talking about Week 14 last year against Philadelphia, and this play below:



    Same concept for sure. Hold the safety and let Amari beat his guy, who has no chance.



    Both plays are very similar in that you can see how much of this is Prescott and a single-high safety trying to figure out what Dak is seeing. Again, proper offense means making the defense declare and then proving them wrong. If the safety cheats to Amari, you know Dak has a backup plan. But if you are going to ignore how badly your corner is outmatched by one of the best receivers in football, then all you need is a decent throw. Easy money.



    3Q – 10:49 – 1st and 10

    This play is pretty hilarious. It is the first offensive snap of the second half and the Cowboys line up in the pistol. I have Dallas taking 13 snaps since 2016 in the pistol, and 12 have been running plays. If the Giants did their homework, they know this is a run (93%). Instead, the Cowboys call what appears to be play-action, but Zeke is trying to get to his blitz pick-up and therefore disregards the fake. Amazingly, it doesn’t matter. And the Giants also vacate the middle of the field as the safety looks preoccupied with Gallup on the outside where Janoris Jenkins hands him off. He also appears somewhat confused on what coverage he is running. Regardless, once Dak sees Antoine Bethea trying to run with Amari Cooper, he has an easy decision about where to go with the ball.



    Here is the somewhat comical play-action fake. I didn’t even know if we should give this play the play-action designation, but apparently PFF did. It is a run-fake, I guess. Dak might have put a bit more on the throw to get the touchdown, too, but they will have to settle for 45 yards on the first play of the half.



    3Q – 9:53 – 2nd and 5

    This is a play-action fake against a 2-deep secondary that is not going to let Cooper or Gallup find an opening. Usually, this would be an automatic run because of the numbers in the box (six blockers, six defenders) but what is this modern football? The Cowboys and Kellen Moore still think they should seize golden opportunities if nobody defends Randall Cobb? Heck, look at how open Zeke is, too. The Giants are a mess.



    3Q – 4:03 – 3rd and 8

    Stop me if you are familiar with this Kellen Moore way of life. The Cowboys are up 28-10, they face a 3rd-and-8 in their own end and they are going to attack? This is Michael Gallup hitting what I guess is Cover 1-Rat, but with some very soft coverage on the outside. Once the corner cheats to the sideline, it is an easy throw and catch. Gallup is off to the races after yet another horrid angle by the safeties to try stopping that play at the sticks or so. Aggressive and lethal. Gallup looks like he has taken another step from an already promising rookie season.



    3Q – 1:18 – 2nd and 5

    Here is the touchdown to Zeke. I want to finish with this one because we haven’t shown a single run play, and because even this shows you can be creative with your basic concept. We have seen this Shotgun 11 zone read a million times, but what if you dress it up with Tavon Austin and Jason Witten presenting cross motion that may be options for this concept down the road. If you look at it from the linebacker’s perspective, you see four men crossing at the same point. Odds are Zeke has the ball, but look at the potential options and confusion. Now, the numbers are more in Zeke’s favor and he finishes the run in the end zone.

    You are doing the same things, but with more for the defense to worry about.

    It was beautiful and probably so great that it will be tough to repeat. But if this is a glimpse of the future of this Cowboys offense, we are certainly in for a real treat.
    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

  • #2
    That game was amazing. The play designs were excellent, but the aggression was what I really appreciated.

    My biggest thing is that it will probably be downhill from here facing better competition and more planning as teams start to collect a book on what we do. Hopefully, we don't get too arrogant about it and keep the heat on.

    There are still plenty of things we have not unveiled, Pollard being one of them. He was not even playing the kind of role I believe they envision for him down the road. And dammit if Gallup and Cobb aren't exciting.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by boozeman View Post
      That game was amazing. The play designs were excellent, but the aggression was what I really appreciated.

      My biggest thing is that it will probably be downhill from here facing better competition and more planning as teams start to collect a book on what we do. Hopefully, we don't get too arrogant about it and keep the heat on.

      There are still plenty of things we have not unveiled, Pollard being one of them. He was not even playing the kind of role I believe they envision for him down the road. And dammit if Gallup and Cobb aren't exciting.
      Garrett will insert his authority.

      Thanks.
      New Sherriff DFDC
      #Fire Garrett

      Comment


      • #4
        The thing nobody talks about is that Elliott barely made a mark on the game. How much more effective will the offense be once he's back up to speed and churning out 5+ YPC performances on 20+ carries?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Simpleton View Post
          The thing nobody talks about is that Elliott barely made a mark on the game. How much more effective will the offense be once he's back up to speed and churning out 5+ YPC performances on 20+ carries?
          Be interesting to see what the defense does if we have a few more of these performances from Dak. If they back off then Zeke is going to have more than just 5 YPC.
          #Fire Garrett

          Comment


          • #6
            The Elliott TD is crazy because it presents so many options for Prescott. He can hand it to Elliott, pull it and toss it to his left to Austin on the bubble action, pull it and start moving to his right and toss it to Witten (basically the same play as the Witten TD to make it 14-7), or pull it and run himself to the right.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Rev View Post

              Garrett will insert his authority.

              Thanks.
              New Sherriff DFDC

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Rev View Post

                Be interesting to see what the defense does if we have a few more of these performances from Dak. If they back off then Zeke is going to have more than just 5 YPC.
                Yep, you get the defense to start respecting our passing game, and this offense could be one of, if not the best, in the league. No hyperbole intended.
                2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by boozeman View Post

                  2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Rev View Post

                    Garrett will insert his authority.

                    Thanks.
                    New Sherriff DFDC
                    2018 DCC Super Bowl Bingo Champion

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Simpleton View Post
                      The thing nobody talks about is that Elliott barely made a mark on the game. How much more effective will the offense be once he's back up to speed and churning out 5+ YPC performances on 20+ carries?
                      but we all noticed it. I think that fact had more to do with the shitty Giants secondary than anything else.
                      defense wins championships

                      Comment


                      • #12


                        How you like me now?
                        defense wins championships

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