It has been a busy offseason for the Dallas Cowboys with some major moves, like getting DeMarcus Lawrence’s contract worked out, signing Randall Cobb, trading for Robert Quinn, and of course the draft picks. None of that has more significance or likely impact than the first major decision the team made. That was moving on from Scott Linehan and promoting QB coach and former team member Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator. It was both a daring and comfort zone move, as Moore is very inexperienced as a coach but has been around the team since Linehan brought him in as a backup QB in 2015. He knows Jason Garrett and his system very well, but now has the responsibility of making it work while bring the changes almost all of us have been begging for, at least for the past couple of seasons.
OTAs are a hard thing to get a lot of solid data from. Mostly they are about installing things, in this case the new wrinkles that Moore wants to use, and integrating newer faces with the established veterans. (For a nice look at what Moore is trying to do at this point, you might check this David Helman piece at the mothership out.) We still dig through reports and video from the one practice a day open to the media. Any tidbit from that is combined with things like who the team has brought in, and who it has retained, to try and suss out just what Moore is going to do.
So far, things have been quite encouraging. Our Connor Livesey took a look at what we may have learned earlier. If you missed it, you should go back and give it a read. This article is going to build on that, probing deeper into how Moore is going to use his personnel, and how that may affect the breakdown of offensive positions on the 53-man roster.
Let’s start with a quote from Connor’s article.
The third, and final piece of evidence we have received after two weeks of OTA practices, is the use of 10-personnel in the red-zone. Multiple sources have reported that the Cowboys have shown in practices that the closer they get to the goal line, the more spreading out they are doing with their wide receivers. For years, the Cowboys have went with a “load it up, and run it approach” when facing third and short, and close to the goal line, but it seems as if that could change.
That gets me pumped up, and probably is very appealing to all of us who were begging for the team to move on from Linehan. One clear departure from the old way of doing things this indicates is the much anticipated use of motion and personnel to achieve favorable matchups. This applies specifically to the red zone, where so much of the time last year the team would go out and basically scream “RUN COMING” with the way they lined up. Now, we have our first solid evidence that Moore really is going to use motion and alignment rather than a bunch of big bodies to try and create running room. At the same time, it makes passing the ball more viable. Unpredictability is seen a crucial to a more efficient offense, and using 10 personnel in these situations does just that. (For any who don’t know how the number is used to indicate the personnel on the field, the first number is how many running backs are used and the second tells how many tight ends are on the field. Subtract that from five, and you also see how many wide receivers are in the mix.) This allows the Cowboys to go after the weak part of the defense. If they still load up the box, you throw the ball, since at least one of the wideouts will be single covered. If they play to stop the pass, hand it off and the offensive line should be able to open up a nice hole because of the numbers. The quarterback can audible to change the play if needed, and it also is a great way to use a run-pass option. RPOs can either involve a handoff or a fake to use play-action, or let Dak Prescott use his legs, with the RB either faking to draw defenders to the middle of the field, or serving as a blocker for Prescott.
You quickly see how the options flow from the personnel package. It complicates the problem for the defense and lets the Cowboys play to their strengths. In this case, those are the offensive line (which looks on track to a return to the superior play that we saw just a couple of seasons ago), Prescott’s athleticism and growing football savvy, and the talents of Ezekiel Elliott and perhaps Tony Pollard. Both of the latter are also good receivers, so that just adds one more level of complexity.
That idea has been discussed a lot since Moore got the nod as OC, but one thing that has not gotten as much attention is how he may use a more old-school aspect of the Cowboys offense, the fullback. It is pretty well established how Garrett likes to use a fullback as part of the offense, but under Linehan, the position was largely unused. I saw somewhere (sorry I can’t find the reference) that Jamize Olawale’s new contract was the first one done after Moore’s promotion. This may be a bit too much connecting the dots, but you have to wonder, as the original source I have lost did, if that was not influenced by Moore. It could indicate a plan to incorporate Olawale more in the offense. And there is already evidence that this might be the idea.
Hard not to be intrigued by what Kellen Moore has planned for Jamize Olawale. 1st team O saw a healthy dose of 21 personnel again today, with plenty of looks going toward the fullback.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) May 29, 2019
Randall Cobb came on in 11 personnel. Noah Brown & Cobb both got 1st team looks. #cowboyswire pic.twitter.com/YWPq1ERWUS
Like Elliott and Pollard, Olawale has some value as a receiver, although many mostly remember a somewhat egregious drop he made in the red zone that fed the idea that execution was just as much a problem as predictability last year. Still, putting what appears to be a running package on the field has some interesting effects in the passing game.
Passing Yards/Attempt by Personnel Grouping: pic.twitter.com/xJweFmV7LZ— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) May 29, 2019
This does not reflect the percentages for running versus passing, but it does make one thing clear. Passing when you have any “heavy” group on the field leads to big gains. It is apparently a perfect example of doing what the defense doesn’t expect. That is believed to be what Moore is going to bring to the table, and the fact the team is working with a lot of two-back sets is indeed very intriguing.
The fact that the team seems to be leaning more to two RBs rather than extra TEs may be the real element of Jason Witten’s “reduced role”. Early indications are that he is the starter, but what looks to be a real change is that there often might not be a TE out there at all, as the 10 personnel quote above indicates. There haven’t been any observations of much use of a 20 package, but then we shouldn’t expect to see all the tricks during the OTAs. Training camp and preseason games will let us know just how much the team is going to de-emphasize the reliance on the TE to run the offense.
That leads to speculating on how the roster will be constructed on offense. This opinion from the resident scouting guru at DallasCowboys.com caught my eye.
Something is not going to happen here. 3 QB or 4 TE. Would not be surprised if they went long at RB. https://t.co/RM8KHF2gHv— BryanBroaddus (@BryanBroaddus) May 29, 2019
While the emphasis in this piece has been on how Moore is going to use his backs and tight ends, the team still needs a good corps of wide receivers to use things like 10 personnel. And it is a given that 11 personnel is going to be the most common package. It is just a key element of Garrett’s philosophy. That means the team will likely go a bit heavy at WR, with six seeming a likely number for the 53-man roster. Dallas has also loaded up on the offensive line, so that may also be heavy, with perhaps nine carried. Clearly, running back is not going to be a place to skimp with a heavier use of things like 20 groups. So the logic of going light at QB and TE makes a lot of sense.
We don’t know for sure just how this will all come together, but one thing is obvious. Moore is having a real impact on things, and either is in complete alignment with how Garrett wants the offense run, or is being given rein to do it his way. In either case, things are looking rather exciting. The roster looks to be loaded with talent all over the offense. If Moore is able to use it properly, and the prospects look good, this could be a potent attack.