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Forget pre-snap motion and formations, speed of the offense may be Kellen Moore’s biggest innovation

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One big aspect of Kellen Moore’s approach may be overlooked so far.

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Ever since Kellen Moore was elevated to the position of offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, we’ve been trying to figure out exactly what that will mean for the offense. We know that as long as Jason Garrett is here the Cowboys will be sticking with their basic scheme which is an off-shoot of the Air Coryell offense. Moore himself has said that the Cowboys will be running a lot of the same plays but will be dressing them up a little differently.

In the OTAs and minicamp, we started to get a sense of that as the Cowboys were involved in a lot more pre-snap motion to confuse the defense. We also saw them line up in formations and then run plays that go against the grain of that formation; that was a big issue last year as the Cowboys were predictable on offense to the point that defenses were regularly calling out the plays. To get an idea of this predictability:

It’s not that Dallas is incapable of throwing out of run-based formations and personnel or vice versa. They’ve done it before, and with some regularity. But to keep defenses confused by going against the grain to the extent of the Patriots and other teams around the NFL is something they’ve simply chosen not to do in recent years.

Regardless of personnel, when the Cowboys are in shotgun, they pass 82-percent of the time. When the quarterback is under center, they run 71.1-percent of the time. If Dallas uses 11-personnel, they pass on 69.8-percent of plays. They run around 60-percent of the time if they break the huddle with 12-personnel.

So becoming less predictable and changing things up is certainly a priority. Back in May, our own David Howman did a fantastic job of breaking down different concepts Moore might bring to the offense based on the offense that he was involved with at Boise State. All of the pre-snap motion and running different types of plays from the same formation was touched on there, and is something that has been confirmed in the OTA/minicamp sessions.

But there was another item in there that has been somewhat overlooked.

And the cherry on top is that they usually do this in a no-huddle offense, or at the very least they snap the ball very quickly after coming out of the huddle. The entire point is to overwhelm the defensive players with so many moving parts stimulating their senses that it becomes a blur for them.

The Cowboys are notoriously slow in between plays. Tony Romo used to regularly run the play-clock down to under five seconds before snapping the ball. It always felt like a race to beat the clock and occasionally the Cowboys would have to burn timeouts to avoid a penalty. Things were not much faster under Dak Prescott as this was generally the Cowboys philosophy, wait until the last second to get the best read on what the defense was going to do. They also rested their defense with this strategy. This was also discussed in our May article.

One thing that both the Boise State/Washington and Mississippi State offenses have in common is their fast pace. We’re not talking Chip Kelly levels of pace, but still a pretty quick rate at which these offenses get set and snap the ball. Currently, the Cowboys use a slower pace that ideally allows them to be more methodical and allow the defense more time to rest during offensive possessions. But it’s possible to run plays at a fast pace while still holding onto the ball for long amounts of time.

The Rams are one of the most innovative teams in the NFL right now, and they ranked eighth in time of possession for the 2018 season. Yet, they had the third fastest pace with 26.83 seconds per play, according to Football Outsiders. Similarly, Baltimore and New England were the only two teams to average 32 minutes or more in time of possession last year, and yet the Ravens were fourth in pace with 26.87 seconds per play while the Patriots were sixth with 27.01 seconds per play.

For what it’s worth, the Cowboys were tenth in time of possession and 24th in pace, averaging 28.73 seconds per play.

One NFL observer believes the Cowboys will no longer be a slow, methodical team but may join the club of teams that run a tempo offense. Sal Paolantonio talked about this recently in a chat at the Dallas Morning News.

“Now, the big X-factor is just how much is [Prescott’s playing style] going to change with Kellen Moore running the offense? Anybody who knows the DNA of Kellen Moore and where he’s come from, it’s pretty obvious that they’re going to have a lot more formation variation, a lot more motion. It’s going to be a lot faster offense, a lot faster getting to the line of scrimmage, and hopefully the ball will come out faster.

”When you look at it, the bottom line is - and I studied this for the matchup show - the bottom line is Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels have basically caused a quiet revolution in the National Football League over the last four-to-six years - that is line up and snap the ball very quickly. ... You got to get the ball out of your hands quickly in the NFL if you want to be successful. And I think that’s what you’ll see, a much quicker offense and a much quicker decision-making process to get the ball out of Dak Prescott’s hands in this particular offense. And how it will change him as a player is important to note.”

This isn’t something that hasn’t been focused on much because there is no play-clock to beat in the practices and the Cowboys are basically just working to install the new offense. Once we get to training camp, and more importantly the preseason games, we be able to see if the Cowboys actually adopt this aspect of Kellen Moore’s past.

It may be a brave new world for the Cowboys offense.