In case you missed it, Robert Mays of The Ringer wrote a pretty incredible longform article on Kellen Moore and the changes he’s bringing to the Cowboys offense. It covers a lot of things that are evident to those who watch this team especially closely, but there are a few fascinating nuggets of information unearthed throughout.
For example, Mays breaks down how the Cowboys offense in 2018 was significantly below the league average when it came to pre-snap motion, something Moore seems to be utilizing more of:
Under [Scott] Linehan in 2018, Dallas utilized pre-snap motion on just 31 percent of its plays, according to Sports Info Solutions. That figure ranked 24th in the league and was well below the NFL average of 36.6 percent. The Cowboys’ static approach, replete with passing concepts that often featured the receivers executing the same route combinations on both sides of the formation, made the Cowboys predictable. The hope is that Moore can add more layers to this system, ones that will bewilder defenses. And the early signs point to a more creative approach.
It’s not exactly an uncommon narrative to suggest that Linehan’s offensive scheme was bland and predictable, and that’s likely the reason he is no longer working with the Cowboys. But many people also argued that this scheme’s lack of creativity was holding Dak Prescott back.
There’s been a lot of talk about how rarely the Cowboys took shots downfield under Linehan, and both Moore and new quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna have been encouraging Dak to go deep with more frequency in this new offense. But Mays’ use of a Next Gen Stat in his article points to the notion that Dak actually outperformed his scheme:
One benefit of the increased motion will be the way it creates space for the Cowboys receivers. As defenses around the NFL have shifted toward more man coverage, the static looks Dallas showed under Linehan put the onus on his players to get open on their own. Last year, Prescott’s 67.7 completion percentage was 2.1 percentage points higher than his expected completion percentage (xCOMP), which is calculated based on receiver separation.
A completion percentage higher than a player’s xCOMP typically means a quarterback performed better than his scheme would suggest. More motion and a higher percentage of stack and bunch formations—which teams like the Rams use to create free releases for their receivers—should provide Prescott with wider throwing windows this season. If Moore can consistently create more separation for Amari Cooper, Gallup, and the rest of the Cowboys pass catchers, it will go a long way toward making sure the Cowboys’ $30 million–plus yearly investment in Prescott is worth it.
This comes as a bit of a surprise considering that one of the more enduring criticisms of Prescott has been his lack of pinpoint accuracy, largely due to problems in his throwing mechanics. While we’ve already seen how his improved mechanics look, it’s interesting to know that Prescott actually had a higher completion rate than was expected last year.
Given all of the valid criticisms of Linehan’s play-calling last year, the fact that Prescott was able to compensate for some of that is enlightening as to why the Cowboys feel ready to give him a big contract extension, and why Prescott himself thinks he’s worth so much. As Mays says, if Moore’s use of pre-snap motion, bunch/stack formations, and other window dressing techniques can create more opportunities for Dak, then the fourth-year signal caller could put forth a year that could be worthy of whatever contract he’s about to sign.