There’s an overwhelmingly positive buzz around the Cowboys right now, and why not? A 35-17 shellacking of a divisional foe in which the offense looked unstoppable is definitely cause for excitement. Sure, said foe was the Giants, widely considered to be in the bottom of the NFL right now, but a win is a win. More importantly, though, it was Kellen Moore’s style of calling plays on offense that has everyone so excited.
The freshman coordinator made a big impression on Sunday with the way he mixed things up, using a heavy dose of play-action and run-pass option plays, pre-snap motion, and post-snap misdirection. There were many plays that showed just why Moore is getting so much hype right now, but one particularly good example is the 21-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. Watch below:
There is so much to like in this one play. First of all, check out the personnel group. The Cowboys come out in 11 personnel (three wide receivers, one tight end, one running back). The first wrinkle is that neither Ezekiel Elliott or Tony Pollard are out there; fullback Jamize Olawale is standing next to Dak Prescott in the shotgun. Tight end Blake Jarwin is lined up right outside of right tackle La’el Collins, with Michael Gallup right next to him. Randall Cobb is lined up inside and offset, in Tyron Smith’s blindside, with Amari Cooper out wide.
Before anything else happens, this is already creating confusion for the defense. With both Gallup and Cobb bunched inside close to the line, this has the look of a run play, and under the previous coordinator this is likely a situation where Noah Brown comes in to block. But sticking Olawale in there makes the defense second-guess; It can’t be a run play, why would they draw up a run play for their fullback on third and five?
Then the motion comes in: Cobb trots across the line of scrimmage and settles in between Jarwin and Gallup. This suddenly creates a bunch trio formation for the Cowboys, allowing the potential for rub routes between the three and forcing the defense to focus their attention on that side of the play. It works, and does more than that by exposing the defense’s man-coverage look. When Cobb moves across the field, cornerback Janoris Jenkins comes with him, which tells Prescott that it’s man coverage.
At this point, the Giants have nine men in the box after Jenkins moved over to follow Cobb. Safety Jabrill Peppers is the farthest back of those nine players, standing six yards back from the line of scrimmage. The only two defenders outside of the box? Safety Michael Thomas, positioned deep in the middle of the field (off screen) and rookie cornerback Deandre Baker, now on an island with Amari Cooper. The bait has been taken.
But wait, there’s more. If you notice, right as Cobb gets to his spot between Jarwin and Gallup, Dak tricks the defense with a hard count. The back end of the defense all bites on it. Jenkins and Peppers both take a step back, preparing to get into coverage, and since it’s a fake it has the effect of moving them just that much farther off the line. On the other side of the defense, linebacker Alec Ogletree jumps forward, revealing that he’s blitzing up the middle, and Baker immediately starts backpedaling before realizing the fake and resetting.
Once all of that window dressing is complete, Dak snaps the ball. This is the part where Moore’s situational play-calling really comes into play. At this point, Gallup already had five catches for 84 yards and Jarwin had scored a wide open touchdown, so the defense keys on those two. Jarwin runs a deep corner route that, at first, looks like a simple fly route. That not only brings his man, Peppers, out with him, but it tricks Thomas, the center-field safety, into cheating over towards that side of the field. Gallup runs a shallow crossing route that frees up space for Cobb, who runs out into the slot. Olawale, on the other hand, immediately comes down to block Ogletree, who they know is blitzing because of the hard count. He picks up Ogletree easily, giving Dak the time he needs.
And when Dak gets the ball, he takes a quick peak at Thomas and sees him cheating over to help Peppers against the streaking Jarwin, and then Dak immediately flips his head around to Cooper. By this point, less than two seconds after the ball is snapped, Cooper has already gotten around the rookie Baker and is flying toward the endzone. Baker has just flipped his hips to turn and run with the wideout, and Dak lets it rip. The beautiful ball placement is the finishing touch to a beautifully drawn up play, as there’s no safety help over the top and Cooper gets an ideal matchup.
By the time the ball floats down into Cooper’s outstretched arms, Thomas is making his way over but it’s far too much ground to make up, and there’s nothing Baker can do. The result is a touchdown, set up by nice play design and capped off with great execution from Dak, Cooper, and Olawale in the blitz pickup.