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Here’s how the Cowboys’ new-look offense might take shape in 2022

New faces mean new styles for Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The 2022 season will mark the fourth season that Kellen Moore has been coordinating the Dallas Cowboys offense, but there are some big changes on the horizon. For the first time since Moore took over, the unit will be without Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson, Blake Jarwin, Connor Williams, and La’el Collins. That’s a good chunk of snaps that’s gone.

Of course, the biggest part of the equation here is that Dak Prescott - the straw that stirs the drink that is the Cowboys offense - is still here. Stars like Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, and Dalton Schultz are also still around, as are offensive line mainstays Tyron Smith and Zack Martin. Suffice it to say we’re not about to see a drastic overhaul of the offense.

Yet, the Cowboys offense will look different in 2022. At the very least, the numbers on the jerseys will look different, but it’s highly probable that the way this offense functions will be altered to a degree as well. Even the biggest fans of James Washington, Jalen Tolbert, and Simi Fehoko would cede that there’s no talent on this roster that can do the things Cooper could do. Tyler Smith and Jake Ferguson both offer very different player profiles from Williams and Jarwin, respectively. A different set of player types means different ways of playing, but what exactly will this offense look like?

Well, the first thing to get out of the way is that Moore’s offense is built for this. Moore’s offense is built off the bones of the offense he ran as a quarterback at Boise State under head coach Chris Petersen. This system, described in great detail here, prioritizes plays over schemes. In other words, Moore’s offense runs plays that the talent will excel with, as opposed to running certain types of plays because they fit into the larger scheme.

As such, the connection between play-caller (Moore) and quarterback (Dak Prescott) is vital to this operation. Moore has to have an understanding of what his quarterback is best at and Prescott needs to be able to get the rest of the offense on the same page to execute it properly. For the most part, this has worked out very well, with the Cowboys offense posting high marks in every category whenever Prescott has been under center with Moore on the headset. Similarly, Prescott’s individual performance has seen significant a increase in production and efficiency since Moore took over.

Dak Prescott Career Stats

 Time to Throw Completed Air Yards Intended Air Yards Aggression Rate CPOE QBR EPA/play
 Time to Throw Completed Air Yards Intended Air Yards Aggression Rate CPOE QBR EPA/play
2016 2.88 7.2 8.7 20.9% 7.3 77.6 0.276
2017 2.82 6.3 8.4 19.2% 0.1 69.9 0.030
2018 2.82 5.5 7.6 17.7% 1.5 55.2 0.078
2019 2.88 7.6 9.4 18.0% 2.5 71.9 0.210
2020 2.77 6.8 8.0 15.3% 2.7 73.1 0.157
2021 2.75 5.9 8.0 15.4% 2.2 54.6 0.137

If we separate this out between Prescott’s three seasons under Scott Linehan and his three seasons under Moore, there are some very intriguing trends. Prescott’s time to throw has gone down considerably while his air yards statistics have gone up and stayed up. He’s also throwing into tight windows at a much lower rate, which is reflected by the aggression rate. These trends have also coincided with Prescott setting high marks in completion percentage over expectation (CPOE), quarterback rating (QBR), and expected points added (EPA) per play.

There are naturally a ton of factors at play here, but we can see that Moore’s expanded use of more vertical passing concepts translated to better overall production and efficiency from Prescott. Moore balanced this out with quicker passes underneath in concepts designed to gain more yards after the catch (YAC), evident by the Cowboys’ unit as a whole seeing an increase in YAC per reception each season since Moore took over the offense.

Understanding these trends is an important part of guessing where this offense is headed. Cooper and Wilson are out now, and their replacements seem to be Washington and Tolbert. Both players bring with them a profile of a vertical deep threat type, which matches that of the re-signed and recovering Michael Gallup.

Now, who led the Cowboys in YAC this past year? Lamb with 441 yards, and Schultz with 348 yards were the top two. Running backs Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott were third and fourth, respectively. Wilson and Cooper were next in line, with Gallup coming in last among players with at least 30 targets. Gallup is the team’s top deep threat, and also played in six less games than Wilson and Cooper.

Put another way, Wilson and Cooper were the team’s two worst YAC receivers, and they’re both gone now. In their place are receivers who, at least in theory, will do a better job of stretching the field vertically, thus opening things up underneath for the likes of Lamb, Schultz, Pollard, and Elliott.

The final pieces of the puzzle are Tyler Smith and Jake Ferguson. And, to a lesser extent, Terence Steele. The Boise State offense from which Moore’s system is derived features 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) at a very high rate. Let’s take a look at how Moore has used 12 personnel in Dallas.

12 Personnel Usage under Kellen Moore

 12 Personnel 12 Personnel Rank Success Rate Pass Rate Success Rate Run Rate Success Rate
 12 Personnel 12 Personnel Rank Success Rate Pass Rate Success Rate Run Rate Success Rate
2019 18% T-14 53% 37% 59% 63% 50%
2020 21% 14 50% 35% 48% 65% 51%
2021 24% T-10 56% 37% 59% 63% 53%

Moore has been gradually using more and more 12 personnel each year since taking over, and the Cowboys’ success rate out of this grouping has gradually increased as well. Moore primarily uses this grouping to run the ball - 12 personnel has had the highest successful run rate of any formation for Dallas the last two years - but Schultz’s growth as a pass-catcher has made it lethal for the passing game too, especially on play-action where Prescott has traditionally been one of the best passers in the league.

To continue an effective use of 12 personnel, though, Dallas needs great run blockers and a legitimate secondary tight end. Smith’s career at Tulsa was highlighted by his skills in run blocking, and that should translate well to his position switch. Similarly, Steele’s best reps in his strong 2021 campaign came on running downs. Then there’s Ferguson, whose play style at Wisconsin seems to lend itself well to being the second tight end in 12 personnel. All of this in combination seems to suggest we’ll see yet another increase in 12 personnel frequency for Dallas this year.

It’s not often that an offense ships off a highly productive receiver, cuts a top ten right tackle, and waves goodbye to two other starters all in one offseason. It’s even more rare to see such a team make little use of free agency to offset those losses, but that’s what the Cowboys are looking at. With the players they’ve added, though, and the way that the offense has grown under Moore thus far, a plan is apparent. It seems as if the Cowboys want to continue to increase their 12 personnel use while stretching the field vertically to open up more for their pass-catching fixtures in Lamb and Schultz. Only time will tell if the retool actually makes the offense better.