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Kellen Moore has one of the least unique offensive schemes in the NFL according to PFF

An interesting critique of Kellen Moore’s offense.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last week generated some interesting discussion when the folks over at PFF deemed Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore as the second-best offensive coordinator in the National Football League. On paper you can look at the Cowboys offense from a year ago and make a great case for Moore, but obviously the way things unfolded over the second half of the season left a bitter taste in people’s mouths. Not everything is about the totality of results, but the totality of results for Moore as winter wore on were not exactly glowing.

General criticism of Moore (who is amazingly entering his fourth year as the team’s OC) has revolved around what the team does (really doesn’t do) in the redzone. He takes heat for not being as creative as his reputation would suggest that he is.

Kellen Moore has one of the least unique offensive schemes in the NFL according to PFF

In keeping with their study of offensive coordinators, PFF recently looked at how “unique” each offensive and defensive coordinator is in the NFL. Obviously that is not exactly an easy thing to assess.

It is worth noting that it isn’t necessary for a coordinator to be unique to be successful. If a team (or coordinator) is good at a certain thing then why not do it at a high frequency? An argument can be made that being extremely unique in terms of scheme is being indecisive or not particularly successful at something worth repeating.

Here is the general idea:

Now, there’s a difference between “what” and “how well.” In this article, I want to use a mathematical tool called principal component analysis to take our extensive play-by-play data and measure similarities between schemes on the offensive side of the ball. The reason for using this approach is that if you’re not careful, extensive data can turn into misleading data in no time if its dimension isn’t reduced.

Here’s one example: play-action rate and eleven personnel usage on neutral downs. While the two variables are not perfectly correlated, there is a correlation, suggesting that instead of having two unique pieces of information, we really have less than two:

PCA takes the linear relationships between all of the variables in a data set pertaining to what offenses are trying to do, which are how much time the quarterback spends in the pocket, how frequently they utilize play-action concepts, which routes they throw, which run concepts they employ, which personnel groupings they use, and much more. Once those are squished together, we can look at the first two principal components, which are the subject of many tweets during the NFL season.

It likely isn’t surprising that the most “unique” scheme in the NFL in 2021 belonged to Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers with Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals coming in second place. Sean McVay and Andy Reid predictably round out the rest of the top four.

The “least unique” scheme in the NFL last season belonged to Joe Lombardi’s Los Angeles Chargers who weren’t exactly bad (they finished fourth in offensive DVOA as one example of that). Interestingly, Kellen Moore’s Dallas Cowboys offense ranked 30th in terms of overall uniqueness.

We know that the Cowboys love 11 personnel and having success in a particular scheme is hardly cause to deviate from it (Dallas finished sixth in offensive DVOA by the way, just one spot behind the 49ers and two behind the Chargers). This has largely been a consistent and predictable (from a scheme standpoint) offense for a while now and some of that even pre-dates Kellen Moore’s time as coordinator.

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