Dallas Cowboys: Play-calling still holds some lingering concerns

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys offense looked brilliant in Week 1 but there are still some concerns that must be addressed before we can call this offense optimal.

Here’s an unpopular take: It’s not necessarily all sunshine and rainbows on the Dallas Cowboys offense this season. I know! <gasp> How dare I say something critical about the great Kellen Moore, right?

But with only one game of play-calling under his belt, perhaps the wise avenue to take is the cautious path. I mean, play-calling inherently looks great when it works. It’s when it doesn’t work where we can actually critically assess.

Criticizing play-calling is usually a ridiculous endeavor. As fans we don’t always know what the initial play-call was or the audibles that were built in. The play progressions might be unknown and the specific tendencies of the opposition may be overlooked. A lot goes into play-calling that we as the media and fans are not aware of, so when we criticize play-calling simply because it didn’t work (or praise it because it did work), we really don’t have a leg to stand on.

After all, great play-calling needs execution to work. If players don’t execute, we can’t pin all blame on the play call, right? But some criticism does universally exist – even when key factors mentioned above are unbeknownst to us.

Passing on first down

We know that nothing is more fruitful than passing the ball on first down. The run-run-pass model has been debunked and largely replaced with a pass-pass-run blueprint (obviously situation plays an enormous role).

Last season the Dallas Cowboys were 8x more successful passing on early downs than they were rushing. Eight Times!!! Look at the top offenses in the NFL and you’ll see they make it a point to pass on first down more often than not. EPA is the highest then, Total QBR is highest, and yardage is the highest on first down passes.

The proof is overwhelming:

So it was good to see the Dallas Cowboys come right out of the gates firing the ball downfield on first down. But extended drives (and massive success) masked the actual proportion of those first down throws.

I tracked first down passing vs first down rushing on Sunday (something I plan to do all season) and first down rushes still outweighed the passing. For fairness sake, I excluded the entire fourth quarter since the game was in hand and rushes were obviously going to increase. I still counted 10 first down passes to 14 first down runs.

This is only one game but it’s something we should keep a watchful eye on going forward.

Numbers based running

We know when to run the ball and when not to run the ball. The best rushing teams in the NFL (those with high EPA, high success rates, and high YPC) run the ball when the number of players in the box favor the offense. That’s really what’s separated the Rams from the Cowboys as of late. Dallas runs into 8-man boxes while LA spreads defenses out and runs into thinly populated boxes.

The Giants were once again determined to stop the run. But Kellen Moore’s offense used motion, personnel, and formation to unload the box and present the RB with some attractive match-ups.

The Dallas Cowboys took a step in the right direction on Sunday but it was still far from perfect. They still ran up the middle in situations that warranted the ball to go elsewhere. Like the section above, this area deserves credit but it wasn’t as good as it could be because sometimes the Cowboys forced the run when the advantage was clearly with the defense.

Next. Did the Dallas Cowboys Improve Their Run-Defense Enough?. dark

Just to be clear: Week 1 went about as good as we could have hoped for Kellen Moore and the Dallas Cowboys offense. It’s safe to say I’m a huge fan. But in victory it’s a great time to critically assess and these are two items worth watching going forward. They improved significantly, but should probably improve more. And I think they will.

  • Published on 09/11/2019 at 11:00 AM
  • Last updated at 09/11/2019 at 07:11 AM