Why didn’t the Dallas Cowboys use more pre-snap motion?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /
1 of 3
dallas cowboys
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys offseason is still in a stage of infancy and with the coaching carousel expected to hit its conclusion in the coming week, there is no better time to explore the questions that many fans ask, but few know the answer to?

The Cowboys’ offense was red hot to start the season, rushing with elite efficiency while pushing the ball downfield as easily as a professional bowler scoring 200 in ten frames. The offense looked easy, and based on some of the quotes OC Kellen Moore and QB Dak Prescott gave, it seems they wanted to find the simplest way to generate yards and score touchdowns.

But for whatever reason, the offense looked out of sync once the season reached its halfway mark. The rushing attack wasn’t as effective, Prescott looked timid trying to push the ball down the field, and drops were becoming a growing problem.

As we later learned, starting running back Ezekiel Elliott tore his PCL roughly around week five which unsurprisingly affected his performance down the stretch. Tony Pollard had torn his plantar fascia and had sat out weeks to rehabilitate his injury. Michael Gallup, unfortunately, had a double whammy of injuries this season with a strained calf injury to start the season and a torn ACL to end the season.

Amari Cooper had COVID, which he recovered from fairly quickly, and CeeDee Lamb had a concussion, which he also recovered from in two weeks’ time. This doesn’t even mention the injuries Blake Jarwin and Sean McKeon had at various points in the season.

The Cowboys’ offense was firing on all cylinders, yet as the cylinders started to wear and tear the team was never able to generate the same production down the stretch, and it ultimately cost them any chance at a playoff run.

However, injuries aside there are some things the offense did that could be better moving forward. Kellen Moore’s offense, at its essence, is about throwing a curveball at the defense and seeing how they react to it. When he wants to attack from spread formations, he wants to see how the defense stacks the box to potentially run the ball into a favorable count. When he condenses the players into stacked and bunched sets, he wants to test if the defense will play disciplined towards the boundaries allowing for crossing routes to get separation.

There are many questions we can ask, but the one I want to ask today is about the team’s use of pre-snap motion. When the offense was humming, the offense used bottom-half of the league rate in motion. When the offense wasn’t humming, the motion percentage unsurprisingly got worse.

As you’ll see in the top half of the graphic, teams like the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, and Buffalo Bills use motion anywhere from three to five times the rate of Dallas. For an offense with a creative mind as Kellen Moore, how did they get paired with Byron Leftwich instead of Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, or Sean McVay?

We will try to answer that question in addition to why teams use motion, when it works, and when it doesn’t work?

Consider this the first part of an offseason series figuring out the tendencies of the Dallas Cowboys offense.