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

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /
3 of 3
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Why did the Dallas Cowboys have one of the lowest pre-snap motion rates in the NFL?

You might notice on the chart from ESPN’s Seth Wilder, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in the same quartile as the Dallas Cowboys. Bruce Arians noted in 2020 his views of pre-snap motion changed with the quarterback he coached, but fundamentally it came down to a matter of execution.

My point of showing you plays with questionably success rates was to point out that while motion can make the job of an offense easier and more defined, if the offense isn’t outexecuting their opposition, they’re going to fail no matter what. (I promise it isn’t old-school propaganda, I’m a fan of making things easy!)

When fans constantly whine and complain about how the front office wants to “line up and execute” their game plan of a physical run game, what they’re saying holds some merit. Just because you add some window dressing to a dive run doesn’t automatically increase the likelihood of the run working, especially in an NFL where linebackers are athletic enough to fill the run from awkward pursuit angles. If you can’t correctly combo block, the run doesn’t stand a chance at getting past the first level.

To put this in perspective, only four teams are currently top ten teams in pre-snap motion rate and run-block win rate: Washington, Kansas City, Green Bay, and Baltimore. Philadelphia, boasting the second-highest run-block win rate, has the eleventh-highest pre-snap motion rate. The Los Angeles Rams, second in pre-snap motion, are twelfth in run block win rate. It’s not an eye for eye deal, talent and execution are a big part of the equation.

So should the Cowboys use more pre-snap motion against their opposition? Yes. I think five percent is criminally low with an offensive coordinator who predicates his weekly game plans on attacking mismatches. Does this necessarily make the offensive more effective? No. I think the answer is somewhere in the middle of “adding more window dressing” and “re-teaching the fundamentals of blocking.” Throw in some offensive line continuity and you might have yourself the perfect antidote to fix the “anemic” offense Dallas presented at the end of the year.

If you aren’t as detailed as Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel are about running the football and optimizing the execution of the offensive line, I truly think adding pre-snap motion is only going to make things harder for the offensive line. Remember, a linebacker moving to a different gap requires the offensive line to adjust accordingly on the spot.

The Cowboys had the top offense all year with a near-bottom motion rate. Their rushing efficiency from early in the year came from good execution and a healthy backfield. As the offensive line played musical chairs, with worse talent might I add, and the backfield took hits, the coaching staff adjusted fairly poorly and it allowed opposing defenses to get more confident in playing press coverage against their receiver and rushing four defensive linemen at a time against their offensive line.

dark. Next. Four moments that altered the Dallas Cowboys 2021 season

This does, however, lead me to my next point of route combinations, but that’s an argument for next time.