Concerning? Dallas Cowboys defensive coverage was top-10 in predictability

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

We know the Dallas Cowboys offense has been notoriously predictable over the years. When Dallas brings out extra tight ends, they run the ball at a much higher rate than typical teams do with the same personnel (67% in 13 personnel and 63% in 12 personnel). And when they add a third receiver in 11 personnel, they pass at a higher rate (70%) than the typical team passes in the same personnel.

Predictability had been a criticism of this offense for years. It’s allowed defenses to adjust and scheme in order to match-up with the task the offense is unabashedly telegraphing. This makes things harder than they have to be for the Dallas Cowboys and should be addressed this offseason as an opportunity to improve upon.

But the predictability doesn’t stop with the offense on the Dallas Cowboys. The Dallas defense has had their share of predictability as well…

In regards to coverage scheme, the Dallas Cowboys are one of the most predictable teams in the NFL

It turns out the Dallas Cowboys defense, a unit that saw massive improvement in 2021, is also extremely predictable in their deployment. Defensively, the Dallas Cowboys roll without much variation in coverage. Unlike offense, this is less about surprise, but more about variation.

In Arjun Menon’s charting above the Dallas Cowboys were bottom-10 in the NFL last year. And diving into the numbers it’s a believable conclusion (shown below).

But what does this mean?

Not much by itself. You’re not going to take your best players off the field or away from their strengths just to win the battle of “unpredictability.”  Looking at the charting, the most unpredictable team in the NFL was the Detroit Lions. They’re not exactly a model franchise now are they?

Detroit finished 2021 as the 29th ranked defense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA score. Dallas was second in the NFL in defensive DVOA. Joining Dallas at the top of the board was Buffalo, New Orleans, LA Rams, and New England. Those teams finished all over the predictability chart – both less predictable and more predictable than the Dallas Cowboys.

Predictability of coverage doesn’t have as much to do with success, as calling the right defense does. The Dallas Cowboys may not have varied much but they were good at the task at hand and finished as the No. 2 ranked pass defense in the NFL (with a large margin between them and No. 3 ranked New England).

Transparency is different than predictability

Disguising coverage is still a worthwhile task which Dan Quinn should continue to work on. Just because you lean on certain coverage schemes more often than not, does not mean you need to telegraph you intentions pre-snap every time. Just about any QB worth his salt can pick you apart if he knows what coverage you’re deploying.

The Dallas Cowboys may be bottom-10 in unpredictability but that doesn’t mean it’s a problem. Dan Quinn has them on the right track and as long as he continues to disguise coverages pre-snap, the Dallas defense will continue to be one of the better units in the NFL.

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Let’s focus on transparency more than predictability