Is the Dallas Cowboys offense better on scripted plays or adaptive plays?

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

Jason Garrett was notorious for being a both a brilliant game-planner and horrific adjuster. Fair or not, his reputation with the Dallas Cowboys for coming out of gates strong on scripted plays was as unrivaled as his inability to adjust his game plan for surprises from the opposition.

Since taking the reins on offense, Kellen Moore has been under the microscope to identify his own strengths and weaknesses. Too many early down runs and an unhealthy affinity for WR screen passes are just some of the issues working against Kellen’s strategy. But what about scripts? What about adjustments?

Is Kellen Moore’s Dallas Cowboys offense better on scripted plays or better within the flow of the game?

Scripted plays are generally regarded as the first 15 plays on offense. It’s a strategic attack made in preparation for the game with little to no adjustments. Once the game progresses, defenses adjust, offenses readjust, and so on and so forth.

The scripted plays speak directly to the offensive architect’s battle plan. It’s based on film the defense has shown in the past, so scripted plays often favor the offense. Once adjustments get made on defense is where things get interesting.

It becomes a chess match between offense and defense. While all credit for scripted success should fall on the offensive play-caller/designer, it’s not so easy for the adaptive portion of the game. This is where the OC and quarterback must work together to find success.

Sometimes it’s an OC calling the right plays and setting his team up for success. Other times it’s the QB calling audibles at the line and saving the day himself. It’s not always obvious.

Clearly you don’t want your offense to be bad in the unscripted portion of the event. It’s generally a red flag that the OC is carrying the offense the signal caller is just along for the ride.

In the same way you don’t want your scripted plays to be definitively worse than the unscripted because… that’s the game plan! If your OC can’t script success he’s probably not helping the team much.

The chart above shows the Dallas Cowboys are pretty darn even across the board. Both scripted and unscripted are profitable and both are enjoying roughly the same margin of success. Dallas is bunched with most of the better offenses in the NFL and that’s good company to keep.

Cincinnati is the outlier in the regular season because they were awful with scripted plays and only survived by their brilliance on the adaptive. They fixed that in the postseason (hence the run to the Super Bowl) and were significantly better on the scripted plays.

LA was similar in that scripted plays carried the offense through the postseason. In fact, they were pretty bad if you take away that early success from the scripted plays.

What does this mean?

It’s a good thing the Dallas Cowboys don’t have an OC carrying the team or a QB carrying an OC. They are in a healthy place right now. But it would be nice to take better advantage of scripting because that’s easy money and clearly a key to success for our two Super Bowl teams this past postseason.

One item that sticks out is the Dallas Cowboys reliance on the running game early. Even though their passing game typically produces four times the expected points per play and operates at a higher success rate, Kellen Moore scripts a lot of runs early.

Perhaps less preordained running plays and we could see a boost in the production of the offense on these scripted plays. Keep in mind, most rushing success comes against favorable box counts and space. Running plays should be the audibles this offense goes to when defenses are cheating too much in coverage. It shouldn’t be the other way around.

How ever you choose to look at this, it should be recognized as  good thing. Both OC and QB1 seem to be working together to make a good offense (in both scripted and unscripted.)

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But it’s clear, the easiest room for improvement is on the scripted portion of the game. That’s what the best teams last year did and that’s what the Dallas Cowboys need to do in 2022.