Dallas Cowboys: How motion unlocked the offense and boosted CeeDee Lamb

Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

Just when you think you have the Dallas Cowboys offense figured out, they go and do something completely different and prove they are an ever-evolving entity we may never fully understand.

Whether they are constantly airing it out in 11 personnel, stacked up in 13 personnel with their three tight ends, going run-heavy/play-action on early downs, or using excess offensive linemen as TEs and lead blockers out of the backfield, the Dallas Cowboys are mix bag of philosophies and evolving before our very eyes.

The second definition of the word evolution describes it as such: “the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.”  If that doesn’t describe Kellen Moore’s Dallas Cowboys offense I’m not sure what does.

The Dallas Cowboys built their attack last week on something we hadn’t seen much of – motion. And it paid off enormously…

For years we’ve seen how motion at the snap positively impacts offensive production. Seth Walder’s data from 2017 to 2021 tell us it offered a 0.08 EPA (expected points added) boost for the intelligently run offenses that bothered employing it. It was a cheat code for intelligent play-callers and gave the new school a decided advantage over the old school.  FiveThirtyEight even calculated you could accurately predict the winner of a game 65% of time simply by tracking each team’s play-action and pre-snap motion.

While pre-snap motion is largely used to expose coverages and switch run-fits, motion at the snap catches defenses off balance and gives the offense better leverage and free releases. Kellen Moore had dipped his toe in the pool of motion at the snap before but had yet to jump in completely. On Sunday, he jumped in head first leaving many of us to ask, “what the heck took you so long?”

Yards are yards and if you can deliver a ball to a player four-yards deep with room to run, why not?

Mike McCarthy, part old-school/part new-school, is on record for not particularly liking motion, so that could have played a part in its sparse usage. It’s also linked to an increase in delay of game penalties so that could have also discouraged Kellen from using it much.

Whatever the reason, it was a big part of the Dallas Cowboys game plan last week and with any luck, will be a big part of future game plans as well.

CeeDee Lamb specifically profited on offense. According to Next Gen Stats 42 percent of Lambs snaps had him shift or go in motion (a career high) last week. To take it a step further, ALL 94 of his scrimmage yards came off that motion.

The Ravens, Rams, 49ers, Chiefs, and Dolphins are all top-8 in motion at the snap. It’s no coincidence all five are also led by some of the brightest and most well-regarded offensive minds in the game. That alone should tell us something.

The Dallas Cowboys know this first-hand now because they saw CeeDee Lamb produce one of the best games of his career. It’s not just about getting him open to make the reception, it’s getting him open with separation so he can collect yards post-catch. That’s why the same teams that motion their receivers at the snap, generally have the most YAC.

Yards are yards and if you can deliver a ball to a player four-yards deep with room to run, why not? You don’t need a high ADoT to have a high yards/reception, after all.

By moving CeeDee Lamb across the formation, cornerbacks have to either give chase (man) or pick him up in their zone at the last second. Either way, it’s harder to get squared up and in position, harder to dictate leverage, and harder to adjust to the angle and/or speed of the moving target.

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Motion is free money and all the Dallas Cowboys have to do is pick it up. On Sunday, Kellen Moore picked it up and was rewarded immensely for it.