When Kellen Moore took over as the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys a lot of expectations came that he would improve the offense. Though a lot of the parts coming into 2019 were the same as 2018, the anticipation of improvement was more about what Kellen Moore's mind would bring to the table.
From Moore's first interview with the press about his offensive philosophy to the preseason to the Cowboys victories in their first two regular-season games, the Dallas Cowboys look like a much different team. One area where the Dallas Cowboys are finding much more success in 2019 compared to last year, is in their success using 11-personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, and 3 wide receivers).
As the NFL has evolved and began adopting more spread concepts into the offensive gameplans, 11-personnel has become the predominant formation in the league. 19 of the NFL's 32 teams use 11-personnel more than 60% of the time and 14 of those teams run it at least 70% of the time. The Dallas Cowboys are one of those as they deploy 11-personnel at a rate fo 73%.
The reason 11-personnel has become so popular is that it doesn't give away run-pass tendencies quite like two or three tight end formations typically signify a run or like a four or five wide receiver set can signify a pass. With the rate tight ends and running backs are catching the football in the modern NFL, this formation allows teams to hide their intentions before the snap. Many teams, the Dallas Cowboys included may start out with the tight end lined up next to the tackle and the running back in the backfield and then motion those players out into an empty backfield set with a spread look. This formation allows the Dallas Cowboys and other teams to give defenses multiple looks out without having to change the personnel grouping.
The Dallas Cowboys offense led by Kellen Moore calling the plays and Dak Prescott at quarterback has taken a significant step forward as an offense and a lot of that is because they've increased their use of 11-personnel and their efficiency when deploying it.
In looking at some of the data from last year to this year, we're going to be looking at Warren Sharp's Football Stats and success rates. Sharp Football Stats defines a successful play as one that, "gains at least 40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down." So even if a run on 3rd and 10 goes for nine yards, it's deemed an unsuccessful play because it was unable to pick up the first down yardage. If a 2nd and 10 play picks up six yards, it is considered a successful play. If on 3rd and 1, the offense gets one yard and picks up the first down, the play is deemed successful.
In 2018 under Scott Linehan, the Dallas Cowboys deployed 11-personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) 66% of the time, per Sharp Football Stats. That personnel rate was right at the league average of 65%. The Cowboys success rate in 2018 when running 11-personnel was just under the league average at 45%. It was arguably the Dallas Cowboys most effective personnel grouping when they threw the ball as Dak Prescott had a passer rating of 100.6, but he only averaged 7.2 yards per attempt last season in this formation. They were successful on only 45% of their pass attempts, which put them in the bottom half of the league when throwing out of 11-personnel. Though they averaged 5.2 yards per carry, when the Dallas Cowboys ran the ball out of 11-personnel, they ranked 18th in the NFL in success rate at 49%.
In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys are playing out 11-personnel 77% of the time. That's more than a 10% bump in 11-personnel through the first two games of the season. The Dallas Cowboys have a success rate in 11-personnel of 60%, which is second in the NFL only to the New England Patriots. Currently, the league average success rate out of 11-personnel is only 47%.
When Dak Prescott throws the ball out of 11-personnel, he has a passer rating of 145 (league average is 97), 11.4 yards per attempt (league average is 7.4) and 8.3 air yards per attempt (league average is 7.4). The Dallas Cowboys when passing out of 11-personnel have a success rate of 65%. That's a huge bump from their success rate in 2018 of 45% and much higher than the league average in 2019 of 46%. No team in the NFL has a higher success rate when throwing out of this formation than the Dallas Cowboys.
Let me say that again. No team in the NFL has a higher success rate when throwing out of 11-personnel than Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. Not the Kansas City Chiefs, not the Patriots, not the Los Angeles Rams. Nobody.
When the Dallas Cowboys run the ball out of 11-personnel, they gain the necessary yardage on the down at a rate of 56%. In running success rate, the Dallas Cowboys rank 11th in the NFL, just behind the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Though the offense has a higher success rate when running 12-personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends, and 2 wide receivers), they only use this formation 15% of the time. Dak Prescott's a perfect 8 for 8 when throwing out of 12-personnel with a perfect passer rating. While they've been good throwing out of this formation (100% success rate), it hasn't been nearly as successful for the running game (36%). Much of that is due to the tight formation that comes with running out of a two-tight end set and the extra defender it brings into the box.
It's obvious that the Dallas Cowboys are having a ton of success when deploying 11-personnel, but why? What can we take away from this?
Kellen Moore Effect
Kellen Moore's playcalling has been a breath of fresh air in 2019. Though we're only two games into the season, clearly he knows what he's doing. Sure, the Dallas Cowboys haven't faced the toughest NFL defenses yet in 2019, but they've put 35 and 31 points on the board against division rivals in double-digit victories to start the season. That's not an easy thing to accomplish.
His use of pre-snap motion and varying route concepts has helped the Dallas Cowboys find openings in the defense for their pass catchers. Moore has employed rub routes and picks into the offense as well as more RPO (run-pass options) and read-options that it seemed Scott Linehan was willing to do.
Dak Prescott's Progression
It's really easy to look at what Dak Prescott and the offense have done in 2019 and lay all of the credit at the feet of Kellen Moore the offensive coordinator, but that would short the most important player on the offense; Dak Prescott.
The mental and physical development that Dak Prescott has undertaken over the last nine months has really shown in these first two games. He's shown excellent command of the offense and has been a tactician before the snap. Several times his checks have led to seemingly simple completions because of what he's been able to accomplish before the snap. Because of that, he's been a much more decisive player after the snap, getting the ball out quickly as soon as he makes his reads.
Another thing that's stood out a lot is the way he's used his eyes and body to manipulate the defense or to keep the defense from sitting on throws. Before pretty much every throw from Dak this season, he's checked the coverage on his primary option, looked away, and then came back to the target and delivered the ball on time.
Prescott's always been a sharp player, but he's stepped up his understanding and application of the mental side of the game.
On the physical side, Prescott's showing a lot of development there as well. He's throwing from a better base and maintaining better balance in the pocket and on the move. It appears that he's throwing with more power, which comes from having better lower body mechanics.
Though it's only two games, it's apparent that Prescott's taken a huge step forward and in ways that will translate throughout the rest of the season and his career.
Spreading the Ball Around
Dak Prescott's always been a player that loved to spread the ball around and it has continued in 2019. Through two games, Prescott's completed passes to nine different players. In week one against the New York Giants, he completed passes to seven players and in week two against the Washington Redskins, he completed passes to eight different players. Five different players have a touchdown reception through two weeks.
In this offense, everyone is going to get an opportunity and Dak Prescott is going to flourish with the plethora of weapons.
One thing that has helped has been the chemistry that has developed between Dak Prescott and Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, and Randall Cobb. Jason Witten returning gave Dak another reliable weapon in the passing game.
Opposing teams can't focus their attention on one player throughout a game, because the Dallas Cowboys have too many weapons that can hurt you in the passing game. Even with Michael Gallup out for the next 2-4 weeks, the Dallas Cowboys will look to get Devin Smith, who had a really nice day last Sunday, involved in the passing game in his absence.
Use of Play Action
In 2018, the Dallas Cowboys used play-action on only 24.9 percent of his dropbacks In 2019, the Cowboys are using play-action on 43.1% of his dropbacks. The threat of handing off to any running back, but especially to Ezekiel Elliott, is a powerful weapon in a play-callers' arsenal and Scott Linehan inexplicably didn't use it near as much as he should have.
Under Linehan in 2018, Dak Prescott ranked only 10th in play-action attempts among players with at least 110 play-action attempts per Pro Football Focus. Through two games in 2019, Dak Prescott ranks second in pecent of dropbacks that are play-action and fifth in total play-action dropbacks.
Kellen Moore understands what a weapon play-action is for an offense because it forces defenses to account for their responsibilities in the running game. When defenses don't have to be concerned with the threat of a handoff, then they can key in on their passing game responsibilities, making it more difficult for a quarterback to do his job. When a linebacker or safety has to account for the running game on a given play, it causes hesitation in that player's reaction to the play. Along the defensive line, when they have to account for the running game, they cannot fully commit to their rush right away.
Dak Prescott's always been a really good play-action quarterback, so it's nice to see Kellen Moore utilizing that ability even more than has been in the past. You could argue that the Cowboys could employ some kind of play fake on every play and they'd be able to find success with it.
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The Dallas Cowboys are off to a tremendous start on the offensive side of the football and that's a trend that should continue throughout the 2019 season. Sure, the Cowboys will face much tougher defenses in the second half of the year, but by that point, this will be a team that is firing on all cylinders as long as they're able to maintain a reasonable level of health.
The combination of Dak Prescott's ability and Kellen Moore's offensive philosophy has been a match made in efficiency heaven. With these two working at such a high level, the Dallas Cowboys have an offense that can lead them to the football Promised Land and that elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy.
#DALvsPHI: It’s Make Or Break Time In Dallas This Sunday
The future of the Dallas Cowboys is hanging in the balance.
Despite three straight incredibly disappointing losses, the Cowboys can take early control of first place in the NFC East with a victory this Sunday. With a loss, though, it could all come apart.
The 2019 season. The Jason Garrett era. All of it.
This may sound dramatic for a week 7 game, but the facts are damning for this version of the Cowboys. Not only would a loss Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles be Dallas' fourth in a row, but it would also send them under .500 for the first time all season. And when you look at their schedule moving forward, it's hard to see how Dallas could battle back into true contention.
America's Team has looked wildly unprepared the last three weeks. Getting out played and out coached by the Saints and Packers is one thing, but being embarrassed by Adam Gase and the New York Jets is a whole different level of incompetence.
Now enter the hated Eagles, swaggering behind the words of their head coach Doug Pederson who guaranteed victory over the Cowboys on Philadelphia sports radio to start the week. But, while the rhetoric around the two teams feels a little different, both Dallas and Philly are in similar situations heading into this game.
Both were considered to be Super Bowl contenders prior to the season, with the Eagles even being crowned as the best team in the NFC by most major media outlets.
Through six games though, each has been disappointing, and each sits at 3-3. The only likely avenue for either of these assumed-giants to make the postseason will be by winning their objectively bad division. A wild card run through this gauntlet of an NFC would be tough, especially as it'll likely take 10 wins to get there.
Sunday is a season changing type of game, and for the Cowboys, it's a potentially franchise changing type of game.
A loss would all but seal Jason Garrett's fait in the eyes of Cowboys Nation, barring a miraculous comeback in the second half of the season. It would also continue this talented group's tailspin back down to the state of mediocrity their doubters all predicted and hoped for.
So, for the sake of the 2019 Cowboys and Jason Garrett, they better show up on Sunday night.
5 Cowboys with Big Opportunity as Tyrone Crawford Goes to IR
Though his reputation outside of the locker room seemed to be in question by many in the Dallas Cowboys fanbase always in question, Tyrone Crawford has been one of the more valuable members of the Dallas Cowboys. Despite a salary cap hit that was often disproportionate to the production he provided, his leadership and versatility has always been tremendously valuable to the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line.
Crawford's ability to play both defensive end positions and the 3-technique defensive tackle spot has been immensely important for the Cowboys over the years. When the Cowboys struggled to stop the run, he'd give them a boost at right defensive end. When they needed some pass rush help in the middle, Crawford was the guy they'd turn to.
Crawford's battled hip injuries this year and his inability to get healthy has landed him on injured reserve for the 2019 season. He's always been a solid player for the Cowboys and now Dallas will need to figure out how to redistribute his 20-25 defensive snaps per game.
Though he's been primarily a role player, the opportunity exists for his role to be divided up between several players moving forward. Here are five players who stand to benefit most from Tyrone Crawford's injury.
Kerry Hyder, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle
The player with the best chance to fill Crawford's defensive end/defensive tackle role is Kerry Hyder. Hyder has a lot of experience at both positions and even played some nose tackle for the Detroit Lions last year before signing with the Dallas Cowboys in free agency. In 2016, Hyder showed some pass-rush ability from the defensive end spot as he racked up eight sacks. Though Hyder hasn't recorded a sack yet in 2019, he'll see an increase in his snap count moving forward.
Christian Covington, Defensive Tackle
One could argue that Christian Covington has been the Dallas Cowboys' most disruptive defensive tackle in the 2019 season. He has the highest run-stop percentage of any Cowboys defensive lineman, per Pro Football Focus and the highest run defense grade amongst the Cowboys defensive lineman.
Covington has the ability to play both defensive tackle positions and with Antwaun Woods back as the starting 1-technique defensive tackle, it could provide Covington some opportunities to play the 3-technique spot. Maliek Collins is the starter, but the Cowboys need someone to come in and keep him fresh. On early downs and obvious running situations, Covington might be the better choice for the Cowboys inside to get more production from their 3-technique. Maliek Collins has been an effective pass-rusher, but he's struggled in the run game. Covington could help there.
Joe Jackson, Defensive End
Another newcomer to the Dallas Cowboys with inside-outside positional flexibility that could see an uptick in defensive snaps is fifth-round draft pick, Joe Jackson.
Jackson was able to secure a roster spot out of training camp because of the same type of positional flexibility that Tyrone Crawford has shown throughout his career. Though Jackson's only played 51 snaps this season, he saw a decent amount of work in the first three games of the season, with a high of 26 snaps against the New York Giants in week one.
His snap counts have tailed off quite a bit since playing 12 snaps in week three, and he's been a healthy scratch each of the last two games. The potential exists for Jackson to get more work on the gameday roster in the weeks to come.
Trysten Hill, Defensive Tackle
A player that could use a break is rookie Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill. Hill has been a healthy scratch for three of the Dallas Cowboys six games to start the 2019 season. It's been known that he's a bit of a work in progress, but he has a really good ability to get off the ball and penetrate. He needs to work on securing his base and holding his anchor when being double-teamed.
Hill will be a good player, though his biggest impact may not come in 2019, but 2020. With Crawford to IR, Hill may find himself on the active roster to take some of the snaps at 3-technique defensive tackle. The Cowboys could use him to get some interior pressure on the quarterback to take some of the pressure off of the defensive ends to get to the quarterback.
Daniel Wise, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle
Rookie undrafted free agent Defensive End/Tackle Daniel Wise has an excellent opportunity to be promoted to the 53-man roster this week if the Dallas Cowboys feel the need to add another defensive lineman as depth.
Wise had a really nice training camp and preseason that gave many the impression he could make the 53-man roster out of training camp. Depth at the position made it pretty difficult and he's spent the first six weeks of the season on the practice squad.
Because Wise and Crawford play similar positions with similar versatility, it would make sense for the Cowboys to add him to the 53 this week with their matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles looming.
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The Dallas Cowboys have several decisions to make this week as they attempt to get a win for the first time since beating the Miami Dolphins in week three. They need to figure out who will take Tyrone Crawford's snaps in the defensive end and defensive tackle rotation. They also need to decide who will take Crawford's spot on the game-day roster and the 53-man roster.
Jourdan Lewis, the Change the Dallas Cowboys Defense Needs
The Dallas Cowboys are a mess right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. There's no sugar coating the way they've played these past few weeks. I think the third consecutive loss in a row pretty much speaks for itself. Something needs to change and fast, but what!?
Enter Cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
With both Byron Jones and Anthony Brown currently nursing injuries from last Sunday's game against the New York Jets, Jourdan Lewis should see quite an increase in playing time in Week 7 against the Philadelphia Eagles. I don't know about you, but this could be the change the Dallas Cowboys defense needs.
If you've read any of my previous articles on Jourdan Lewis, then you already know I've been pretty adamant he deserves to be on the field more often. I believe he is the Cowboys second best cornerback, behind only Byron Jones. Unfortunately, since the hiring of Kris Richard last season he hasn't seen the field much.
Kris Richard has a prototype he prefers in his cornerbacks and No. 27 doesn't quite fit the bill. Richard likes his CBs at least 6 foot tall with an arm length of approximately 32 inches. At 5'10", Jourdan Lewis falls a few inches under the height threshold Richard likes, but narrowly misses in the arm length with 31 5/8 inch arms.
It may be pretty obvious, but I personally don't agree with Richard's insistence on playing the CBs that fit his prototype. I think it's flawed, especially as it pertains to Jourdan Lewis. On just about any other team around the league Lewis would be starting, but with the Cowboys he currently sits fourth on the depth chart.
Due to the current injuries at the CB position though, Richard doesn't really have a choice but to play Jourdan Lewis more this week. He may even have to be relied upon as a starter and I believe that could be the change the Cowboys defense needs.
Don't get me wrong, I really like Byron Jones and Anthony Brown. But, neither CB is known for creating turnovers. No. 27 on the other hand has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to come away with an interception. In fact, only Anthony Brown (4) has more than interceptions since he joined the team and that's with far more playing time.
As a rookie, Lewis played 70% of the defensive snaps in 2017. His defensive snaps dropped dramatically in 2018 (18%) after the hiring of Kris Richard. So far this season his snap count has increased from a season ago to 30.17% and could rise even higher due to injuries and opportunity.
I don't expect Jourdan Lewis to fix all of the Dallas Cowboys problems on defense all by himself, but the Cowboys have to start somewhere. He could just be the spark they need to get back on track. At least that's what I'm hoping anyway.
What do you think? Is Jourdan Lewis the change the Cowboys defense needs?
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