Entering 2019 Dallas Cowboys fans hoped for a lot of changes under Kellen Moore’s reign as offensive coordinator. The first of which, in many minds, was an increased use of play action.
Sure the Cowboys have running back Ezekiel Elliott, but they were going to need to be efficient in the passing game to win games. And Moore understood that. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott saw much success off play action, ranking sixth in play action passing attempts and third in play action passing yards in 2019.
Pro Football Focus added to this list of accomplishments this week, releasing that Prescott tied for third among all NFC quarterbacks with 9 touchdowns on play action plays last season.
This is now another stat which places Dak Prescott among the NFL’s best quarterbacks, despite what some of his detractors would say. But for as good as Prescott and the Cowboys were off play action last season, they need to lean even further into these play calls this season.
Back in January of 2019, FiveThirtyEight’s Josh Hermsmeyer ran an article explaining that the NFL under-uses play action passing as a whole – and that there is little evidence to suggest a team can run too much play action. Yes: there is almost no evidence of diminishing returns when it comes to play action use. No matter how much you use it, it remains effective.
Football coaches still put a heavy emphasis on stopping the run, particularly on early downs. Conventional football wisdom says that first down is a running down, despite what EPA data would suggest offenses deploy, and defensive philosophies have fed into this for decades.
So even as the Cowboys, and the league as a whole, have seen their play action rate increase in recent years, there’s no reason to back down from this offensive resolution. Play action, RPOs, and any other types of misdirection in the backfield are what keep increasingly athletic opposing defenses off balance in today’s game.
The Cowboys have a quarterback who excels in these situations, especially when given the option to run the ball himself. It’s time for them to fully embrace this natural advantage.