New Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has been showered with praise through his first three weeks on the job. And, deservingly so.
Moore’s offensive play calling has taken what was a middle-of-the road unit in 2018 towards the top of the league so far this season. His use of pre-snap motion, shifts, and play action have all been praised as reasoning behind the Cowboys sudden offensive revolution. All of these aspects of Moore’s schematic changes are important to their success, but the personnel groupings have also played a major role.
The Cowboys have primarily used 11 personnel this season, meaning they have 1 running back, 1 tight end, and 3 wide receivers on the field together. They’ve also used far less 12 personnel this season, meaning they haven’t went to two tight end sets as often as they had in the past. Even when they have used “big” personnel groupings, they’ve mostly done so with shifts and motions being utilized as well to keep the defense off balance. This offense has been the furthest thing from predictable.
Kellen Moore debuted a new personnel grouping during Sunday’s win over the Dolphins, 20 personnel. This, if you haven’t caught on yet, means the Cowboys came out with two running backs and no tight ends on the field. The two running backs being Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, each dynamic and dangerous in their own ways.
The play the Cowboys used from this grouping was a simple swing pass to Tony Pollard. They came out with Dak Prescott split by each back, with Pollard coming in motion around Prescott and out into the flats at the top of the screen. Prescott quickly faked the ball to Elliott on an inside zone look up front, and swung the ball out to Pollard for the completion.
By using the motion pre-snap, the Cowboys set up a 3 on 2 situation at the point of attack. Pollard was led by two blockers ahead of him, and was able to be elusive enough to make a man miss off Cobb’s missed block. Football is often simply a numbers game, if you have more guys than they do at the POA, you will win more often than not. The Cowboys used motion to get the numbers advantage here, and picked up an easy first down.
While this seems like an inconsequential play, it got me really excited for the possibilities the Cowboys can use off of this.
Of course, Prescott could simply hand the ball off to Elliott here and the Cowboys can run inside or outside zone. By using Pollard in motion to the backside, however, the defense will be forced to pay attention to too much in the backfield, and account for the swing pass as well. This could give Elliott extra space between the tackles as the defense is moving around pre-snap and getting confused.
The Cowboys can also use this exact look, with the same motion, to run the option. Later in the game we saw the Cowboys use speed option with Pollard as the pitch man, but they can add Elliott as the zone action here as well. This would make Elliott, Prescott, and Pollard all threats to run the ball. That’s a lot of information for a defense to process and defend.
And, maybe my favorite option, would be to take a downfield shot using this look. Now that defenses have seen the swing pass, and potentially the inside zone/option off of this, Prescott can bait the defense to attack Pollard, leaving someone like Amari Cooper open to run down the field.
Pump fake the swing pass and sling that thing down the field. The Baltimore Ravens did something similar two weeks ago, and it resulted in a touchdown to tight end Mark Andrews.
Kellen Moore is helping to make this Cowboys offense one of the most explosive in the league. By developing all different plays and options off the same look, Moore will continue to keep defenses guessing in 2019.