Few things frustrated Dallas Cowboys more than the offensive play-calling last year. Despite being statistically one of the best offenses in the NFL, the Cowboys made suspect play-call after suspect play-call leading many to believe the offense let too many opportunities slip by.
Conservative play-calling has been a staple of this offense dating back to the Jason Garrett era. And while many things improved with Kellen Moore calling the shots, too many things stayed the same. And in regards to the screen game, some things actually seemed to get worse.
Mention a WR screen pass to Dallas Cowboys fans, and you’ll likely get a pretty passionate response. Despite Dallas’ seemingly low success rate, WR screens have quickly become a staple in Kellen Moore’s offense. It’s no wonder fans have grown to detest them.
The Dallas Cowboys should take note the WR screen is the least effective screen pass there is.
Groans can be heard echoing throughout AT&T stadium the moment that semi-lateral pass is released. It’s not that all of the Dallas Cowboys WR have ended in failure either. Some of the best plays of the 2022 season came on screen passes.
But for every example of a screen pass working splendidly, we have three that unfolded horrifically. And according to Conor McQuiston at PFF, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t alone in the struggles with the WR screen. Across the league, offenses have struggled with outside WR screens.
It’s important to point out, screen passes are a useful tool in every offensive coordinator’s toolbox. They can slow down an aggressive pass rush, counterattack a blitz, and combat heavy box counts. The problem is the Dallas Cowboys screen of choice and the frequency in which they call it.
Looking at the numbers, the WR screen is the least effective screen there is in the NFL. RB screens, TE screens, and slot screens are all more productive methods of attack. Dallas happens to be one of the best TE screen teams in the NFL. Part of that is play design and part is on Dalton Schultz’s ability to navigate traffic (his best trait).
One of the reasons for WR screen troubles is the blocking. Most outside WR screens use fellow WRs as blockers. And WRs are notoriously poor blockers. So it’s no wonder why many of them fail. To combat this, Kellen Moore came up with a solution – flex an extra offensive linemen out wide and use him as a blocker.
While this solution solved the blocking issues, it created an entirely new one: Everyone knows what’s coming. Any defensive coordinator worth his salt is going to sniff this out the second Connor McGovern trots out wide. It worked above but we can’t expect it to work with any kind of consistency going forward.
One of Conor’s findings which was particularly interesting is regarding the cushion being given by the opposing DB. One would think big cushion = big gains, but Conor found no difference in the success of the WR screen based on the distance of the opposition. It didn’t matter if the CB was pressed up or dropped back, they were able to close in on the play at the same rate, regardless.
Even when you combine screen plays with play-action, screens to outside WRs are less optimal than other screens. There are certain circumstances in which an outside screen is a good call but not as many as most of us thought and certainly not as many as Kellen Moore seems to think there are.
As long as the Dallas Cowboys have CeeDee Lamb, we should be ok with an occasional outside screen as a way to manufacture touches, but it can’t be used at the same frequency as it was last season because there are far better play calls on the table which accomplish the same thing.
Now let’s talk about all those early down run calls…
What types of play-calling bothers you the most? Sound off and let us know. Maybe we will break it down and discuss its overall effectiveness in coming articles.