Slant routes key to Cowboys’ attacking both zone, man in 2024

When Mike McCarthy came to Dallas in 2020, he brought with him his version of the West Coast offense. His pass-heavy attack served him well throughout his NFL coaching career and appeared to be a good fit for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys diverse offensive personnel.

With Kellen Moore still onboard at offensive coordinator at the time, the shift was subtle rather than sudden. But as time went on the Cowboys offense began looking more and more like McCarthy and in 2024 that’s not expected to change.

The Cowboys front offense has made it a point to invest in the passing game in recent seasons. According to West Coast principles, a series of short, high-percentage passes can effectively replace any traditional ground game. And according to recent data shared by Pro Football Focus, the slant route is king in today’s NFL, and perfect for offenses such as McCarthy’s.

Excluding routes at or behind the line of scrimmage, slant routes produced the highest open rate in the NFL, just edging out whip routes at a rate of 62.7%. As one can imagine, throwing to open wideouts is a good thing. Not only does it offer up a higher completion rate, but it has a low interception rate and increases run-after-catch production.

It’s these routes that are often the bread and butter of West Coast offenses and these routes in which the CeeDee Lamb and Prescott connection thrives.

Not surprisingly, openness and success rate change against various coverages. What works well against man coverage may not work well against zone coverage. A hitch route, for instance, only has a 46.8% open rate against man coverage but has a 57.3% open rate against zone. In-breaking whip routes are best against zone coverage, producing an open rate of 65.6%, but drop significantly against man.

The Cowboys have struggled against various zone defenses in recent years and would do well to pay attention to the recent findings. Corner routes are the least successful routes against zone coverage and should therefore be avoided altogether when zone coverage has been identified.

Despite the differences in separation between each route and the coverage faced, slant routes hold up as universally resilient.

Its open rate is only slightly lower against zone coverage, so it’s overall the most successful route to run. Once again, this is excellent news for the Cowboys since slants are effectively the cornerstone of the Dallas passing attack.

Identifying the right routes for the right coverages is important for an offense. Defenses often disguise coverages pre-snap and force opposing quarterbacks to adjust on-the-fly while the play unfolds. Having a bulletproof route like a slant built into most plays is a good way to maintain stability through the air.

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire