Has Kellen Moore been holding the Cowboys offense back for the playoffs?

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

There’s a theory that has been circulating for quite some time that Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator, Kellen Moore, has dumbed down the offense in the regular season just so he can catch opponents off guard in the postseason. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps you believe it yourself.

The idea that a young aspiring assistant coach would be holding back optimal play-calling just to catch everyone off-guard in the postseason, is questionable. Ambitious coaches typically strive to show off. They want the world to see how great they are so they can advance to a head coach position as quickly as possible. Opportunities don’t pop up every day, after all.

But there’s reason to believe that’s exactly what’s happening with Kellen Moore and the Dallas Cowboys this season. There’s legitimate reason to suspect Kellen has simplified his playbook playing the “back-nine” of the regular season, so opponent’s can’t properly prepare for the Dallas Cowboys offensive attack.

Kellen Moore may be saving his best play-calling for the Dallas Cowboys postseason

While the Dallas Cowboys finished the season as the NFL’s No.1 offense, their season was really a tale of two parts: Weeks 1-8 they were an offensive juggernaut, plowing through competition with ease and distancing themselves in the race to the NFC East crown.

Then, a shift. Weeks 9-17 were something different. A throwback to the Jason Garrett era. Kellen Moore decreased his runs outside and in space, he steered away from those complementary route concepts, he telegraphed his play-calls with his personnel and alignment. He did things outside of the realm of player execution that indicate he willfully changed the Dallas Cowboys offense to be less-optimal.

Sound crazy?

It sure does, but I dare you to re-watch those early weeks and compare the play design to the latter weeks and not come around to the idea.

Defenses have changed

But things don’t happen in a vacuum and a multitude of variables change outside of the Dallas Cowboys OC’s control. One thing we’ve noticed is opponent’s use of 2-deep/shells/quarters coverage.

Teams have stopped trying to blitz Dak Prescott because, well, he’s the best QB in the NFL against the blitz. Instead, they’ve taken a page out of The Brandon Staley Book of Defense and started packing the secondary.

If you remember Week 2, Staley dedicated resources to stopping the pass – specifically the deep balls. He dared Dallas to beat them on the ground or beat them underneath. It didn’t work because the Dallas running game was performing at peak levels. The Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard duo ran for 180 yards on the ground and all Dak had to do was just take what was given to him.

Recently we’ve seen a similar strategy employed against the Cowboys. But this time it’s working because the Dallas running game suddenly cratered.

The other defensive adjustment made was in their ability to disguise coverage. Knowing the Dallas Cowboys like to get a read of the defense pre-snap and then audible accordingly, defensive coordinators decided to fake one thing early and then flip it upon the snap of the ball. Specifically we are seeing defenses crowd the line, as if to blitz, and then drop back in heavy coverage.

Dak selects what he think is the proper play, but when it’s snapped, the defense falls back and his guys run routes right into the strength of the coverage. If Kellen and Dak knew the coverage, they could call plays to be beat it, but since they didn’t…well…

Maybe that’s why the Dallas Cowboys have suddenly started calling endless WR screens and seem deathly allergic to throws deep downfield. Maybe this explains all of the miscommunication with receivers on their routes as they try to adjust to the coverage mid-play and often end up in a different zip code than Dak expects them to be.

Calculated or organic?

So what is it – a calculated change to lull opponents to sleep in the regular season and catch them unprepared in the postseason? Or is it a natural change brought on by defensive adjustments which the offense is struggling to deal with?

That’s the question at hand.

Because it’s not like Kellen Moore has gone completely vanilla the last two months. He’s sprinkled in hook and lateral plays, rolling mauls, goal line passes to offensive linemen, and end-around WR pass options. Is that him showing us he still has it when he wants it or is that proof he’s giving it all he’s got?

It’s hard to say, isn’t it?

What we know is the offense did radically change from a scheme and strategy side of things. Player execution also took a dip (see also: the O-line) but Kellen has been plainly drawing up different game-plans since the bye.

We also know defenses that press the line pre-snap and then drop back into coverage post-snap have been giving the Cowboys offense fits. It seems weird that Kellen would allow Dak to struggle back there when he secretly has a plan for getting receivers open in his back pocket.

It’s easy to make a case in either direction which probably means it’s a certain degree of both. How much so will be very telling this weekend against San Francisco. The 49ers have seen the blueprint, expect them to follow it. If the Dallas Cowboys look the same as they have through most of the last two months, we’ll know it was defense’s that are to be credited. If Dallas suddenly employs Cover-2 busters and uses defensive tendencies against them, we’ll know it was the boy genius Kellen Moore.

dark. Next. 5 Cowboys who could be on the way out

Trending. How Kellen Moore went from hero to villain overnight. light

What do I think? I think Kellen has been holding back quite a bit. I also believe defenses have been giving this offense problems by dropping defenders into coverage at the last second. Let’s hope it’s more of the former and less of the latter…

  • Published on 01/11/2022 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 01/12/2022 at 15:06 PM