Kellen Moore’s reputation with the Dallas Cowboys is on the line

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

It seems odd to say the most successful offensive coordinator in the NFL is at a crossroads today. After all, the Dallas Cowboys top offensive mind just set records this season. He guided the Cowboys to the top scoring team in the NFL (ell over 30 points/game), he scored touchdowns with the most players in the history of the game (22), and he guided the team to an NFC East crown and a top-3 seed in the National Football Conference.

There’s a reason nearly half-a-dozen have reached out to interview him for their head coaching position.

And while I proclaim myself to be one of Kellen’s biggest and longest supporting fans, I’m also ready to base the bulk of my opinion of the Boise State product on the outcome of this upcoming game.

Sound crazy?

Perhaps, but let me explain…

The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most talented offenses in the NFL regardless of who’s coaching them.

Not to completely diminish what Kellen Moore has been able to accomplish this year, but the Dallas Cowboys are one of, if not THE, most talented offense in the NFL. They are loaded across the board and deep at just about every position. Any coordinator worth his salt can score points with this bunch.

Where good coordinators separate from the pack is strategy, disguise, and creativity. By that I mean a good chef gets the most out his ingredients. You cooked me a great wagyu steak? Well, it better be great considering the quality and price of the cut.

Get where I’m coming from here? This offense is supposed to be awesome. We need them to be great when we need them the most.

While Kellen Moore is fully situated on the “pass happy” side of the NFL spectrum, he’s still suspect in his play choice. Calling as many early down runs as he does is leaving a lot of points on the table (specifically EPA) since Dallas has a net loss in expected points by running the ball and a significant net gain in expected points when passing the ball.

Playing a staunch run-stopping team like San Fran makes this even more of a critical factor (see also article directly below and two articles at the bottom).

Related Story. Early down play-calling is killing the Cowboys offense. light

Disguise is another way Kellen Moore has underwhelmed as of late. When NFL teams roll out 12 personnel (2TE sets), they have a combined 55%/45% run/pass split. When Kellen trots out 12 personnel, the Dallas Cowboys have a 63%/37% run/pass split. You think opponents have noticed that transparency?

Creativity is another way great coordinators separate from the pack. I’m not just talking about “trick plays” here, but overall play design. Putting defenders in conflict is a great way to build a strategic and creative playbook. It’s the reason RPOs took the NFL by storm and it’s why read-and-react attacks continue to thrive.

Related Story. Explaining the RPO, Zone Read, and Play-action in the NFL. light

The opponent today, Kyle Shanahan, is both creative and strategic in his play-calling. He uses motion, shifts, and ever-changing blocking/run schemes to attack defenses. He moves players across the line and mixes in a variety of blocking schemes that all look identical to one another pre-snap. The last part of the 2021 season Dallas wasn’t very sophisticated in their running game and it showed.

None of this means Kellen can’t be that guy the Dallas Cowboys need him to be. He looked like that man for different stretches of the season and there’s a theory that he’s saving his best calls to catch opponents off guard this postseason. 

One play that stands out as a masterpiece of design is this one.  Brilliant play design, simple reads and execution – yet completely missing today. We’re seeing some nice trick plays each week but the overall attack hasn’t been overly sophisticated or very well disguised.

This game is make or break for me because things outside of player execution are needed. A vanilla draw up the middle on 2nd-and-10 is not OK in the postseason. There’s too much at stake to call low percentage and low reward plays like those early down runs up the gut.

I’m looking for Kellen to use horizontal movement before and during the snap. I want to get the ball outside the tackle box, make San Fran stretch. I want less bubble screens and more shots downfield. I want route combinations that make sense and not see 2 guys running to the same destination and then wonder why no one’s open.

I want to scheme guys open and put defenders in conflict again. I want to show jumbo and throw. I want to spread ’em out and run. I want the 49ers defense confused and the Dallas Cowboys offense playing to their strengths and without transparency.

Kellen Moore is cooking with a top-of-the-line commercial grade kitchen. That food BETTER be fantastic. The expectations are higher in Dallas because the ingredients are so good.

I want a Michelin Star, Kellen.

light. Must Read. How much should Dallas try to run on the 49ers?

Do I think he can do it? Heck yes. I think he’s been holding back and he’s about to unleash hell on the 49ers. But if he doesn’t and if he continues to do the same things we’ve seen through most of the last 8 games, then my opinion will drastically change and so should yours.