Dallas Cowboys and Kellen Moore: Thin ice or safe and secure?

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Over the course of roughly nine months, Cowboys Nation has cooled on their collective love for Kellen Moore. The Dallas Cowboys’ 33-year-old offensive coordinator began the 2021 NFL season as one of the hottest young coaches on the market.

After allegedly rebuffing head coaching opportunities elsewhere, Moore stayed in Dallas to finish what he started: building one of the NFL’s best offenses. And the 2021 season began as good as anyone could have hoped; the Dallas Cowboys were top-5 in nearly every offensive category, they were breaking club records, and scored points at will. By the bye week, it seemed Moore’s trajectory was aimed higher than any other assistant in the league.

Then it happened.

As we discussed yesterday in, Fixing the Cowboys Offense: Beating the shell defense, the Dallas Cowboys stubbled mightily down the stretch. Aside from a few stat boosting performances against inferior opponents, the Cowboys were nothing short of pedestrian against the NFL’s newest defensive craze.

While the defense improved week after week, the offense struggled, putting up just nine points against the Chiefs, 22 points against the Cardinals, and 17 points in the home playoff loss to the 49ers (just to name a few notable offensive shortfallings).

Suddenly the man once known as “boy genius” was the now the man left holding the bag. And Cowboys Nation was all-too-happy to light the torches and grab the pitchforks to assist the Joneses in their upcoming offseason renovations.

Kellen Moore is more secure in his posting than many Dallas Cowboys fans realize.

It’s understandable Cowboys Nation turned their backs on Moore so quickly. The 2021 Dallas Cowboys appeared to be something special. They were loaded throughout and seemed destined for greatness. The offensive collapse was one of the most disappointing developments experienced in years.

Blaming the OC seemed obvious and deserved.

But the manner in which the offense collapsed matters, because when you look closer, you can see it wasn’t the game-planning that failed the Cowboys, but rather the offensive line. Something we have been harping on all offseason is how bad the O-line played after the bye.

Tyron missed more games than he played after the bye week and the trickle-down effect of mixing and matching only made things worse. Teams realized Dak was carving them up when they blitzed so they stopped blitzing. They realized they could stop the run and pressure Dak with just four linemen.

Defenses knew that passing under duress into a secondary of seven defenders favored them greatly and Dak didn’t have time to let plays develop since he was often running for his life. More players kept in to help pass protect meant less players running routes. I don’t have to tell you, three WRs against seven defenders is not an ideal ratio for an offense.

What was Kellen Moore to do?

Sure, he could have game-planned for shells coverage better and helped Dak diagnose this coverage better in games, but at the end of the day 75% of the blame fell on the offensive line. The best way to beat Cover-2 is with Air Coryell-like offenses, but in order for that to be effective the ground game has to work and the passer needs time in the pocket. Kellen didn’t have either.

With the exception of Dak Prescott’s missed games in 2020, the Dallas Cowboys offense has consistently ranked anywhere from No. 5 to No. 1 under the leadership of Kellen Moore. Moore, the key carry-over in the Jason Garret-to-Mike McCarthy transition, has blended multiple offensive philosophies, front office preferences (edicts, if you will), and his own personal creativity to give the Cowboys stability and success.

Keep in mind, transitioning from one head coach to another is no easy task. The Dallas Cowboys front office insisted on it much like they insisted Wade Phillips take on Jason Garrett for the same role a decade prior. Even though Mike McCarthy said the right things publicly, we know keeping Moore on staff (waiting in the wings) was not his idea.

And when pointed questions flew at McCarthy about how the offense was struggling, he was quick to defer those questions directly to Moore, rather than explain or defend his assistant himself. The situation wasn’t/isn’t toxic, but it’s not exactly a rose garden either.

In all, Kellen Moore has had to deal with an awful lot for a three-year offensive coordinator. When you think about the circumstances, he’s done pretty darn well.

This is in no way an apology piece for Moore, though.  He has to get better as a play-caller and needs to get back to passing more on early downs (teams want Dallas to run early), relying less on third downs (take big shots early), use more motion at the snap (Cowboys are one of the worst), and be better prepared for coverage heavy looks (it ain’t going away).

But Kellen Moore is still a hot name on the NFL watch list and will be a highly sought-after coach regardless of what happens in 2022. If he can’t get the Cowboys back to a top-5 offense, it’s probably because Dallas failed to fix their offensive line (which is a GM issue) and not because Moore can’t figure out how to call plays.

For those thinking Moore is on thin ice this season, think again. He’s standing on solid ground and highly regarded in The Star as well as around the league.

Must Read. Why the Cowboys running game has been failing. light

Mike McCarthy’s probably gone after the 2022 season but will Moore be back? Tough to say but he’s probably closer to getting a head coach promotion than an assistant position demotion.