It’s not exactly a popular strategy in Cowboys Nation to give praise to Dallas’ offensive coordinator Kellen Moore these days. Over the past 11 months, Moore has fallen from favor in many Dallas Cowboys fan circles and has served as the resident scapegoat, blamed by many for the issues that have plagued this once-dazzling offense.
It’s hard to believe one year ago today, Moore was considered the top offensive coordinator in the NFL. He was the architect behind the best offense in the league and was one of the hottest names on the future head coach market.
A few months later, fans were calling for his head. Unable to overcome injuries to Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and half of the offensive line, fans wanted to blame someone and play-callers are traditionally who people turn on first.
But that was last season and this is this season. And my friends, Kellen Moore is saving the Dallas Cowboys offense with his design and play-calling.
Kellen Moore is the real reason this Dallas Cowboys offense hasn’t gone off the tracks this year
A couple weeks ago we discussed scripted plays vs non-scripted plays. Throughout the Kellen-Dak era, the Dallas Cowboys have been strong in both categories. We pointed out that scripted plays are a direct result of game-planning. Good OCs win with their scripted plays. Plain and simple. It speaks to the strategy and design. If you can’t script plays, you probably shouldn’t be an OC.
Non-scripted plays are a shared responsibility between coach and QB. Both entities need to be working in order to thrive here. The OC needs to adapt his attack and the QB needs to be able to execute it without the benefit of practicing it all week. As we said before, historically the Cowboys are strong in both when Dak and Kellen are in place.
Over the past three games, Rush has thrown roughly two interception-worthy balls per game
This season (largely with Cooper Rush at the helm) the Cowboys are good on scripted plays but they are at the other end of the spectrum in non-scripted. That indicates Moore is still winning when the onus is on him, but when it’s a collaborative effort after those first 15 plays, things bog down.
Recent weeks things have gotten a little better on non-scripted plays, but they still are behind league average and still far behind the offense when Dak Prescott is QB1.
So how are the Dallas Cowboys still finding a way to win, despite the fall-off in QB play and non-scripted plays?
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How is Kellen helping Cooper?
What Kellen did was make things easy on Cooper Rush. Knowing his young O-line is far better run-blocking than pass-protecting, he regularly uses the run to keep pressure off his QB. He still is using early downs as passing opportunities (key in modern day football), and isn’t afraid to sling it down field (avoiding dink and dunk temptations), but generally speaking, the Cowboys are running the ball more often, even though their running game hasn’t been great (22nd in the NFL in EPA).
What this does is prevent Rush from getting overexposed. Over the past three games, Rush has thrown roughly two interception-worthy balls per game. Simple math tells us regression to the mean is coming and interceptions are inevitable. The fewer throws, the less likely, so Kellen Moore has only unleashed his back-up signal-caller sparingly.
Another thing Moore is doing is getting the ball out quickly. For as happy as we are with Tyler Smith and Terence Steele’s development as OTs, they aren’t being asked to hold blocks too long. The Dallas Cowboys are bottom-3 in pass-block win-rate so Moore can’t afford to let Rush sit in the pocket.
According to Next Gen Stats, Cooper Rush is the fourth fastest QB on his throws this season. Kellen doesn’t want him sitting back and going through a full slate of progressions. More often than not, it’s 1, 2, out. That’s it. He can’t afford to lean on this QB like he does with Dak, he needs to design smart route combinations that open up relatively quickly for Cooper Rush.
Despite only making a portion of the expected throws, Rush is still just inside the top-10 in EPA per drop back thanks to some pretty nifty play design
While Rush should be commended for making some big throws and playing a role on a winning team, we need to keep in mind his completion percentage over expected (CPOE) is well below Dak’s lowest point, and at -3.4, he ranks just 26th in the NFL this season.
Despite only making a portion of the expected throws, Rush is still just inside the top-10 in EPA per drop back thanks to some pretty nifty play design and good WR separation downfield. To put it another way, Cooper Rush is in the bottom-10 in execution but top-10 in production, and that’s largely because of play design.
By all means, Cooper Rush deserves praise for his play these past few weeks. He’s kept the Dallas Cowboys season alive by throwing some pretty impressive passes. But the Cowboys are winning because of defense and the offense’s success has been because of Kellen Moore.
Kellen Moore has saved the offense by making things easy for his QB and taking pressure off his offensive line.