Before we get into the meat of things, it is always terrible to see a football player’s dreams shattered by injury. Kellen Moore was working his heart out for the Dallas Cowboys. This was his chance to make a roster and prove he belonged in the NFL. Losing his best opportunity to a freak accident, where his offensive lineman was shoved back by the pass rusher and stepped on Moore’s ankle, is simply tragic. It was a case of his foot being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now he faces surgery, and the lengthy recovery time means his season is almost certainly over.
But having said that, there was always a problem with Moore as the primary backup to Tony Romo. He was simply the wrong quarterback in the wrong system.
Between minicamp and the start of training camp, our podcast team of Landon McCool and Joey Ickes ran an incredible series detailing the Cowboys’ offense, which is based on the Coryell system. If you haven’t listened to their series, you are passing up on a free graduate level course in football. One of the key attributes of the Coryell offense is that it is designed to stretch the defense vertically through the use of deep pass routes. The important thing is not winding it up and throwing forty or fifty yards downfield every other play. It is having a receiver or two that can carry defensive backs down the field and a quarterback that can get the ball on target when the receiver is open. The threat of that pass forces the opponent to defend the receiver or receivers who go deep, opening up other opportunities underneath and in the running game. Romo clearly is able to make the requisite throws. Based on the limited data so far, rookie Dak Prescott and second-year player Jameill Showers can also make those throws.
Moore simply has never demonstrated that ability. He is a short passer (not referring to his height). He basically operates within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, and in reality is making most of his throws within ten yards. His game is very poorly suited to the Coryell offense. What he does fit is the West Coast offense, a scheme that is designed to stress the defense horizontally, or sideline to sideline. It is centered around short throws, quick opening routes, lots of passes to running backs, tight ends, and slot receivers, and seldom has the quarterback go deep. Moore’s relatively weak arm would be much more serviceable working the West Coast system, and his penchant for checking down would not be as big an issue their, either, since so many passes in the WC offense are short throws that depend on YAC to move downfield.
This is something that has seemed glaringly obvious when you watch Moore run the offense. Landon McCool has been covering training camp, and just before Moore’s injury he made an observation about Moore on Twitter (which I quote rather than embed due to a colorful turn of phrase in the original): "Honestly? Before he got hurt, I commented at least twice, that he is (messing) up the flow of practice with a lot his throws." It is sort of like the old Sesame Street bit. If you put all the Dallas quarterbacks on the screen and ask which one is not like the other, Moore is the obvious choice. His game is so different from the rest, and it extends beyond his arm. He is relatively slow of foot and lacking in evasiveness, where the rest of the group are all very mobile.
There has always been a suspicion that Moore had his spot on the Cowboys’ roster almost entirely because of Scott Linehan. That is still hard to grasp, since Linehan has to be aware of how different Moore’s game is from the rest of his QBs. But now Linehan’s odd attachment to Moore is out of play. While it may be a bit much to say that his injury is some kind of blessing in disguise, it may be forcing some things that will be beneficial to Dallas in the greater scheme. The team is now exploring bringing in a quarterback from outside the team, something that many felt should have been the direction they took in the offseason instead of going with Moore. Whether or not they add another passer, this should put the competition to back up Romo on a more level field. There was always that sense that Moore would get the job no matter how his play compared to Showers and Prescott just because of his greater time in the league (despite the lack of actual playing experience) and the bromance with Linehan. Now it is at least more likely that the team will go with the player that earns it on the field. That is a benefit for Dallas in the long run.
For a long time, the fan base has been trying to perform a collective Jedi mind trick and whisper to the Cowboys’ staff "This is not the quarterback you want" concerning Moore. Now, that is no longer an issue. The season is going to depend on Romo’s health anyway, and it does seem like whoever winds up as the backup would not do any worse than Moore would have. And unlike him, both Prescott and Showers have some potential upside that could pay off in the long run.
It is a shame that Moore has to suffer injury. But the Cowboys need to find the best outcome moving forward. They may indeed have been forced into something that should have happened already.