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Cowboys offense can evolve without total overhaul of schematic philosophy

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Don’t expect a brand new offense, but you can expect a little evolution within the same philosophy.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys may be looking for a new way of formulating their offensive plan but that doesn’t mean they are going to completely overhaul their philosophies. Scott Linehan wasn’t let go because of the scheme, he was let go because he lacked the ability to evolve the scheme. There are a lot of coaches in the NFL that are praised for their play-calling innovation but the Andy Reid’s and Sean McVay’s of the world are not creating new schematic philosophies from scratch. They are extending and adding to their playbooks, it’s simple evolution. Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest coach ever, has mastered that ability to evolve from year-to-year, even game-to-game, it’s the biggest edge the Patriots have, besides Tom Brady.

Some of the Cowboys faithful weren’t too pleased with the news that was circulating over the weekend in regards to some coaching changes the team is pondering. It was reported that the Cowboys aren’t interested in worldwide searches for play-callers but instead are looking to promote from within. That means that Doug Nussmeier will play a bigger role as will Jon Kitna and Kellen Moore, which causes anxiety for some because of some strong ties to Linehan.

Jason Garrett’s first job was in Miami in Linehan’s offense, Kellen Moore mastered the concepts of the Air-Coryell offense in two backup quarterback stints with Linehan. After retirement, Moore was hand-picked to coach quarterbacks in Dallas, just as Linehan did for Garrett in Miami. Doug Nussmeier was the quarterback for Idaho from 1990-1993 under then offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. On recommendation from Linehan, Nussmeier made a name for himself calling the offense under Nick Saban at Alabama. Just because a group of guys happen to be branches of the same coaching tree doesn’t mean they don’t have fresh ideas.

“I think, in any staff, you have people who aren’t in charge who feel differently about certain concepts, Stephen Jones said— But they’re deferential to the respect that goes with the head coach and a coordinator and right on down the line. Obviously, we believe that some of the younger guys, given the opportunity to put some of their concepts into play, will cause change.”

Linehan wasn’t interested in collective input and dug in when he was asked branch out. This was a problem that was brewing for two years, players were feeling pigeon-holed and embarrassed by the staleness while Linehan blamed their own execution. There looks to be a shift in the offensive brain-trust for some type of gameplan committee between assistant coaches, Jason Garrett, and quarterback Dak Prescott.

The constituent of fans that are just tired of Jason Garrett and wanted to clean house have merits in their sentiments. However, facing the reality of 3-5, this staff was all looking at being unemployed. Their response was what changed the course even if it ended with another divisional round loss. Despite the dysfunction, the Cowboys won 11 games and Garrett was safe the moment they defeated the Seahawks in the wildcard round, if not before then.

If you approved the Cowboys keeping Jason Garrett in charge, you have to understand that a complete renovation and scheme change was never in the cards. Changes in concepts? Sure. A few more wrinkles and different opinions on how to implement them is certain to happen, but it’s naive to think an overhaul was imminent, that may come eventually but not yet.

No two coaches interpretations of fundamentals are alike so we’re certain to see several differences. If you can think back to Garrett’s days as the play-caller, his offense wasn’t a carbon-copy of Linehan’s. For one, finding tight end mismatches were much more prevalent in Garrett’s offense than his former mentors.

Though Nussmeier is a believer in the vertical passing offense, he loved using misdirection at Alabama, something that Amari Cooper was instrumental in executing. Nussmeier and Garrett were successful toward the end of this year at opening up the middle of the field, an area Linehan avoided for most of the year. Jon Kitna has that “gamer” tag that is often given to Dak Prescott but he will be tasked to help the young star tighten his mechanics. As far as Kellen Moore is concerned, he’s always been groomed for coaching and had some interesting videos resurface of him explaining Boise State’s offense to Jon Gruden.

To paraphrase Moore, it’s about trying to add a variety of ways to execute on offense even if the philosophies are similar, that sounds like evolving. He went on to say how they try to take a lot of their core values and disguise them in order to confuse the defense. It may end up looking different but the objective is the same.

The rumors at the end of the season about a decrease of Linehan’s responsibilities and an increased role for Garrett, Nussmeier, and Moore are beginning to hold more weight. These coaches deserve one last opportunity to prove their abilities. Maybe it works and the Dallas offense returns to glory while everyone gets extensions, maybe it doesn’t and major changes are made in 2020. Considering what we saw from the offense in their 8-1 run, the resurgence of Dak Prescott, the impacts of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin in the passing game, things are definitely pointing up for this offense. The Cowboys have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL and the coaches hope that a few different ideas or subtle changes will be the difference in 2019.