The Cowboys offense didn’t live up to expectations in 2018, and for that reason they moved on from Scott Linehan. While there were a lot of reasons for that decision, Linehan wasn’t the only thing wrong with the offense. The lack of a true number one receiver and downfield receiving tight end were problems, too. Dallas addressed the first issue after eight games by trading for Amari Cooper, and Blake Jarwin’s improvement down the stretch offered some hope.
Still, the Cowboys upgraded the tight end position by luring Jason Witten out of retirement to share snaps with Jarwin, as well as Dalton Schultz. Then they signed Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to replace Cole Beasley as the slot receiver, while also re-signing Tavon Austin to return punts and contribute in the passing game. Fullback Jamize Olawale and swing tackle Cameron Fleming were also retained.
And now, at least on paper, the offense looks improved over last season. It’s unknown just how good Witten can be, but at the very least his leadership should aid the continued development of Jarwin and Schultz. Cobb is arguably an upgrade over Beasley. And Austin and Olawale are two versatile weapons who weren’t properly utilized last year. That’s before taking into account the trio of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Cooper.
Of course, none of these upgrades matter without an upgrade at the play-calling level as well. That’s where Kellen Moore comes in. It was only a year ago when Moore first started coaching, at least officially. There are enough stories out there about how Moore has been destined to become a great coach to convince some fans that he’ll be a successful coordinator.
But the odds are stacked against him. Moore doesn’t enter his first coordinator job in an ideal situation despite the talent he has to work with. Expectations are sky high for him to win. As has been talked about ad nauseum, Jason Garrett is not under contract beyond the 2019 season. If the Cowboys don’t at least reach the divisional round of the playoffs again, Garrett could be out of a job. And the general consensus seems to be that the way to improve on the 2018 season is through fielding a more productive offense, and that’s the responsibility of Moore.
The reality is that there is a fairly steep learning curve for coordinators in the NFL. In his first five years as an offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan had three offenses that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in yards. Similarly, it wasn’t until Sean McVay’s third year as a coordinator that he fielded a top ten offense. Similarly, new Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was fired as defensive coordinator four different times before his success in Chicago led to his hiring in Denver.
When a coach becomes a coordinator for the first time, especially on offense, there’s a necessary adjustment period for them. They have to be given time to get a feel for calling plays, especially when it comes to stacking plays on top of each other without scripting them and knowing when it’s time to take shots down the field. It’s the kind of thing a coach can only perfect with actual experience and that takes time.
Unfortunately, Moore won’t be given that time. He’s a first-time coordinator on a team that is firmly in win-now mode. Not only are they in win-now mode, but if they don’t win right now then they could be looking at a new coaching regime a year from now. The decision by Garrett to go with an inside hire for the offensive coordinator position indicated that the Cowboys have the right scheme in place, but that the actual play-caller is the key to realizing all that potential.
It’s likely that Moore will rely heavily on tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier and Garrett himself, both of whom have experience calling plays. But the free agency moves Dallas made to upgrade their offense seemingly reinforces the fact that the Cowboys’ Super Bowl window, as well as their coaching staff, will likely be decided by whether or not Moore can turn this offense into a top tier unit.
And that’s an insane amount of pressure for a first time coordinator.