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Flying united: The offensive makeover for the Cowboys is about more than the OC

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In recent remarks, WR coach Sanjay Lal showed he is all in with Kellen Moore.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Time to load it up and go deep.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest developments this year for the Dallas Cowboys is undoubtedly the promotion of Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator. His success or failure in supplanting Scott Linehan is going to have more impact on the success of the season than any other move the team has made. It was a risky, even daring move to make, given his lack of experience as a coach. He is barely 18 months removed from being on the sidelines as a backup quarterback. In a situation like this, there is a logical question about just how well he can bring the other offensive coaches on board, given that all of them have many more years experience coaching or, in the case of new QB coach Jon Kitna, as an NFL starter. As it turns out, he may already have at least one of the offensive assistants fully committed to the change. That not only bodes well for the future and hints at how one position group may look coming out of camp, but gives yet another glimpse into just how badly the team needed to make the change at OC.

Wide receiver coach Sanjay Lal was quoted in an article at DMN:

“The whole premise, in my opinion, of this offense is vertical speed,” Lal said. “If you can’t hit a go-route, the comeback game isn’t real, your slant game, your nine-stop game isn’t real. Being able to hit those deep balls in games is going to change everything if we’re able to do that.”

If you are like me, that one little paragraph sends a shiver of pure excitement down your spine. After a couple of years of watching the Cowboys send four receivers to the sticks and have all of them come back to Dak Prescott, the idea of actually stretching the field is like a jug of ice cold water in the middle of August in Texas. We really need it.

One feature that Moore will hopefully bring to the offense is stretching the field, and there are two dimensions to that: Vertically and horizontally. The horizontal aspect can be achieved with formation and the use of things like crossing and rub routes, while that vertical component is mostly about sending receivers deep. While OTAs are not, by nature, definitive in showing us what is coming in the regular season, the focus on going long is one thing that is jumping out in report after report. Prescott has been noticeably more accurate going down the field, and wide receivers like the presumptive starters Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb, rookies Jon’Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton, and less familiar names like Reggie Davis and Devin Smith have all not only demonstrated the requisite speed, but have been catching a lot more of those deeper passes than in recent years.

Linehan simply did not utilize either facet of stretching the field well. Now the evidence is mounting that Moore is making both points of emphasis in the offense. Lal’s comments show that he is ready to roll with them as well.

That is good news for the speed merchants in the receiver group. It certainly looks like the team is going to favor that attribute in building the roster. It is certainly possible that the names listed above will be where the team looks to fill out the team for the season, and it may also give a lift to Tavon Austin as well, since he is another player who can turn on the jets.

It also could trickle into the other offensive skill positions. While Jason Witten has never been fast, there have been reports of Dalton Schultz being sent downfield. And Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard can get deep as well. Even fullback Jamize Olawale has good speed for that position, which may indicate a bigger role under Moore.

Meanwhile, as the team is pulling defensive backs down the field and forcing them to cover sideline to sideline, that is going to thin out the bodies in the box. That will just make the running game more effective. It is synergy in action, with the two parts of the offense helping and improving each other.

That is all great for the coming season (we hope), but it also raises a question of just how bad the dysfunction was last year. It certainly sounds, from Lal’s comment, like he was chafing from the way Linehan was misusing his players. There have been reports that Linehan was markedly resistant to input from others. This is just more confirmation that there were other schools of thought that were being squelched.

Now it really seems like the receivers coach and the offensive coordinator are on the same page, and already working hard to implement a new, more aggressive approach to the offense. While the OTAs are just reps in helmets and shorts, they are pointing in an obvious direction. And those reps are not meaningless, as they get the players used to what they are being asked to do.

It is always good to temper the enthusiasm this time of year, but these reports about the Cowboys are making it hard. It is especially so in how consistent they are. The speed keeps showing up, as does Prescott’s improved proficiency. Add the two to the new approach Moore is bringing, and they paint a very pretty picture. The colors are harmonious, and the composition pleasing.