Maybe it’s still a bit premature after just two games, but let’s go ahead and say it - the Dallas Cowboys’ offense is indeed much improved and showing all the signs of being one of the most potent attacks in the NFL. It has quick strike ability, can get chunk plays, has stretches of games where it scores pretty much at will, and true balance.
Some, of course, will disagree. So let’s build the case.
The fast start says a lot
Before the regular season kicked off, there was a valid concern that it was going to take Kellen Moore a while to get his bearings against NFL defenses in regular season games. While the team had a pretty successful preseason, we know that is meaningless. Additionally, things were very vanilla. Most of what Moore was bringing in the way of changes and innovation was only on display in the training camp practices. Those have the obvious limitations.
Then, when the real action started, it took Moore exactly two series to get things cooking. The Cowboys strung together five touchdown drives after their first punt against the New York Giants. In Washington, it took a bit longer, but starting with their fourth possession, they again scored on five drives in a row, settling only once for a field goal.
While we are talking about kicks, the Cowboys now have only attempted one field goal and punted just six times in the first two games. The punts actually declined in the second game, with only two - both in the first half. Once Dallas scored the first time, they did not fail to convert a third down the rest of the game outside of that field goal.
A large part of that has to be credited to Moore. He showed some versatility in the two games. The first was all about passing, with less than 100 yards on the ground. Game 2 saw a very different run/pass distribution, as the team rolled up an impressive 213 yards on the ground. Moore is the opposite of a one-trick pony.
With the restrictions on contact in camp and the protection of starters in preseason games, the first couple of regular season contests often become ones where teams are still working out the kinks and getting everyone on the same page. That is doubly true with a new coordinator. The Cowboys have instead hit the field blazing. That could pay big dividends going forward.
Observers around the league and NFL media have taken notice of what Moore is doing, but it isn’t just what he has done that has led to being in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. (Insert your own obligatory dig at the Philadelphia Eagles here.) Dak Prescott has shown that he has taken a major leap forward. That includes his accuracy, reading defenses, decision-making, and speed of processing. The result is that he is the top quarterback in the league according to ESPN’s total quarterback rating metric, edging out media darling Patrick Mahomes and surprise breakout player Lamar Jackson. It is a lot easier to make your offense work when you have a QB that can execute all the plays.
Moreover, Prescott is just about the perfect player to handle Moore’s college-inspired scheme. He is well versed in read options from his days at Mississippi State, and has superb running ability (ask Josh Norman). But the greatly improved accuracy and resulting sky-high completion rate (now at 82.3% for the season, also leading the NFL) is the most important thing he contributes. Execution is an integral part of offensive success, and he is doing so at a remarkable rate.
We also need to point out the role of Jon Kitna, who replaced Moore as the quarterbacks coach. His tutelage has paid enormous dividends with Dak, who in some ways looks like an entirely new and improved passer. He has always had the ability to make all the throws at times. Now he is making them consistently, and Kitna’s work with his mechanics has to be a big part of that. Going into the game against the Miami Dolphins, Prescott has an active streak of 18 consecutive completed passes. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Getting Zeke up to speed
After being held to just 53 yards in somewhat limited action in week 1, Ezekiel Elliott put up 111 on 23 attempts in Washington. The offense was clicking in both phases, and did not have to rely solely on Prescott to move the team. Prescott also made a big contribution there with his 69 yards on just five carries. Add in some Tony Pollard, and the run game is not just productive, it is unpredictable.
Make no mistake, though, Elliott is the workhorse on the ground. He is one player that did need a game or two to get up to speed after sitting out all of training camp. Now, it looks like he has the rust knocked off. No matter how you look at the arguments about the relative value of running versus passing, it is still a simple conclusion that having both facets of the offense working well complicates the situation for defenses. That is exactly what Moore’s approach seeks to do. With Elliott, he has the ability to go at the other team with similar effectiveness running or passing the ball, and the win on Sunday shows he is adept at both.
The rest of the cast
It is obviously extremely helpful for an offensive coordinator to have a top performing quarterback and running back to deploy. Now, add in an offensive line that has only allowed one sack in two games and opening up the holes for the run, a much improved wide receiver group, and one of the most wily tight ends in the business, and Moore has a fully stocked toolbox.
Scheme is important, but talent often trumps all. This year, Dallas has talent everywhere on offense. There is one concern, as Michael Gallup is expected to miss two to four weeks due to needing surgery following a left knee injury. He was one of the leading receivers in the league over the first two games. But almost as if on cue, Devin Smith saw his first significant action against Washington and led the team in yards, including the longest play of the day on the 51-yard touchdown that once more refuted the entire idea Prescott cannot throw deep. As we see players around the league going down, like Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, it reminds us just how crucial depth is to have a successful season in this violent sport. Now Smith gets his chance to step up, and the team also has Cedrick Wilson to use if needed. Meanwhile, Tavon Austin may be back soon from the concussion protocol.
Simply put, this is as deep an offensive roster as the team has had in a long time, perhaps back to the early 1990s. That just adds more options and wrinkles that Moore can throw at his opponent.
“But it’s just two games!” True, but next up is the Dolphins, who are the biggest self-ignited dumpster fire in the league. After them come the New Orleans Saints, and you might have noted that they will be down their starting QB. The Cowboys have a very real chance of being 4-0 in a couple of weeks. If they do that, it is going to be just about impossible to argue that this offense is not everything we hoped it could become back when Moore was promoted.