The common theme for these weekly articles have been pretty consistent - “Kellen Moore is not the problem”. That theme continues this week, as Kellen Moore called another great game on Sunday against one of the best defenses in the league.
With an offensive line that is extremely banged up, a quarterback that has little experience in the NFL, and a running game that has provided little to no impact on the team’s success in 2020, Kellen Moore is getting the most out of what he has to work with.
Against an excellent Steelers defense, Kellen Moore’s offense outgained the Pittsburgh offense in total yards (364 to 355) and rushing yards (144 to 46). While they did lose the points battle, the offense looked to be at it’s best since Dak Prescott went down with an injury in the second half of the Giants game in week four, all with a third-string quarterback that signed with the team two weeks before getting his first NFL start.
The Cowboys offense found some balance, which is something they’ve lacked in the last month or so of the season because of playing from behind by multiple possessions in what seems like every game. Dallas ran the football 31 times for 6.6 yards per carry, and threw the football 38 times for 11.6 yards per play. The significant difference between the offenses week nine performance, and the offenses most recent struggles, was the quarterback play. 29-year-old Garrett Gilbert played with poise, was efficient, and did the one thing no other quarterback not named Prescott did in 2020, he avoided pressure and kept his team in the game by not turning the football over a ton.
The most impressive thing about the offensive performance was the ability to limit the Pittsburgh pass rush for most of the game. Gilbert was sacked only twice last weekend, and while he was pressured consistently throughout the game, he did an excellent job of maneuvering the pocket, and the play-calling helped him get the football out quickly, while avoiding the big hit. The offense also did an excellent job of getting itself into favorable looks both on the ground and through the air with shifting pre-snap to get favorable matchups with their pass catchers. They also ran the ball effectively on favorable downs and distances continuing to move the chains with 19 first downs.
The one thing that is obvious over the last two to three games is that Tony Pollard is, without a doubt, the better running back for the Cowboys right now. Pollard has averaged six yards per carry over the last two games compared to Ezekiel Elliott’s 3.1 yards per carry in the last two games. Pollard is running with excellent explosiveness inside and outside the tackle box, and has the one-cut ability to turn every carry into a big play if the big guys up front handle their business. From an advanced metric perspective, Pollard is far-and-away the more efficient player for the Cowboys rushing attack, and Kellen Moore should use him as such moving forward.
While Kellen Moore has been fantastic over this tough stretch for the Cowboys offense, the struggles putting the ball in the endzone have been a consistent issue since Prescott’s injury. And that’s the one area I think we need to see some improvement from as the season develops from Moore and company. A few simple fixes when inside the red-zone is give Tony Pollard more touches - maximizing the ability of the big play, and using play-action on a higher percentage of snaps when on opponents side of the field (only three play-action plays were called in week nine). As the Cowboys offense continues to struggle as the field condenses, giving defenses another thing to think about with play-fakes will only help the Cowboys chances for the big play IF the offensive line can hold up to allow plays to develop.
All in all, Cowboys fans should be thrilled about the offensive play-calling going forward, especially with some of the other question marks surrounding other areas of the coaching staff. We’ll see if Andy Dalton can help out his play-caller the way that Garrett Gilbert did in week nine, when the Cowboys return to the field in week 11 against a struggling Vikings defense.