The last shoes anyone should want to fill right now are Kellen Moore’s. Whether it’s the ineptitude at the quarterback position, the offensive line struggles, or no one really interested in making plays for their offense, Kellen Moore’s job is extremely difficult, and believe it or not he did a really nice job in week eight against the Philadelphia Eagles.
I’m sure you’re wondering how we can credit the offensive coordinator when the offense only put up nine points, and went another full game without scoring an offensive touchdown, but the play-calling was not the problem in Philadelphia. In fact, if Ben DiNucci played at an even slightly below average level the Cowboys offense probably holds their own.
That’s where it gets disappointing.
When Kellen Moore does his job, Ben DiNucci misses a wide open receiver, takes a terrible sack resulting in a turnover, or his offensive line misses blocks and makes the quarterback move off his spot. A league leading nine drops from the Cowboys pass catchers also makes Kellen Moore’s job just a difficult one to succeed at so far in 2020.
The Good News
If you’re looking for a silver lining here, it’s that after watching the Cowboys offense on video, it will show, for the most part, the offensive play-calling has been very good this year - even with Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci at quarterback for extended periods of time. Moore runs a very analytical based offense, which relies on the passing game to set them up for success, and leans on the running game to attempt balance, when the Cowboys are not getting blown out by opponents.
While the DiNucci era may have been a one-week experience, it was nice to see Kellen Moore dip into his bag of tricks, and try to light a fire under the offense, any way he could. While too much of the tricks can be a bit gimmicky, we would much rather see more of that, then more handoffs to a running back who is currently really struggling to get anything going on the ground.
The Bad News
Looking ahead, things are not going to get any easier for Kellen Moore and his broken and battered offense. This week, Moore faces one of, if not the best defenses in the league due to their dominant front-seven play. With T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, and Cam Heyward, the Cowboys offense is facing the best defensive front they’ve seen all season, and one of the best they’ll see all year. Watt currently leads the league at DE/OLB in PRWR (pass rush win rate) at 32%. Stephon Tuitt is currently 10th in the NFL at DT in PRWR at 13%. Those guys move around a ton, and with quality players in Bud Dupree and Cameron Heyward playing alongside of them, it gives Steelers DC Keith Butler the freedom to line Watt up against Terrence Steele and Tuitt up against Connor Williams for the majority of the game. While the Pittsburgh secondary isn’t nearly as good, they still have players like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden who can play at a high-level.
To make matters worse for Kellen Moore, the Cowboys will be starting their third different quarterback in the last three games in either Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush. The instability at the position, and inability to get anything productive out of the position since Dak Prescott’s injury, makes calling successful plays very difficult.
Play. Zack. Martin. At. Right. Tackle.
This isn’t a move that necessarily excites me, but Terrence Steele is a complete liability and has no business playing, much less starting, every single game of the 2020 season. The offensive line gets significantly better with Zack Martin at right tackle and 2019 third-round pick Connor McGovern who has played solid in limited snaps in 2020. This isn’t a move NFL football guys like to make, but the younger, metric driven coaches have fought hard recently for getting your five best offensive linemen on the field, and taking Steele off the field is a step in the right direction.
Play. Tony. Pollard
Over the last few weeks, Tony Pollard has brought a spark to this offense that Ezekiel Elliott lacks. While Elliott is durable, consistent, and a tough runner, Elliott lacks speed, explosiveness, and the ability to break tackles - something Pollard brings to the table when given the football. Another point of keeping Elliott in for more snaps, is the work he does in pass protection. Let me be the first one to tell you, that Elliott has struggled mightily in pass protection in the last month of the season, whereas Pollard has actually been pretty successful in the few opportunities he’s seen in 2020. Although he hasn’t shown it so far this season, Pollard is a much better receiver, and can do more things after the catch than Elliott has shown - something to look for in week nine when the Cowboys take on the Steelers at AT&T Stadium.
Now neither of these solutions will cure the Cowboys offensive issues, but it will give Kellen Moore an opportunity to succeed, something he really hasn’t had since Dak’s injury. Cross your fingers and hope that one of the two quarterbacks the Cowboys will start on Sunday can be a slight upgrade over DiNucci, because, whew buddy, that was rough.