Anyone with any relations to the Cowboys had a rough Thanksgiving in 2020. After falling to the Washington Football team in a disastrous 41-16 loss at home, the Cowboys will head to Baltimore to take on an even better defense in the Baltimore Ravens. The biggest issues with Kellen Moore’s offense isn’t the play-calling, it’s the lack of talent and depth on the offensive line due to injury, and the poor play he’s getting from his quarterback and running back.
In their week 12 loss, Andy Dalton posed a -0.41 EPA/play, -17.2 of total EPA, and a success rate of just 45. Dalton has struggled against the Football Team this year, and outside of his performance against the Vikings, Dalton has struggled to find much success at all as the Cowboys starting quarterback.
That’s not all that surprising, what is surprising is how poorly Ezekiel Elliott has played this season. There is an argument to place the blame for the lack of production from Elliott in 2020 solely on the offensive line, but that is not accurate. Elliott has lacked long-speed, short-area burst, and has put the football on the ground at an alarming rate in 2020. Along with his lack of efficiency and putting the football on the ground, Elliott offers little to nothing in the passing game and has six drops on the year.
So why is the offense struggling? Well the quarterback isn’t playing well, and the running back is struggling to run efficiently and he’s turning the ball over a ton. So what can Kellen Moore do?
Instead of using early downs to run the football (to protect the poor quarterback play), Moore should turn to the quick-passing game to get an easy 5-7 yards by using Dalton Schultz and Amari Cooper, two guys who have created a lot of separation in 2020. Here recently, Moore has turned to Elliott and the running game to try and pickup yardage on early downs to get into more favorable third downs. When you have functional quarterback play, that’s okay to do (though I would not suggest it), but so far Dalton hasn’t showed the ability to consistently move the chains, and the Cowboys running game has struggled to set them up in many favorable third down situations.
One thing a lot of fans have really criticized over the last week, has been Moore’s tendency to get “cute” too often. While there has been a few times where I didn’t love the play-calls in certain situations, we should all appreciate the attempt of creativity from this offense, especially after watching the same boring offense for over a six year span with Jason Garrett. While the creativity is nice, avoiding those high-risk, high-reward plays in the red zone may be the smart way to go down the stretch. Moore attempted another Philly Special style of play against the Redskins that ended up in a big loss of yardage down in a goal-to-go situation. The offense is struggling to do much of anything right now, so we should all understand Moore’s attempt to look for any sort of spark, but there’s better options down in the red zone.
While fans want someone to blame, Moore should not be the one. It’s not his fault Elliott fumbled the football coming out of half, it’s not his fault CeeDee Lamb dropped an easy touchdown in the end zone, and it’s not his fault that Dalton decided to throw a pass directly into the hands of Washington defensive lineman Montez Sweat. Right now, Moore isn’t getting much help from his offensive line, quarterback, running back, and any of his receivers not named Amari Cooper and Dalton Schultz.
It’s not easy to call plays, much less be successful when 3/4’s of the offense is either hurt or playing poorly, but there’s still enough evidence available to prove that when Moore gets his quarterback back, the Cowboys offense should go back to being near the top of the league.
As for the week 13 matchup against Baltimore... good luck. That defensive front featuring Calais Campbell, Matt Judon, Derek Wolfe, Yannick Ngakoue, and Tyus Bowser will wreak havoc on a banged up offensive line, forcing Dalton to test Marlon Humphrey, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Marcus Peters, a turnover machine, and Jimmy Smith, another quality cover-man for the Ravens defense. Wink Martindale is likely licking his chops preparing for an offense that has struggled to get anything going on offense for the last two months.