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With all the focus on the Cowboys defense, Kellen Moore still needs to step up

The Cowboys offensive coordinator needs to take the next step in 2021.

Buffalo Bills v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Since Dak Prescott signed his long-term contract extension, much of the Cowboys’ offseason has (rightfully) focused on the efforts to revamp this defense under Dan Quinn. Quite literally, too, as Jerry and Stephen Jones took time out of the Prescott press conference to talk about their approach on defense ahead of free agency.

We can’t forget about Kellen Moore though. Since becoming the Cowboys offensive coordinator after just one season under his belt as a position coach, the former Boise State star has quickly made a name for himself. In his first year running the offense, Dallas led the league in total yards and finished second in offensive DVOA, fifth in pass DVOA, and third in run DVOA. That’s pretty darn good for a first-time playcaller, and it’s a major reason why Mike McCarthy opted to retain Moore despite having previously pledged to never let another person call plays for him.

But it wasn’t all perfect in 2019. Moore’s offense too often featured drives that stalled out near the end, resulting in settling for field goals (that were often missed by Brett Maher) instead of touchdowns. Dropped passes were another huge issue for his unit. And there was also the troubling trend of how the offense seemed to pivot away from many of the staples Moore introduced in the first three games, notably pre-snap motion and passing on early downs. This led to a narrative that head coach Jason Garrett, a much more traditional and conservative offensive mind, was too involved with Moore’s game plans. We’ll never know if that was true or not, but Moore had the opportunity to change that under McCarthy, a much more pass-happy coach.

And to his credit, Moore did exactly that. Through the first four weeks (meaning pre-Dak injury), Dallas led the NFL in passing plays on first and second down, and were tied for the fifth-highest success rate on those plays. Even after Prescott went down, the Cowboys had the 11th most pass plays on first and second down, but their success rate dropped down to 18th in the NFL. Moore’s use of pre-snap motion also remained high, ranking 11th in motion before the snap (not to be confused with motion at the snap), though the results didn’t follow like they did in 2019.

All in all, the Cowboys finished 14th in total yards, 17th in points scored, and 24th in offensive DVOA. It’s hard to place too much of the blame at Moore’s feet, though, as he called plays for four different quarterbacks throughout the year and a myriad of different offensive line combinations. The stats above show that Moore did, in fact, stick to some of the tenets that made his debut season as a playcaller so successful. After all, the Cowboys offense was hotter than anything else in those first four weeks when Prescott was healthy, even with Tyron Smith and La’el Collins out.

Now Prescott is back and, by all accounts, making a full recovery. So, too, are Smith and Collins. Blake Jarwin is back at tight, now playing alongside the emergent Dalton Schultz and giving Moore plenty to work with at the position. And CeeDee Lamb, their prized rookie last year, has a full season under his belt and should only get better from here on out. Oh, and Dan Quinn is working on shoring up the defense.

In other words, there are no reasons for anything but top-quality from Moore. In 2019, he had the benefit of the doubt as a first-time coordinator under a lame duck head coach who maybe had too much of a say in the game plans. In 2020, he lost three of his most important players in a year where his unit was asked to score 40 points a game just to be in the game.

While plenty of things can still happen, Moore is being set up in a great position for success entering his third season as the offensive coordinator in Dallas. It’ll be up to him to show marked improvements from the last two seasons and engineer an offense that fully capitalizes on all the incredible talent this roster has.