The Dallas Cowboys have had a lot of shuffling on the coaching staff in just the first few days of their offseason, but after winning 12 games and earning a playoff win, the continuity of Mike McCarthy and his two coordinators could remain intact. Of course, with back-to-back winning seasons, this could have been taken out of the Cowboys’ hands as both Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn have been candidates for other head coaching openings.
For the second straight offseason though, the Cowboys received the great news that Dan Quinn is staying as defensive coordinator. The bond Quinn has formed with his players and the loyalty he’s shown Dallas trumped the possibility of starting fresh with a new organization with added responsibility as head coach.
The Cowboys defense did everything they could to push this team further in the playoffs, holding the 49ers to 19 points and 113 rushing yards a year removed from allowing 139 yards on the ground to a San Francisco team without Christian McCaffrey in a Wild Card loss. The steady signs of progress the Cowboys have made under McCarthy with Quinn leading his defense have been encouraging, and the chance for an even bigger leap in year three is perhaps the best thing this team has going for them at the moment. The Cowboys were known as a good drafting team before Quinn’s arrival, but his ability to handpick players that fit his scheme has made a huge difference.
The vision to use Micah Parsons as a jack-of-all-trades with a heavier emphasis on pass rush this year, play hybrid safeties like Donovan Wilson and Jayron Kearse down in the box, and get a rejuvenated effort from veteran Leighton Vander Esch this season were all wins the Cowboys can expect more of in the future with Quinn.
Quinn’s head coaching considerations came down to the Broncos, Cardinals, and Colts, all teams with great uncertainty at quarterback. Quinn had the luxury of a prime Matt Ryan in Atlanta during his last head coaching stint, and now gets to continue calling a defense that gets it’s support from a Dak Prescott-led offense. However, in the biggest games this team has played under this staff, Kellen Moore’s offense has typically let the defense down. Be it turnovers that create extra possessions on a short field for the opposition or not putting up the point totals they’re used to in the regular season, the Cowboys need to seriously consider if their offense has hit a plateau under Kellen Moore.
With so many reasons to believe the arrow is decidedly pointing up for Quinn, the Cowboys have a full offseason to lean further into being a defensive minded team. Cornerstone players like Parsons, Trevon Diggs, and DeMarcus Lawrence are still under contract while others like Sam Williams and Daron Bland can gain from another year in Quinn’s scheme. The same can’t be said about Moore’s offense, which around Prescott faces free agency decisions in the backfield with Tony Pollard, wide receiver with T.Y. Hilton and Noah Brown, and offensive line with Jason Peters and Connor McGovern.
Moore would be entering his fifth season as the offensive coordinator, and while it feels like Quinn has truly passed on head coaching gigs because of his loyalty to the star, Moore’s interviews have led teams to go with a more experienced coach - most recently the Panthers with Frank Reich. Even with the Cowboys offense finishing top five in points per game the last two seasons, Moore’s value is highest with Dallas as other teams have passed on him. This season would be Moore’s eighth with the organization overall, first as a quarterback, then QB coach, and now coordinator.
Head coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t ready to commit to a future with Moore as his OC though, stating in Thursday’s press conference:
“I really don’t want to play this game today,” and “It’s been a long couple of days. Kellen Moore, just like the rest of the coaches, will be evaluated. Every coach will be evaluated. The evaluations, it takes more than one day”.
Moore’s offense didn’t quite limp into the playoffs with the same struggles the Cowboys endured through the second half of the season last year, but in the deciding moments of the Divisional Round against Demeco Ryan’s defense, they fell back on predictable plays and went three and out with their best chance to regain the lead late in the fourth quarter.
This being the same scheme that’s proven to put up points, the question whether fair or not becomes if Moore is the right coach that can sustain an offense through the type of deep playoff run the Cowboys haven’t made since before he was a student at Boise State. The type of talent it may take at the skill positions to push Moore’s scheme over the top doesn’t line up with how the Dallas front office builds the roster, rarely making splashes in free agency or the trade market. This is how Dallas ended up with a massive drop off from any pass catcher besides CeeDee Lamb this season, working through a second straight offseason where wide receiver may be their most pressing need.
Potential candidates to replace Moore would include McCarthy himself as the Cowboys play-caller or quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier. The Cowboys are getting a clear message from the rest of the league that their offense either faces shortcomings because of coaching, or is only successful because of Dak Prescott’s ability to carry them.
Not included on the laundry list of big decisions the Cowboys have to make this offseason is whether or not Prescott is their franchise QB, but like nearly every passer not named Patrick Mahomes, he may not be the type of player that can overcome scheme and will a team to playoff wins by himself.
For a team fortunate to have the extended window they’ve received with Dan Quinn on defense, the side of the ball most prone to massive swings from year to year that Dallas avoided in 2022, it’s time for the offense to do it’s part in making this the complete team that can reclaim the NFC East and threaten in the playoffs.