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Cowboys moving on from Kellen Moore would be a mistake

Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore isn’t perfect, but Dallas likely won’t do much better.

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Cowboys have made quite a few coaching changes, most of them unexpected, since their season ended. There was the potential for more, as both their coordinators were interviewing for head coaching jobs at the same time. But when Dan Quinn pulled his name from consideration for all the open jobs, his return to Dallas was immediately announced and celebrated.

The same did not occur for Kellen Moore, interestingly enough.

The unofficial word is that Moore is being “evaluated” and many fans have started to get excited at the thought of the Cowboys moving on from Moore. But let’s be clear: that would be a massive mistake.

Since Moore took over the Cowboys offense, the standards have been incredibly high and he has met those standards at almost every turn. Moore has also done all of this through quite a bit of turmoil - head coaching change, two major quarterback injuries, plenty of shuffling along the offensive line and wide receiver positions - in addition to the general growing pains of being a coordinator for the first time. Let’s take a look at how Moore’s offenses have fared since he took over the offense.

Offensive Efficiency Under Kellen Moore

Dak Prescott Games Played DVOA DVOA Rank EPA/play EPA/Play Rank Success Rate Success Rate Rank
Dak Prescott Games Played DVOA DVOA Rank EPA/play EPA/Play Rank Success Rate Success Rate Rank
2019 16 24.5% 2nd 0.111 3rd 48.7% 1st
2020 5 -8.5% 24th -0.029 25th 46.1% 15th
2021 16 13.6% 6th 0.084 7th 46.8% 7th
2022 12 2.9% 15th 0.031 10th 45.2% 13th

It’s no coincidence that Moore’s offensive efficiency correlates directly to how many games Dak Prescott played that year. Kyle Shanahan is a rarity in terms of succeeding without good quarterbacks, but most offenses suffer a steep decline when playing without their QB1. However, when Moore has had Prescott under center for most or all the season, he’s produced elite offenses. Even this year, when Prescott missed five games, the offense finished in the top half of the league across the board.

A big part of this is due to the strong bond between Moore and Prescott. It’s crucial for the quarterback and play-caller to be on the same page, and these two are certainly together. Back when Moore first retired, Prescott vouched for him to be the team’s new quarterbacks coach; he did so again when Moore ultimately got promoted to coordinator. These two know each other through and through, and it’s led to an offensive system that flows perfectly for Prescott, which in turn makes things better for the offense as a whole.

If Moore is out, then so too is that relationship. Any new play-caller, even if it’s an internal hire, would have some catching up to do in order to be on the same page as Prescott and understand him the way Moore does. That intangible cannot simply be created out of thin air, and it’s a major reason why Moore has had so much success so early on.

Has Moore been an elite offensive coordinator for his entire tenure in Dallas? No, certainly not, and there have been times where his specific play-calling in certain situations hasn’t been great. But let’s remember that just about every fan base can point to a handful of situations where they hated the sequence of plays called, even among the Andy Reid’s and Kyle Shanahan’s of the league.

Let’s also remember that Moore is still very young. At 34-years-old, he was the second youngest coach to call offensive plays this year. The youngest was Parks Frazier, who became the Colts interim offensive coordinator at 31 years old despite being an assistant quarterbacks coach at the time and having zero experience as even a primary position coach.

Even with Frazier calling plays for a terrible Colts team for eight games at just 31 years old, Moore was actually younger when he first debuted as the Cowboys offensive coordinator back in 2019. And he only produced the second best offense in the NFL right out of the gate.

Now, of course, the excuse is that Moore was dealing with a stocked cupboard of talent that year. The same can be said of 2021, and it’s not easy to argue with that. But what about this most recent year, when Moore drew the most ire of his very young coaching career? All offseason, the discussion was about how the offense was destined to fall apart with the poor decisions the front office was making. Now that it turned out to be somewhat true, suddenly Moore is taking the blame instead of the people who ripped the roster apart?

Let’s look at the Cowboys’ weapons in the pass game. FiveThirtyEight uses ESPN player tracking data to compile metrics on all pass catchers based on three important factors: ability to get open, ability to catch the ball, and the ability to pick up yards after the catch. These three factors are then combined into a composite score to generate one single number indicating the pass catcher’s overall value. Here’s how the Cowboys’ weapons stacked up against the rest of the league.

Cowboys Pass Catchers by Value

Getting Open Making the Catch YAC Overall Overall Rank
Getting Open Making the Catch YAC Overall Overall Rank
CeeDee Lamb 85 55 49 74 T-12
Michael Gallup 35 48 34 32 107
Noah Brown 42 59 50 50 T-62
Dalton Schultz 64 38 32 45 T-80
Tony Pollard 38 64 44 47 T-73

Players like T.Y. Hilton, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot, and Ezekiel Elliott weren’t targeted enough to qualify for these metrics. In total, there were 111 players who did qualify, something to keep in mind when looking at where each of these players ranks. Lamb is obviously near the top, but the rest of the bunch is seriously behind. This puts into context just how dire the stable of weapons were for Moore and Prescott this year. And they still finished in the top half of the league in all major offensive categories.

This created an environment where Prescott essentially needed to be perfect for the Cowboys to have a chance at winning. Stephen Jones suggested as much in the offseason, when he mentioned the team’s confidence in Prescott being able to elevate others enough to win. That strategy backfired spectacularly for the Packers and Titans this year, but it surely it worked for the Cowboys, right?

Not really. As Steven Ruiz of The Ringer recently pointed out, the Cowboys were 1-3 in games where Prescott recorded negative expected points added (EPA). Only Aaron Rodgers, who also watched his team trade away a highly talented wide receiver in the offseason, had a worse record at 2-7. Meanwhile, the Eagles were 4-1 this year when Jalen Hurts - a finalist for the MVP award - recorded negative EPA; it should also be noted that Hurts had one more such game than Prescott this year.

Of course, the Eagles are known for having a very aggressive roster building approach. They were on the other hand of the Titans’ decision to trade A.J. Brown in the offseason. How did that work out? Well, the Eagles are in the NFC Championship Game, while the Titans fired their general manager in-season and posted their first losing record since 2015.

Not only did the Cowboys effectively tie Moore’s hand behind his back with their ill-advised approach to the skill players on the roster, but the offensive line ended up being a mess from a personnel standpoint. Tyron Smith was lost right before the season began, and poor planning (see: Josh Ball) at swing tackle led to Tyler Smith kicking out to tackle after spending all summer learning to play guard. Then Connor McGovern was out for several weeks, and even when he returned he was stuck in a rotation with Jason Peters and, later, the rookie Smith. Then Terence Steele was lost for the year, so Tyron Smith made his return from a gruesome injury even harder by playing a position he hadn’t played since 2011. All along, the Cowboys were routinely near the bottom of the league in pass block win rate.

Of course, we all know that Moore also dealt with Prescott missing five games early in the year, and the team still managed to go 4-1 in his absence. It was clear that Moore’s playbook was minimized with Cooper Rush under center, but the coordinator still managed to move the ball and score enough points to win games.

These are all reasons why Moore has had an abundance of requests to interview for head coaching vacancies since becoming the offensive coordinator in Dallas. And just this year, he reportedly came very close to landing the Panthers job, and made the decision to instead hire Frank Reich a “very difficult” one. It’s clear that decision-makers around the league highly respect Moore and see a very bright future for him.

Who is going to replace Moore if Dallas cuts him loose? There are substantial rumors that the Cowboys would promote one of their own - likely Doug Nussmeier or Brian Schottenheimer - which would not be the influx of fresh ideas that many who have lost faith in Moore are wanting.

Across the NFL, 10 teams are looking to hire a new offensive coordinator this offseason. Two of them - the Patriots and Jets - have already hired someone, while the remaining eight are deep in the process of conducting interviews. For the Cowboys to create an opening now would put them behind the eight ball in terms of finding any external candidates, further boosting the odds of a promotion from within. Any time someone makes a decision to move on from a coach, the question must always be who you can get that would be an upgrade. And for the Cowboys, there aren’t a ton of candidates out there who would be a legitimate upgrade.

Going back to the metrics in which Moore’s offenses have performed well in, there are only a handful of teams who were consistently ahead of Dallas during that span. Most of those teams feature a head coach who calls offensive plays, and of the few that do have a play-calling offensive coordinator, the only one that is a free agent right now is former Ravens coordinator Greg Roman. That’s a very limited pool of upgrades right there.

None of this is to say that the Cowboys should tolerate bad coaching because they might not be able to do better. Rather, it’s to point out just how few coaches out there have been better than Moore, because he’s not a bad coordinator and is actually one of the better ones over the last four years. There is room for him to improve, sure, but that can be said of just about any coach. To move on from Moore because he isn’t 100% perfect would be a major mistake, and one that would significantly reduce the Cowboys’ championship window.

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