Offenses are constantly changing coordinators in the NFL. This year there are 16 changes though not all call the plays. In 2018, 17 different coordinators started their first season with a franchise and six of those were fired after only one year. The Cowboys have been one of the franchises that resisted the temptation to swap out the top coaches after playing that game in the decade before shifting Jason Garrett from offensive coordinator (2007-2010) into taking the reins in 2011.
Garrett enters his eighth season as the head coach. Only four other NFL coaches have a longer tenure with their franchise. Through 2018, Scott Linehan ran the offense and, with four years on the job, he was more tenured than all but two other offensive coordinators in the NFL last year. Rod Marinelli controls the defense and enters his fifth season and is tied with Romeo Crennel ((HOU) and George Edwards (MIN) as the longest-acting defensive coordinator with their team in the league.
The Cowboys finally succumbed to change this year. The Cowboys defense is one of the top units in the league and that’s without any truly elite star defenders. Marinelli is not going anywhere.
But the 55-year-old Linehan was released in January. He breathed new life into the offense in 2016 during Dak Prescott’s first season. The Cowboys ranked in the top ten for both yards and touchdowns. That trend declined these last two seasons with an offense that struggled to produce above-average results in any category not related directly to Ezekiel Elliott. The scheme and play calling were viewed as tired and predictable from the long-time offensive mastermind Linehan.
His destiny was already sealed before the playoff loss to the Rams when the offense struggled to move the ball. In short order, the Cowboys tabbed their QB coach Kellen Moore as the new offensive coordinator. It is a curious, exciting and risky move all in one.
On the face of it, the move begs the question: “How does a career back-up quarterback deserve the keys to the Cowboys offense with a resume’ of just one year as the QB coach?” It was the only season he ever coached. He started just three games in the NFL. There are now five great unknowns in life (in no particular order).
- What is life?
- Why does matter exist?
- What happens after death?
- How did they miss that PI call in the Rams-Saints game?
- Why is Kellen Moore the Cowboy’s OC with almost zero experience?
Fair questions, all. But only one can be answered. At least sort of. Moore was a QB coach for just one season and it wasn’t even the best for Dak Prescott who ranked No. 12 among fantasy quarterbacks in 2018 thanks only to a late-season surge when Amari Cooper played in a home game. He never coached any offense. He’s never called any plays. He was a great quarterback at Boise State where he was a four-year starter who totaled 142 touchdowns and 14,667 passing yards. He went undrafted in 2012 but managed a five-year career as a back-up/practice squad player for the Lions and Cowboys that included only three games played in 2015.
So why the opportunity?
As a successful college quarterback and then spending five seasons between two franchises, he’s not without experience running offenses and understanding defenses. But it goes beyond that. He is the son of a very successful high school coach and lived around football all his life. From college onwards, he’s always been a devout student of the game and one of the smartest football guys in the room. He’s collected playbooks and studied them since he was in high school. Not just his team, any team.
His college success was as much about being so adept at reading defenses. Even in his stints with the Lions and Cowboys where he spent far more time with the quarterback’s group than on the field, he was known for applying offenses to defenses. Even though he did not often play, he was an integral part of the QB unit.
He’s been described as someone born to coach and who possesses rare knowledge about the game. Enough to land a job directing America’s Team on offense despite only one short season as the QB coach. His strength, weakness, risk, and reward stems from what the offense will look like under his play calling. And that can best be described in two words:
He is an absolute mystery as a play caller. He has no track record, at all, of what he’ll do with the offense. Passing? Rushing? Probably a bit of both. But how that shakes out will be an advantage initially since defenses have nothing to prepare against yet. Safe to say Ezekiel is heavily involved as the running back. Amari Cooper will get the most targets. How that all happens remains to be seen.
The Cowboys also added Jon Kitna as the QB coach. But the offense is going to be all about Moore’s impact. Garrett will keep tabs on his offense, obviously and help out if needed. But – 2019 welcomes the most undefined offense that the Cowboys have ever featured.
Fantasy football takeaway
The main elements of the offense are set with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper. Prescott finished each of his three seasons ranked between No. 10 and No. 12 in fantasy points and he’s been largely saddled with an average set of receivers since joining the Cowboys. Jason Witten offered a third-down role until last year and the wideouts were below average until the second half of 2019. Dez Bryant was already beyond his productive seasons when Prescott started in 2016. Most of Prescott’s fantasy value came from adding rushing yards and scores along the way.
The change in coaches won’t hurt Ezekiel Elliott who will remain the centerpiece of the offense. He’s a top rusher every year and spent his third season with a big increase as a receiver. He was limited to no more than 32 catches during his first two seasons but caught 77 passes for 567 yards and three scores last year.
That was partially reflective of the lack of credible receivers to start the year. There’s no certainty that he’ll remain as involved as a receiver under Moore, but he was equally relied on both before and after Amari Cooper joined the team. Moore knows well enough how critical getting Elliott as many touches as possible can be.
Amari Cooper brought a big play addition that had sorely lacked for many years. Oddly, he turned in six touchdowns during the eight games with the Cowboys and each one came at home. His three 100-yard efforts were all in Dallas. That should start to even out this year as he becomes more familiar with Prescott. The Cowboys drafted Michel Gallup in the third round last year and the rookie predictably offered marginal fantasy value with never more than 53 yards in any regular season game and only two touchdowns.
Gallup offered at least some hope for 2019 when he turned in 119 yards on six catches in the Divisional Round loss to the Rams. The Cowboys could bring in more help at wideout but Cooper and Gallup are likely to remain the top two. Cole Beasley could figure in as well but again – there is no way of knowing how Moore intends on using the slot receiver.
One spot that the Cowboys should be certain to address is at tight end. Losing Jason Witten last year and not addressing the position until the very end of the fourth round had predictable, mediocre results. The Cowboys are without a first-round pick thanks to acquiring Amari Cooper but could spend their second-round pick on a tight end.
This will be interesting. The Cowboys enter the year with an unknown offense. That almost always starts out well since defenses are unable to prepare. How well it continues in the following weeks is all up to Moore.