The lessons are tentative after only one game. But we plunge ahead.
We anticipated this for six months. From the moment Kellen Moore was promoted to fill the newly-vacant offensive coordinator position back in February, there has been a group of observers who believed that Moore was the answer to the offensive woes that beset the Dallas Cowboys. There were skeptics, many focusing on Moore’s lack of experience. All during OTAs and training camp, there were signs, but we all knew that the truth would not be known until his offense went up against NFL defenses in the regular season.
Well, that time has finally come, and Moore looks like a resounding success (so far). It is just one game, of course, so this is a qualified response. But even with that caveat, this and several other lessons were learned in the gratifying 35-17 win over the New York Giants.
Kellen’s got it going on
That is the big one. How the rookie offensive coordinator does his job is probably the biggest factor in how successful this season will be for the Cowboys. And he absolutely nailed this in Week 1. The very first play of the game showed just how different this offense is. The Cowboys trotted out 12 personnel (one RB, two TEs), which just shouted “RUN COMING” given that Ezekiel Elliott was the back involved.
And Moore called a pass to Amari Cooper, netting 13 yards and setting the tone for the entire game. From the perspective of the Giants’ defense, that tone was one of confusion and frustration. While the Cowboys would come up short on that first drive, they then strung together five touchdown drives, all 75 or more yards in length. Frankly, the only thing that stopped the Dallas offense from their second possession on was the Dallas coaching staff, which elected to shut things down in the fourth quarter, reducing the risk of pointless injuries.
Moore showed us some of everything. Pre-snap motion. Bunch formations. Different personnel groups. Play-action. Called QB runs. Deep passes. Just as important as the many elements he brought together was the sequence. He passed on first down and ran on third.
Now, the skeptics point out that the video of Moore’s offense is now being accumulated, and defenses will be quick to adjust. Well, there were some things that just seemed too well designed to easily counter. There appeared to be reads where Dak Prescott went pass or run based on what he saw the defense reveal as they scrambled to counter what at times felt like everybody going in motion. More importantly, if you think one game has revealed everything in Moore’s toolbox, I have some excellent investment property in Central Florida I would like to offer you.
This is a case where we go with what our eyes told us, until something changes.
Dak takes the next step
It was a record-setting game for Prescott. His development entering his fourth season was widely held to be second in importance to Moore’s proficiency. He came out on fire, and was doing whatever he wanted to from the middle of the first quarter until everything got dialed back with a 25-point lead to begin the fourth.
It is possible to put up a veritable laundry list of the things Prescott did better than he has in the past, but let’s focus on what may be the most important: The deep ball. There were no fewer than five plays where he completed deep passes - defined as traveling 20 or more yards in the air. And three of those were in the middle of the field. This is big. Look at this chart of all of Prescott’s passes in 2018.
See that void in the middle of the field past 15 yards deep? That was basically a no-fly zone last year.
Now compare with this from Sunday. It is in a different format, but you can still see the difference.
Prescott used the whole field, albeit still with a slight preference for the left side. But the accuracy is up all over the place.
The big caveat is that the Giants had almost no pass rush and pretty crappy coverage in the secondary. Even given that, this was a clinic on how to quarterback in the NFL. Prescott indeed looks to be on a new level.
Zeke hasn’t had a big impact - yet
He only had 14 touches for a total of 63 yards and a touchdown. Part of that is he only saw 54% of the offensive snaps. That can be attributed to two things, his need to get the rust off after missing all of camp, and the shutdown in the fourth quarter when Tony Pollard took his place to run out the clock.
But Moore will get him more involved. And there were times when the OC’s and QB’s masterful manipulation of the defense only had six defenders in the box as they were forced to spread out all over the field to try and cover the receivers. Remember how Moore has already shown he can cross things up with some unpredictability. You can be assured that he will have Elliott get the ball against those six man fronts at times. And we know that once Elliott is back up to full speed, he can get some chunk plays. They are coming.
The offense was ready to go - now the defense has to catch up
It is a reversal of the normal trend, as defenses usually are ahead of the offense in the first weekend. But after games elsewhere in the league, like the Thursday night mess between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, there was once again a lot of talk about how unprepared so many teams are due to the limited or nonexistent play of starters in preseason. Offensively, the Cowboys are at, or very near, mid-season form. That is huge, with the potential to get off to a 3-0 start as Washington and the woeful Miami Dolphins are their next two opponents.
The defense is probably in for a rough week in practice as they did not get off to a good start, yielding 470 yards and too many splash plays by the Giants. But starters DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones were both limited as they return from surgery. Both saw less than 50% of the snaps this game. And Robert Quinn is still a week away from completing his suspension and getting into the mix. Expect them to catch up very soon.
And if there is a bright spot for the defense, it was third down. They only allowed the Giants to convert 2 of 11, and also held them to 1 of 3 on fourth down attempts. That is certainly something to build on.
The wide receivers are flat out scary
They combined for 343 yards and two touchdowns. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb now look like one of the premier trios in the league. With Moore dialing up the plays and Prescott pulling the trigger so accurately, they are poised to wreak havoc.
The team has a chance to build some momentum
The Cowboys got off to a spectacular start, and there are many indications that it was just the beginning. Think back to the unexpected success of Prescott’s rookie season. After losing the first game, they went on an eleven-game winning streak. And with every W they accumulated, the confidence just grew.
Now they have an opportunity to do the same, and the roster is as good as it has been since the glory years of the early 1990s. This may be the start of something truly special.