Dallas Cowboys Inside Man
The expectations in Dallas are clearly set, if Kellen Moore is any kind of guide.
The Cowboys parted ways with their fourth-year offensive coordinator on Sunday, ending days of speculation about Moore’s future. The announcement came in the middle of the NFL’s conference championship games, ensuring the Cowboys would be the talk of the town on a day they hadn’t been a part of in 27 years — as ridiculous a decision as possible for the brand.
Officially, the decision was mutual. For that matter, Moore has already agreed to take the same job with the Los Angeles Chargers. The fact that the 34-year-old was swallowed up by another playoff contender with a Pro Bowl quarterback says a lot about what the league thinks of him.
However, there seems to be no bad blood here. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy praised Moore in a statement for his role in Dak Prescott’s development. “The production of our offense and his mentorship of Dak have been at the center of Kellen’s impact, and we are grateful for his tenure and leadership,” McCarthy said.
However, looking beyond the empty patting on the back that occurs in the team’s official statements, it’s easy to see the dividing line that led to Moore’s departure. Simply put, the Cowboys’ playoff production hasn’t matched what we were used to seeing during the regular season.
Those regular season numbers are impressive. In Moore’s four seasons as a player, the Cowboys led the league in scoring twice. Combined, they were the NFL’s No. 2 offense in both yards and scoring from 2019-22 — and that includes two seasons when Prescott missed much of the time due to injury.
But even with an explosive wild-card performance in Tampa this season, the postseason results haven’t matched. The Cowboys were held to an embarrassing 307 yards and 17 points in last year’s playoff loss to San Francisco. This year’s elimination in the divisional round might have been worse, with the 49ers holding them to 282 yards and just 12 points — and grabbing two Dak Prescott interceptions for good measure.
Does Mike McCarthy have too much power?
Emmanuel Acho, LeSean McCoy, Joey Taylor and David Hellman discuss whether Jerry Jones is giving Mike McCarthy too much power as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
Speaking of Prescott, we should also mention that the Cowboys’ starting quarterback had 17 interceptions this season despite playing in just 14 games due to a thumb injury. Maybe that falls to Moore, maybe not, but it’s obviously easier to replace a coordinator than a quarterback who will hit the team’s salary cap for about $50 million this year.
The bottom line is obvious: The Cowboys don’t care about regular season success if that’s going to be the outcome. And while that’s a perfectly admirable sentiment, it takes on an extra layer of meaning following a report from The Dallas Morning News that Moore’s replacement as playmaker will be none other than McCarthy himself.
Obviously, this is not an unfamiliar role. McCarthy called the play for most of his 13 years in Green Bay, overseeing multiple top-five offenses — not to mention the group that won Super Bowl XLV in Arlington.
Still, this situation seems a bit more complicated than plugging in an experienced caller in a vacant slot. For starters, McCarthy hasn’t done the job in a few years, having relinquished the role to Moore when he was hired in 2020. He’ll also be Prescott’s first new player since 2019, when Moore took over for Scott Linehan.
On top of that, McCarthy will still need an offensive coordinator to help him install the offense, draw up game plans and manage the team’s practices. The initial indication is that the Cowboys will look to outside candidates, but there is at least one internal option as well. Former Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer currently works in Dallas as an analyst.
Finally, there is one final layer worth exploring, and that is the bottom line. Moore is no longer with the Cowboys, and it’s fair to say the lack of postseason success is the main reason. McCarthy is entering the fourth season of his five-year deal and is adding games to his plate.
The expectation seems clear, and that is that McCarthy will be able to use his experience and insight to achieve a better result. If he can’t, is there any chance he could scapegoat the organization this time next year?
I feel like a reasonable guess. As good as McCarthy has done, reaching the postseason in back-to-back years, it all feels hollow when you haven’t advanced to the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season. Add in the part where a division rival like Philadelphia just reached its second Super Bowl in the last five years, and there has to be some urgency.
Maybe it starts right now. It could certainly be described as an emergency move to part ways with one of the league’s most successful offensive coaches, a man who has interviewed for half a dozen head coaching vacancies over the past few years and a man who will now coach Justin Herbert.
How well it goes, however, will largely depend on McCarthy. It’s up to him to hire a worthy successor, and it will obviously be up to him to summon a better offense — all the while understanding that the regular season is irrelevant.
Who can say if it will work out, but it will certainly add intrigue. That’s the cowboy way.
David Hellman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. Before that, he spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion,” about the Mississippi State quarterback’s time. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.
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