The Cowboys offense has transformed into the high-powered scoring juggernaut that many have been predicting for a while. Quarterback Dak Prescott and Co. currently sit in second place leaguewide in both total yards (trailing Baltimore by five) and points scored (behind Buffalo by two). It’s a testament to the all-star roster of playmakers on that side of the ball who are finally playing at full strength (mostly) and jelling as a unit (totally).
But it’s not enough to have a lightning-fast car. For maximum performance, there needs to be someone plotting the optimal route and mapping out the roads best-suited to what the vehicle does best. Coordinator Kellen Moore has the Cowboys humming and their engine firing on all cylinders, according to the franchise’s three-time Super Bowl champ and current Fox analyst Troy Aikman.
But that makes Moore a prime candidate for other clubs looking to retool and rev up their own machines.
“I like what he does,” Aikman said Tuesday on Dallas radio station KTCK The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM. “I like the way they attack a defense. I think he’s really smart. I think they use their personnel very well. They disguise a lot of what they do, and that’s what a lot of good offensive minds do. For the players, it’s very simple. It’s a lot of the same concepts, but they dress it up and just run it out of a lot of different looks.”
The offense’s ability to effectively and efficiently move the ball down the field in a variety of ways was on full display in Week 5 versus the Giants. The Cowboys ended Sunday’s blowout win with 515 yards of offense: 201 rushing, 314 passing. It marked the first time they’ve hit both milestones in the same game since 1983.
Aikman was just a senior in high school that year and still six years away from suiting up as the starting quarterback in Dallas, but the relationship he now sees between Moore and his signal-caller is very familiar to him.
“I think the best part right now for Dallas is that Dak Prescott and him, are just lockstep together in how they’re thinking. And when you get to that point- I was like that with Norv [Turner] and even Ernie Zampese to a certain extent, but especially with Norv- when you just kind of have an idea of what’s coming in before the play call comes in, and you know exactly why the calls are made and what you’re looking for. I know with Norv we put plays in that were designed just for one particular look that a defense had shown, and I said, ‘What happens if they blitz us out of this look?’’ And he said, ‘Then we don’t have anything, and just throw it away.’” Aikman recalled. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it would be called and we get the exact look that the play was in for. Those guys are rare. And I think Kellen has that ability, even though he’s as young as he is.”
Being just 33 makes Moore even more attractive to a team- pro or college- looking to jump on the youth movement with their next head coach. He’s already had offers.
“I don’t know Kellen very well, but yeah, I like what he’s been able to do,” Aikman explained. “I think that it only makes sense that he would be a candidate. He was last year for the Boise State job, which obviously makes a lot of sense since that’s where he played. But also, he interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles for that job. So I think he’ll get more interviews if this team continues to do what we’ve seen up to this point.”
While 2021 marks the third season in the OC job for Moore, he’s had a wild and winding road when it comes to his experience. This is his first year having had a full training camp under head coach Mike McCarthy; last year’s offseason was practically lost to COVID-19 just as Moore and McCarthy were still getting to know one another… and then the campaign was derailed after just five games when Prescott suffered his season-ending compound ankle fracture.
The year before that, Moore’s first season as coordinator came in what was to be Jason Garrett’s final year as Cowboys head coach. Moore faced his former boss- now the OC in New York- in Sunday’s game in Arlington.
JG with Kellen after the game pic.twitter.com/LgA6hCmIaH
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) October 13, 2021
There’s significant history shared by the two former Cowboys quarterbacks, not the least of which is the common denominator of being a part of Prescott’s progress in the job now.
“A lot of people forget that [Moore] and Dak Prescott were teammates, went through training camp together, went through an offseason together,” Aikman noted. “And for Dak, sometimes when you’re a teammate with someone- there was talk at one time about Jason Garrett being an offensive coordinator for the Cowboys when I was still playing. And I think the world of Jason, but I don’t know if I’m ready for someone to cut their teeth on this job while I’m still playing and have good years left. But for Dak, he embraced it. He was all for it. In fact, he encouraged it.”
Moore agreed this week that the time he spent suiting up next to Prescott helped pave the way for the coaching relationship he has with him now.
“Obviously a unique circumstance to be with the guy as a player together, in the same room, and then, obviously, transition to the coaching aspect,” Moore told reporters this week. “I think in many ways, especially early on, you can relate in many ways because a lot of the things we’re asking a quarterback to do, I was fortunate to be in that situation, in the same room, being asked to do it from Scott [Linehan] or Wade [Wilson] or Jason [Garrett] at the time. Hopefully, I can relate in that way, and obviously, we’ve built a relationship as co-players initially, and it’s obviously developed into a coach-player relationship. I have a ton of trust in him. A ton of trust, a ton of faith. I think we have seen the game in many ways over the course of this number of years together. So we’ve been able to talk through a lot of things, been in a lot of quarterback rooms. The unique thing, I think, about a quarterback room is sometimes those impromptu conversations that come up: you’re watching a game of an opponent, a situation comes up, a play comes up. And those kind of off-schedule conversations, sometimes those things end up applying in a real game, and you say, ‘Holy cow, we were talking about that.’ And lo and behold, it shows up. It may show up in a couple weeks, but we’re always talking in those situations, talking football. I think that’s what’s awesome about what we have in our quarterback room here right now.”
Moore knows the experience he’s gained- in both the quarterbacks room and the offensive coordinator’s office- will only help him when he takes on a head coaching role one day. And he’s learning that at the feet of a Lombardi Trophy-winning figure and former offensive coordinator in McCarthy.
“I would say I feel very fortunate to be in this situation I am in,” Moore said. “Obviously, Mike’s had a ton of success in this league as a head coach and a play-caller. He’s an awesome resource for me as I go through each and every week, just to talk through conversations: ‘Hey, what do you think about this situation? What do you think if we maybe did X, Y, and Z?’ And we’re able to bounce those ideas off together. I think as this has come into our second year together, I think we’re so well-aligned as far as our approach and the system and the routine that we take each and every week, that we’re in a really, really good place. And that applies to the whole offensive staff. I think anytime you’re able to have the same staff for a second year together. This is the first time I’ve ever been part of a staff where it’s the same staff. This offseason was awesome because we could really start right where we left off and take off from there. It’s been an awesome process.”
But it’s just part of the process. The process, the transformation is far from complete- for the 2021 Cowboys, but also for Kellen Moore. He still has work to do with Prescott; they still have goals to achieve together. But Aikman believes that Prescott- and Cowboys fans- should savor what they have right now.
“I know Dak realizes- I talked to him about it the other day ,” Aikman said, “he realizes that, in all likelihood, Kellen will not be his offensive coordinator for much longer because he’s impressed so many people around the league.”
Many Cowboys fans are already eager to see Moore ascend to the head spot in Dallas. It’s not necessarily because of a dislike of McCarthy. It’s because they, like Aikman, see the potential in Moore for something truly extraordinary, and they don’t want to lose him to another organization looking to create a well-oiled machine of their own.