Kellen Moore needs a lesson in complementary football.
Perhaps the second-year play-caller is still adjusting to life without Dak Prescott because I don't understand why continues to feature pass-heavy game plans that fail to minimize the deficiencies of the quarterback, offensive line, and defense. Moore has witnessed the team's struggles from his vantage point on the sidelines. He's watched his QB2 and QB3 gift wrap turnover to opponents on poor throws, misreads, and poor decisions, yet he continues to make them the focal point of the offense. Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci shouldn't throw the ball 40-plus times in a game as temporary starters in a game under any circumstances, particularly with a patchwork offensive line in front of them.
The pass-centric game plans are recipes for disaster due to the odds of something going wrong on every pass attempt. Sure, the backup quarterback can register a completion on a perfect throw behind a frontline providing sufficient protection but it is more likely that an incompletion, interception, or sack is the result based on the track records of the throwers and protectors. Moore should always keep this information in mind and make play-calling choices based on the odds of a positive outcome.
The second-year play-caller should also consider how well the defense is playing is when building a game plan and calling a game. The NFL's best teams operate under a complementary football premise that requires each unit (offense, defense, and special teams) to play the game in a manner that helps the other units thrive. For instance, the Cowboys' defensive struggles suggest that the offense should attempt to control the ball to reduce the number of total possessions in the game. This would significantly reduce the number of defensive snaps and mask the defense's deficiencies by limiting their time on the field.
In addition, Moore needs to understand when the defense has the game under control and avoid taking unnecessary risks on offense. If the defense is playing well, he should opt for a more conservative approach and rely on the defense to create scoring opportunities on turnovers or defensive stops.
That's why I was baffled by his approach against the Eagles with the defense playing at a high level. The Cowboys had a chance to seize an early 10-point lead before DiNucci's fumble in the red zone. And they blew an opportunity to cash in on another drive following a successful ground and pound sequence (seven straight runs for 45 yards) that was interrupted by a botched double reverse attempt in the third quarter. The 10-yard loss pushed the team out of "easy" field goal range and led to a 52-yard attempt. The missed field goal gave the Eagles great field position and enabled them to complete a 10-point swing largely due to a mismanaged drive.
Moore is viewed as a rising star in the coaching ranks due to his creativity and innovation but his suspect management skills have cost the Cowboys games in a league that is typically decided by eight points or fewer.
Tony Pollard settles into his role.
It is hard to take an All-Pro running back off the field but the Cowboys needed to find a way to get one of their better playmakers more opportunities in the backfield. After getting off to a slow start that included a couple of fumbles and scattershot production, it appears Pollard and the coaching staff have found a way to take advantage of the former fourth-round pick's talents as a multipurpose playmaker.
Against the Eagles, Pollard tallied 64 scrimmage yards on nine touches (seven rushes for 40 yards; two catches for 24 yards) as a change of pace back. He displayed the quickness, burst, and wiggle that made him a coveted prospect at Memphis while also flashing soft hands and solid receiving skills. He's shown more pop and explosiveness than Elliott, and he deserves to get more touches to stabilize the Cowboys' running game.
That said, Elliott should continue to be featured as the No.1 offensive option but Pollard's potential to produce an explosive play should prompt the coaches to give him at least 10 touches each week as part of a ball-control game plan built around the running back make life easier for their quarterbacks.
The defense takes a step in the right direction.
If you're Mike Nolan, you're pleased with the defense's performance against the Eagles. The Cowboys forced four turnovers with four sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits. The constant harassment and disruption wrecked the flow of the Eagles' offense and put the Cowboys in a position to win the game with a rookie quarterback making his first start.
Reviewing the All-22 coaches' tape, the Cowboys were more connected on defense with defenders showing a better understanding of their gap assignments and coverage responsibilities. There weren't any glaring mental errors that stood out and the big plays allowed were due to the Eagles winning their one-on-one battles instead of taking exploiting a blown assignment or miscommunication.
From an effort standpoint, the Cowboys ran to the ball and hustled like a championship unit. The overall effort and energy were significantly improved from some of the team's early-season games. The recent personnel changes might've impacted the performance of the unit with more hard-working guys on the field but the unit's performance and production should earn high marks from Nolan and his staff when they grade the film.
Trevon Diggs has All-Pro potential.
The Cowboys' second-round pick was viewed as a potential five-star talent based on his combination of size, athleticism, and ball skills during the pre-draft process. Diggs is quickly beginning to play up to expectations as a long, rangy ball hawk in the Cowboys' scheme. Sure, the first-year starter has given up a few big plays due to inexperience, shoddy technique, and poor eyes but his natural talents jump off the screen when studying his game.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder is a fluid mover with quick feet and outstanding stop-start quickness. He lacks elite top-end speed but his length and anticipation enable him to run with speedsters down the field when he plays with proper technique. As a former wide receiver turned cornerback, Diggs displays outstanding ball skills and hands. He tracks the ball well and routinely knocks the ball away when challenged by the opponents.
Despite surrendering a 58.1-percent completion rate (32 completions out of 55 targets), per PFF, he is routinely in a position to make plays on the ball. This is important to note because he will start making more plays as he becomes more experienced and clearly understands his responsibilities in coverage. With a little more seasoning, Diggs has a chance to be a great one on the island.
Randy Gregory shakes off the rust.
The Cowboys could get a much-needed boost from No.94 down the stretch. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder hasn't played in a game since 2018 but looked like a natural fit as an edge defender in the team's hybrid scheme.
Gregory not only brought energy to the defense but he added athleticism and playmaking ability to the unit. As a high-motor player with exceptional length and fluid movement skills, he is a run-around defender with the capacity to make plays as a sideline-to-sideline chaser. Gregory notched four tackles with a couple of takedowns registered on hustle plays that showcased his short-area speed and burst.
As a pass rusher, he is an athletic rusher with enough wiggle to elude and evade blockers with a series of finesse moves. Gregory isn't a polished rusher but he flashes enough athleticism to win on stunts, games, and designed line movement. For a guy that's still shaking off the rust from an extended layoff, the flashes from No.94 should spark some optimism from a coaching staff that's desperately looking for another impact player on the frontline.