Helman: Blown Away By An Adaptable Offense

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FRISCO, Texas – Dak Prescott hopped slightly to account for the height of the snap. By the time he landed, Tony Pollard was crossing in front of his face. One flick of the wrist, and the ball was gone.

It was a nifty play design, as Pollard faked a reverse before turning upfield and weaving his way to a solid seven yards, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't the most memorable pass of Prescott's night.

But that key word – pass – is important, and that's what made it stick out in Kellen Moore's mind.

"We threw a ball that traveled a foot to Tony that went eight yards as a pass," Moore said Monday, having digested the tape. "Yards are yards, whether its run or pass. We don't get hung up on the category that they go in to."

The Cowboys' offensive coordinator had a bemused look on his face on several occasions during his Monday press conference, as he fielded quite a few questions about those categories.

Prescott started his season in explosive fashion, throwing the ball 58 times for 403 yards against Tampa Bay. It was a number that raised eyebrows – and, in the wake of the 31-29 loss, also raised questions about the usage of Ezekiel Elliott, who carried the ball 11 times for 33 yards.

Faced with those questions, Moore pointed toward one obvious statistic.

"That was the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL," he said. "We could bang our head against the wall if we want but at the end of the day I thought they did a good job stopping the run."

However you might feel about the Week 1 loss, if you're a Cowboys fan who has been following this team for the last few years, that quote should make your heart sing.

It'd be a mistake to project too much from one game, but that's a quote that suggests adaptability. For far too many years, the name of the game was stubborn insistence.

Watching Kellen Moore choose to skirt around the Buccaneers' defense, rather than try to plow right through it, I thought I could feel a weight lifted off my soul.

It reminded me of the Cowboys' 28-24 loss to Minnesota back in 2019. In that game, Prescott had similar success winging the ball around, as he completed 28 passes for 397 yards – an impressive average of 8.6 yards per attempt.

But in that game, Elliott carried the ball 20 times for a measly 47 yards. And despite that average of just 2.4 yards per carry, a whopping 14 of his attempts came on first down. The vast majority of those gains were minimal and put the Cowboys' offense behind schedule, which helps explain why they managed just a field goal on their final three possessions of the game.

Contrast that with the results from last week. Yes, of course the Cowboys still the lost the game, but the process was much less frustrating to watch – and that's even when you include a maddening red zone performance that saw them settle for field goals three times and miss one of them.

It's also not as if the Cowboys didn't find ways to accomplish the same goal. Similar to the aforementioned shovel pass to Pollard, Moore dialed up other ways for easy yardage.

By my count, 10 of Prescott's passes went to or behind the line of scrimmage. That's 10 attempts that are, for all intents and purposes, similarly easy to handing the ball off. The Cowboys generated 71 yards on those 10 attempts. If you add that to the rushing tally, you're looking at 28 attempts for 131 yards – which is a healthy average of 4.6 yards per attempt and a hell of a lot more productive than charging into the teeth of a defensive front.

Meanwhile, when he wasn't running the rock, Elliott was taking a different type of beating in pass protection to make sure Prescott remained upright.

"If you know football, if you're in this building you can tell someone can have a solid game without having the best statistics," Elliott said Wednesday. "If you're the one that's saying that, then you probably should study a little more."

It probably speaks to Elliott's struggles last season, not to mention his massive contract, that we're having this conversation at all. There are 16 more games to play this season, and there's no chance the numbers will remain as skewed as they were in Tampa.

"It's a long season. Different matchups, different defensive schemes, we're going to need Zeke to pound it," Moore said. "Could be this week. Could be the following week."

That's only logical, and it's a good bet run lanes will begin to open if Prescott keeps bombing away for 400 yards per week. The important takeaway from Week 1 isn't who had the numbers, though – it's that the Cowboys adjusted to get them in the most efficient way possible.

Moore has said before that he doesn't care how this offense moves the ball, just so long as it moves. Heading forward from here, it's a fun thought that he just might be telling the truth – and that should be a scary thought for opposing defenses.

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