With franchise quarterback Dak Prescott done for the season and $90 million running back Ezekiel Elliott idling away, common logic dictates the Dallas Cowboys will pivot to a heavy, run-first offensive scheme.
Common logic would be wrong.
“I think we still need to play the same way,” coordinator Kellen Moore told reporters Monday, via the Dallas Morning News. “We still need to attack people, be aggressive. If people give us an opportunity downfield, we’re going for it.”
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Moore certainly employed this mindset after Prescott was lost to a fractured and dislocated ankle in the third quarter of Sunday’s victory over the New York Giants. The second-year play-caller dialed up 11 passes for backup QB Andy Dalton, including a 38-yard strike to Michael Gallup in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, leading to a game-winning Greg Zuerlein field goal.
This, the confidence in Dalton, Dallas’ coaches and front-office personnel agree on.
“We’re so fortunate to have Andy Dalton,” team VP Stephen Jones said Monday on 105.3 The Fan. “He’s just been a pleasure to have since the day he walked in the door. We certainly can be a very aggressive passing football team. He’s obviously not going to have the mobility that Dak (Prescott) has but, as you saw yesterday, when we had to have tremendous throws down the field (he was able to do that). He’s a pro. He’s led his team to the playoffs. He’s a winner.”
Dalton finished 9-of-11 for 111 yards in relief of Prescott, who went 14-of-21 for 166 yards and an interception before exiting. Altogether the Cowboys logged 33 passing attempts compared to 27 rushing attempts — 19 to Elliott (who recorded 91 yards and two touchdowns), six to RB Tony Pollard, two to Prescott, and one apiece to Dalton and WR Amari Cooper.
Entering Week 6, the Cowboys remain the league’s best offense in yards per game (488.0), buoyed by Dak’s top-ranked aerial attack (381.4 YPG). Conversely, the club ranks 19th in rushing yards per game (106.6). Elliott is the sport’s seventh-leading rusher, having compiled 364 yards and five TDs on 89 totes (4.1 YPC). He’s added 32 catches for 272 yards and one score while fumbling three times, losing two.
This is where Moore and Jones conflict; the latter strongly hinted that Elliott — not Dalton — will be the engine that makes the offense go.
“As far as our strategy, as far as what type of offense we’re gonna be. Yesterday epitomized what we want to be, which is really close to 50-50 run (vs) pass,” Jones said of the Giants game. “Unfortunately, we’ve just put ourselves behind the eight-ball in so many games this year, especially in the first four that we had to get away from that (split). Yesterday, we were able to make 14 points up in fairly quick order and get back to where we were able to play Cowboy football. It’s not always going to be perfect in terms of (the split), but when you got a player like Zeke, you got to utilize him. He should you yesterday, whether he’s catching the ball out of the backfield, whether he’s running the football, his physicalness is nothing but a positive and a huge asset for our football team.”
The true outcome likely is somewhere in the middle. Moore cannot starve Elliott of touches but he also can’t ignore the plethora of pass-catching talent at Dalton’s disposal.
It’s a fine line to walk as Dalton is an inarguable downgrade from Dak, and we’ll know Monday night whether it’s correctly toed. The Cowboys’ next opponent, 3-2 Arizona, surrenders the fifth-fewest passing yards per game (222.4) yet, more exploitable, rank 14th against the run, allowing 124.2 YPG.
Who Moore appeases, himself or his superiors, could shape not only the primetime NFC showdown but the remainder of Dallas’ 2020 campaign.
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