Kellen Moore had clear edge over Mike McCarthy that Cowboys fans overlooked

Los Angeles Chargers v Tennessee Titans
Los Angeles Chargers v Tennessee Titans / Johnnie Izquierdo/GettyImages

Things can change quickly in the NFL. After the Dallas Cowboys started the season 2-0 with two blowout wins, fans and the media couldn't help but give Mike McCarthy his flowers, not only for having the team ready to dominate, but for his situational play-calling.

Whereas the Cowboys would get greedy when nursing a lead during Kellen Moore's tenure as offensive coordinator, McCarthy has recognized Dallas' superiority and made sure his squad got out of dodge with a victory.

That's not to diminish Moore's ability as a play-caller, however.

He's one of the league's most innovative offensive minds and the Cowboys' offense was highly prolific under his tutelage. His game management, ability to make adjustments and take what opposing defense's gave him drew the ire of fans, but Moore's time in Dallas was undoubtedly a success.

The Cowboys might be better off with McCarthy pulling the strings, but Sunday's embarrassing defeat against the Cardinals was a culmination of the head coach's inability to produce a successful red zone offense this year.

Cowboys miss Kellen Moore's red zone play-calling after loss vs Cardinals

Drag Moore for his situational play-calling all you want, but he has a distinct edge over McCarthy as far as red-zone offense is concerned.

In 2022, the Cowboys scored a touchdown on 71.45% of their red zone trips. That was the highest clip in the NFL. In 2021, they ranked sixth in that regard with a 63.64% TD rate. Overall, they were 81 of 121 scoring touchdowns in the red zone over a 34-game sample size.

This year, Dallas is 6-of-15, which is tied with the Saints and Jets for 27th. It's a worse percentage than the 0-3 Broncos and 0-3 Vikings. Conversely, the Chargers are currently eighth with a 66.7% touchdown rate in the red zone after they ranked 17th last year before Moore's arrival.

A (seemingly) big reason behind the discrepancy? McCarthy has leaned heavily on the run game, whereas Moore is a big proponent of passing. In 2021 and 2022, Dallas ran the ball 44.2% of the time in the red zone, which was 27th in the NFL, compared to 55.8% passing, which was sixth-highest in the league.

There's nothing wrong with McCarthy wanting to run the rock, but as Matt Owen of Cowboys Wire noted, it seems like teams have picked up on the trend.

That's a problem, but it's fixable.

It's just going to take some innovation on McCarthy's part and the head coach sticking with (not abandoning) what got the offense into the red zone in the first place.

The Cowboys moved the ball largely at will vs Arizona thanks to a strong run game, spreading a receiver out and throwing quick slants and easy isolation routes. Once they entered the red zone, though, we saw jump balls to CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup and runs up the middle behind a depleted offensive line.

It's going to take more than that to beat defenses that specialize at disguising coverages, which have given Prescott fit over the years.

Nobody's pining for Moore's return or calling his dismissal a mistake. It was clear it was time to move on. But the longer the Cowboys' red zone struggles persist, the louder the McCarthy-Moore discourse will become.

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