Kellen Moore is on fire. After calling the Dallas Cowboys’ offense for Sunday night’s victory over the Minnesota Vikings, without star QB Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore might be the most popular name in football. It feels as though Moore shot up head coaching wish lists last night, as he helped Cooper Rush throw for 325 yards in his first career NFL start.
So, let’s do a quick rundown on Kellen Moore, where he comes from, what he does with the Cowboys’ offense, and see if he could be an intriguing coaching option for future head coaching vacancies.
Who is Kellen Moore?
Kellen Moore was born and raised in Prosser, WA. His father is a high school football coach who won 21 league titles and four state championships. Growing up, Kellen would watch his father lead high school football practices after school. He has quite the football story.
“He’d always have a little notepad with him. He was always drawing plays.”– Tom Moore (Kellen Moore’s father)
During high school, Kellen’s football coach was his father. In fact, in Kellen’s final two years of high school, his father let him call his own plays. He proceeded to earn Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the state of Washington and set multiple high school single-season and career passing records.
After high school, Moore chose to attend Boise State, where he red-shirted his freshman year. As a redshirt freshman in 2008, he started 12 games, finishing with a 12-0 record before losing to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. In 2009, Moore threw for a school-record 39 touchdowns while leading Boise State to a perfect 14-0 record. Boise State drew No. 4 ranked TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. Although TCU was widely favored, Boise State pulled off the upset with a 17-10 victory.
In his junior season (2010), Moore was a Heisman finalist and finished fourth in the voting. He was also a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award, the Maxwell Award, and the Manning Award. His Boise State team finished the season 12-1 with a victory over Utah in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas.
During his final year of college, Moore ranked as the No. 1 returning player in college football ahead of Andrew Luck. Boise State finished the season 12-1 with a victory over Arizona State in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas. Moore broke the record for most career wins by an FBS QB and became the first QB in FBS history to win 50 games in his career. He was also a finalist for the Maxwell Award.
Over the course of his career at Boise State, Moore had a high command of an offense that featured an array of formations, shifts, and motions.
“The shifts and motions are very specific to each play. There’s a purpose to why we’re doing it. We’re not just shifting and motioning and running people all across the field just for the heck of it. There’s a reason. We’re trying to get an advantage, trying to outnumber them, trying to see a coverage…”– Kellen Moore on Gruden’s QB Camp
Kellen Moore’s NFL Playing Career
Moore’s NFL potential was heavily doubted due to his smaller stature (6 feet tall) in addition to doubts about his arm strength and mobility. After going undrafted in 2012, the Detroit Lions signed him as a UDFA. Moore would not see time in an NFL regular-season game until 2015 when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys practice squad.
After Tony Romo broke his collarbone twice in the 2015 season, the Cowboys twice promoted Moore to the active roster to serve as the backup QB. He went on to play in three games in 2015, starting two of them. In his second start, he threw for 435 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
The following year, Moore suffered a broken leg in training camp and was placed on injured reserve. Despite being sidelined in 2016, he worked closely with rookie QB Dak Prescott throughout the season. He returned to Dallas in 2017 but saw no playing time as he shuffled between the roster and practice squad. Prior to the 2018 season, Moore retired from the NFL.
In 2018, the Cowboys hired Moore to serve as their QB coach. In that role, Moore continued to work with Dak Prescott, who set a career-high in passing yards on the way to an NFC East title. After only one year as QB coach, the Cowboys promoted Moore to offensive coordinator in 2019. The Cowboys led the NFL in yards per game in 2019 and ranked sixth in points per game. They scored 30-plus points eight times and gained 350-plus yards 13 times.
Dallas retained Moore as offensive coordinator for the 2020 season under new head coach Mike McCarthy. The Cowboys’ offense experienced a litany of injuries in 2020, playing most of the season without their starting QB, LT, RT, and TE. The Cowboys were the fifth most injured team by Football Outsiders Adjusted Games Lost metric, and the fourth most injured offense. Despite the injuries, they still ranked 17th in points and 14th in yards. Dallas scored 30-plus points four times and gained 350-plus yards four times while Andy Dalton was starting at QB (nine games). Prior to Dak Prescott’s injury, they were averaging 32.6 points per game and 488 yards per game.
Coming into the 2021 season, Moore was considered a head coaching candidate worth watching. Seven games into the 2021 season, that conversation has only grown louder. The Cowboys’ lowest yardage total so far this season is 380 yards. They have averaged 32.1 points per game and 455 yards per game.
In Week 6, the Cowboys traveled to Foxborough to play the Patriots. Dallas gained 567 yards against New England, the most yards allowed by a Bill Belichick defense in his coaching career. Most recently, the Cowboys scored 20 points and totaled 419 yards in Minnesota while backup QB Cooper Rush made his first career NFL start. Rush, who was a UDFA in 2017, threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
“I think (Kellen) Moore is one of the better offensive coordinators that we’ve faced. It’s not just the players. It’s the scheme.”– Patriots HC Bill Belichick
Kellen Moore’s Offensive Scheme
- Chris Peterson (Boise State)
- Scott Linehan (DET / DAL)
- Jason Garrett (DAL)
- Mike McCarthy (DAL)
Versatility is the name of the game for Moore. That, along with plenty of pre-snap motion, a propensity to call plays to the game situation, and strong talent across the roster, has led to one of the top offensive attacks in the league. I am not going to lie here, it was difficult to find details on the system or style that Moore runs. He seems to implement a range of concepts from varying sources but tends to draw on his Boise State roots a fair amount.
In 2020, the Cowboys were overly reliant on 11 personnel. Prior to Dak Prescott’s injury, the team used 11 personnel on 75% of their offensive snaps. For the entire season, they used 11 personnel on 71% of snaps. However, in 2021, this rate has dropped to only 55%. This is partially due to the injury to Michael Gallup. But it was also a stated intention to limit 11-personnel usage to take some of the processing off Prescott’s plate.
11 personnel forced the QB to process a lot of information with potentially small returns. When plays are run out of “11” at that high of a frequency, the mental requirements are amplified. Commuting to lessen the usage of 11 personnel allows for Dak to be better at using 11 personnel. Dallas limits their play-action looks out of 11 personnel, only using it 19% of the time.
Their usage of 12 personnel has increased from 21% in 2020 (12% in games Dak played) to 33% in 2021. When passing out of 12 personnel, Moore has relied on his tight ends to get Prescott more defined reads off play-action. The Cowboys have run play action on 50% of their snaps out of 12 personnel to ease the stress on the QB. No team has run more snaps with two tight ends lined up next to each other than the Cowboys. The Cowboys offense has been able to live in either 11 or 12 personnel in 2021, which has paid dividends through Week 8.
The Cowboys run an assortment of different concepts from various personnel packages and formations. Some might say that they understand the “why” behind their concepts and what they are trying to accomplish.
The offensive staff has shown an ability to transform their rushing attack to their opponent. Although, this may have more to do with their excellent offensive line than it does with their coordinator. Through eight weeks, the Cowboys have shown an ability to run outside zone out of both 11 and 12 personnel. They have also utilized inside zone and weakside zone looks out of both personnel groupings this season. Like the passing attack, the rushing attack is also varied. Dallas will also use two tight ends lined up next to each other in the run. This gives them the ability to either run the ball or pass, using pre-snap motion to get the defense to declare their intent.
Moore shows a strong understanding of marrying the run blocking to the pass blocking. This is a critical tool to use in play-action passing, as it masks the offensive intent on play-action. Dallas shows good ability to mask duo, inside zone, and outside zone for the pass or the run. Against two-high safety looks, Moore likes to pull out the classic RB draw play. The idea here is that the offense can take advantage of two high safeties who are more concerned with their coverage than playing the run. However, we again see a spot where the benefit of a strong offensive line helps the play-caller.
“I like what he does, I like the way that they attack a defense, I think he’s smart… they use their personnel very well. They disguise a lot of what they do. And that’s what a lot of great offensive minds do. For the players, it looks very simple and it’s a lot of the same concepts, but they dress it up and run plays out of a lot of different looks.”– Troy Aikman
Kellen Moore is one of the NFL’s popular young offensive minds that we see get head coaching opportunities every year. At 32 years of age, he is likely to be one of the youngest head coaching candidates ever. Josh McDaniels and Sean McVay were both (almost) 31 when hired as head coaches. There is a lot to like in Moore’s play-calling tendencies, as he has shown an ability to adapt to what he is seeing on the grass. His use of pre-snap motion is strong, as is his ability to keep a defense off balance.
“Kellen Moore is going to be a head coach next year. Someone is going to pick him up. I think it’s about his time.”– Tony Romo during a broadcast in Week 2, 2021
However, one crucial concern regarding Moore is the amount of talent he is working with. Certainly, we can all understand that a job becomes easier when you are provided the best tools to succeed. Between the Cowboys’ offensive line, wide receiver talent, running back room, and QB talent, Moore appears to have it all at his disposal. However, Moore played a key role in Dak Prescott’s ascension from fourth-round draft pick to Pro Bowl QB. Moore certainly bears watching in the second half of the season as an interview candidate for head coaching vacancies.
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