Don’t Let the Playoff Loss Cloud Your Judgment On Kellen Moore

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY Sports)

The resurgent Dallas Cowboys were trailing 23-17 with 14 seconds remaining against the San Francisco 49ers in last week’s wild card playoff matchup. The drive started on their own 20-yard line with only 32 seconds left and no timeouts, but after a couple of quick passes to the sidelines, Dallas had advanced to the 49ers’ 41-yard line. Kellen Moore, the Cowboys’ third-year offensive coordinator (and hot head-coaching candidate), had two options. He could call two Hail Mary passes to the end zone or one more play to set up a more manageable shot at a game-winning touchdown.

Moore opted for a shorter play to set up the final shot. However, he called a quarterback draw for Dak Prescott, a risky move with no timeouts. After Dak slid at the 24-yard line, the umpire came in to reset the football. By the time Dak spiked the ball, time expired.

It was a disappointing home loss and a controversial move by the 33-year-old Moore. Many Minnesota Vikings fans immediately wrote Moore off as a potential head-coaching candidate. Not only was the play call questionable, but Dallas had the league’s top-ranked offense and only managed 307 total yards. They scored just seven points in the game’s first three quarters, and their 17 points were the third-fewest they had in a game all season.

But does that mean that the Vikings shouldn’t seriously consider him as a head coach? One game shouldn’t dictate whether or not to hire a candidate, and Moore had called a great season. It was the second time in his three years as an offensive coordinator that Dallas led the league in total offense. And they were on their way to another monster offensive output in 2020 before Prescott’s injury.

Some fans wish that the Vikings had moved on from former head coach Mike Zimmer following the 2019 season, allowing then-offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to take over. Instead, Stefanski took the Cleveland Browns’ job in 2020 and led them to their first playoff berth since 2002. He was named Coach of the Year for his efforts. Cleveland suffered injuries in 2021, but they still finished 8-9.

People forget that Stefanski didn’t exactly go out on top in Minnesota, though. Still vying for the NFC North crown in Week 16 against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings’ offense laid an egg. They only mustered 139 yards in a 23-10 loss. Three weeks later, Minnesota’s season ended with a 27-10 loss in the divisional round to the 49ers.

In three seasons, Stefanski’s offensive rankings also haven’t been on top of the league. In 2019, the Vikings ranked 16th in total offense. The 2020 Browns ranked 16th, and the 2021 version ranked 18th. Part of this is due to scheme and identity — all three of these teams have ranked in the top six in rushing. But it also isn’t like the Browns are the second coming of the Greatest Show On Turf.

I’m not saying that calling plays and offensive numbers make Moore a better, more qualified coach than Stefanski. Even though he played in the NFL for six seasons, Moore has only been in the coaching ranks since 2018, serving as Dallas’ QB coach that year before his promotion to OC. But maybe he was born for this sort of position. In high school, he always carried a notepad with him to constantly draw up plays.

Can Moore be the great communicator that the Wilfs are looking for? What are his plans for Kirk Cousins? These are more important factors than one game against the 49ers. Fans may have a sour taste in their mouth if the Vikings hire him. They should look at his body of work as opposed to one playoff loss before determining whether or not he can lead the franchise.

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