Two Dallas Cowboys with much to prove in 2022 are Quarterback Dak Prescott and Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. Both are trying to establish themselves among the NFL elite in their respective crafts, and both heavily rely on each other to improve their reputations in this pivotal season.
On the surface, it might seem unfair to suggest that either Dak or Kellen still have to work on their resumes. After all, Moore just coordinated the NFL's top-ranked offense last year and Prescott came back from his horrific 2020 injury to be one of the league's most productive and efficient passers.
There are absolutely areas, and a lot of them, where both compare favorably with their peers. Both have proven they belong in the NFL and in the jobs they currently have.
But just being qualified or even above-average isn't enough for a team with a “Super Bowl or bust” mentality. Dak and Kellen are now up gainst this loftier expectation; being seen as top-tier talents and reasons why the Cowboys can consistently contend for a championship.
Most damning against them is Dallas' failure to return to the NFC Championship Game. While this futility streak goes back to the days of the Triplets, its enduring frustration and the belief that the Cowboys have had some of the NFC's most talented rosters over the last six years has left the burden of blame at the feet of current players and coaches.
Right now the jury is split. Some love Prescott and think Moore is holding him back, others think Dak is limiting the offense's potential and Kellen's perceived effectiveness. Some think both would thrive with a rebuilt offensive line. Others blame both the QB and coach as liabilities, putting a cap on Dallas' prospects until personnel changes are made.
The perceptions are all over the place and depend on your personal beliefs, priorities, and biases. But while the spectrum is wide, those who fully trust both Prescott and Moore are the minority.
There's a classic “chicken and the egg” debate here that isn't easy to resolve. The offensive coordinator and starting quarterback's roles are so intermingled that it's hard to know sometimes where one's influence stops and the other's begins.
For example, it was generally known that Peyton Manning was running his offense during his prime and later years. The same was said about Troy Aikman after Norv Turner left; the play called from the booth was more of a suggestion than an order.
Prescott's ownership of the offense has certainly increased since 2016, but even now we don't see him as this dominant mind on the offense. He's the emotional and spiritual leader and one of its top players, but Moore is still given the lion's share of the credit for scheme and strategy.
Both have done enough to put up big numbers and consistently rank high. But shifting perceptions will come with situational success; executing in clutch moments to sustain drives and win critical games. Their best work needs to start coming against the NFL's best and especially when they collide with those elite teams in the postseason.
Even in those moments, though, dissecting who deserves credit or blame can be difficult. Did Moore call the right or wrong play, or did Prescott fail to execute a good call? And sometimes, both did the right things and a missed block or a dropped catch squandered their efforts.
2022 is a big year for a lot of guys. Mike McCarthy is trying to prove he deserves his job more than Sean Payton, Dan Quinn, or some other perceived upgrade. Ezekiel Elliott hopes he can prove that he's worth keeping despite a cumbersome contract. These stories exist throughout the Cowboys' roster and have their own entanglements.
For Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott, success is the tide that will raise all ships. Extending Dallas' season beyond early January will go a long way to silencing doubters.
Debating about which of them deserves the credit for a Cowboys Super Bowl run would be a much nicer problem to have.