Someone had to take the fall. The Dallas Cowboys were knocked out of the playoffs with a whimper, putting up just 282 yards in their 19-12 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
An offense that ranked 3rd in points scored and 15th in yards per play struggled mightily against an elite San Francisco defense. And with Dan Quinn practically untouchable, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore ultimately became the scapegoat.
Moore and the Cowboys mutually agreed to part ways earlier this week. Moore landed on his feet not even 48 hours later, becoming the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers. Meanwhile, Mike McCarthy will take over the play-calling duties in Dallas. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confirmed the news this week:
“This is the logical step to build on it and use what we’ve established, if you will, the foundation of the things we’ve got. This is the time for us to build on it. That’s what this is, a building step.”
Moore’s departure came as a bit of a surprise, as his tenure with the Cowboys was generally good. However, it seemed as if Moore’s playcalling became less effective in bigger games, which likely led to his departure.
McCarthy has a long track record as a play caller, dating back to 2000 when he first emerged on the coaching scene as the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints. He also called the plays from 2006-18 as Green Bay’s head coach.
So what should Cowboys fans expect with McCarthy calling the shots?
McCarthy will mold the offense to how he ran it in Green Bay
This isn’t a situation where McCarthy will tailor the offense to his talent. McCarthy is going to create a system similar to what he ran with the Packers. Jones said as much at the Senior Bowl.
“It will be, in principle, the way he operated in Green Bay, which I’m sure he’ll tell you evolved,” Jones said in Mobile.
Plan for a pass heavy approach
The Cowboys are likely going to throw the ball much more than they did in 2022, in which they ranked 19th in pass attempts. McCarthy’s offenses in Green Bay ranked outside the top 10 in passing attempts just twice during his tenure, in 2015 and 2017. However, it’s worth noting that McCarthy didn’t call plays in 2015, and Aaron Rodgers was limited to just seven games in 2017 because of injury.
Conversely, the Packers never ranked higher than 12th in rushing attempts during McCarthy’s 13 years at the helm.
Welcome to the West Coast (offense)
McCarthy is a disciple of the West Coast offense, which is predicated upon frequent short and intermediate throws and plenty of play action.
It’s a system that could help Dak Prescott immensely, as it requires primarily three and five-step drops, with the quarterback often pre-determining where to go with the ball because of scheme. Prescott is at his worst when he’s forced to stand in the pocket and read the field. And after throwing a career-high 15 interceptions in 2022, Prescott should welcome a system that relies on precise route-running to help quarterbacks increase completion percentage and limit their turnovers.
McCarthy also was an early adopter of early-down throwing, something that only recently has become a greater emphasis for modern NFL offenses
So, did it work?
The short answer is yes. Of course, it helped that McCarthy had one of the best to ever do it in Rodgers running the system. But Green Bay’s offense ranked in the top 10 in offensive DVOA nine times during his Packers tenure. Other than his first season and the 2017 anomaly, Green Bay never ranked worse than 11th in offensive DVOA.
It certainly helped that McCarthy had one of the best to ever do it in Aaron Rodgers running this system. But again, part of that is due to the friendly nature of the scheme for quarterbacks.
What does this mean for Dallas in 2023?
McCarthy is a great offensive mind who has a proven track record of success running an NFL offense. Perhaps the greatest benefactor is Prescott, who could thrive in a more scripted, less aggressive passing game after ranking 10th among passers in intended air yards per pass attempt and 13th in on-target throws. Increased play action passing could also help, as Dak ranked 19th in pass attempts off of play-action and 20th in yards on play-action throws.
The Cowboys need some help with their receiving depth, but CeeDee Lamb could thrive in this system. Lamb already has elite route-running skills and could benefit from play-calling that schemes him open for yards after the catch. Lamb ranked just 71st among receivers last season with 4.5 yards after the catch per reception in 2022.
If this system works, the Cowboys offense should become a more efficient unit. The West Coast offenses sacrifices explosiveness for a more methodical approach. But the more the Cowboys can move the chains, the better off their elite defense will be.
While the dismissal of Moore might have come as a shock to some, the Cowboys should be in good hands with the accomplished McCarthy taking over play-calling duties.