Mike McCarthy outlines a surprising shift in vision for the Cowboys’ offense in his return to the game

INDIANAPOLIS — Mike McCarthy jokingly painted a picture of his new reality.

“I wake up at 3 a.m. every night thinking about games,” the Dallas Cowboys head coach joked over lunch at the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday. “Most people sing in the shower. I’m calling the final drive of the Super Bowl again. When I’m driving my car, I think about plays.”

Laughter ensued at the not-so-crazy-for-football-world vision.

But the reality of McCarthy’s return to play-calling for the first time in his four seasons in Dallas is far less glamorous. After splitting with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, McCarthy is taking over his play-calling duties, admitting some of his plans are “not sexy” and “don’t get you in the headlines.”

Improving ball safety and winning the possession time battle are among McCarthy’s priorities for 2023, followed shortly thereafter by letting the ball run to ease the pressure on quarterback Dak Prescott and the defensive staff. McCarthy believes an overall perspective and prioritization will give Dallas an advantage as its head coach announces games for the first time since 2012.

“I was where Kellen was,” McCarthy said. “Kellen wants to light up the scoreboard. But I want to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense. Think if you’re a coordinator, you know, but you’re in charge of offense. As a head coach and play-caller, you’re a little more in tune.

“I don’t want to be No. 1 on offense in the league. I want to be the No. 1 team in the league by number of wins and championship. And if we have to give up some production and have to be more careful with the ball to get that, then we will.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy speaks during a news conference at the NFL Football Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has a tentative plan for Dallas’ offensive line for the 2023 season that could mean Dak Prescott has fewer hits to take. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

How the Cowboys’ offense will change under McCarthy

A productive offense is, of course, more of an asset than a drain on a team’s success. But after two 12-5 seasons that ended in early playoff exits (a wildcard/divisional loss, respectively), the Cowboys are looking to maximize their efficiency more than their productivity.

Dallas has had top-six scoring three times in the past four seasons, with the offense leading the league in yardage twice in the past four years without ever falling below 14th place.

But the Cowboys Super Bowl and even the NFC Championship drought has been prolonged since the 1995 season. McCarthy believes a less conspicuous offense could change that.

“It’s fun as hell to call [pass-heavy] plays, but that’s not the best thing for your team,” McCarthy said. “Ownership time goes to hell, turnover risk increases.

“So we have to get ball security. We need to secure it better. We have to be a top five team and that’s a skill.”

The Cowboys’ defense has led the league to takeaways for the past two seasons, but Prescott also led the league with 15 interceptions in just 12 regular-season games. He threw two more in the divisional round loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The details to change that may sound dry, but McCarthy believes they’ve stood the test of time since his successful 13-year tenure at Green Bay, which included a Super Bowl title.

The recipe?

Expect more balance and more complementary football, meaning ample opportunities for running backs like Tony Pollard, franchise tag candidate Ezekiel Elliott, who is likely to take a pay cut, or a new signing who could arrive via the Cowboys’ 26th pick in the NFL draft.

Dallas will aim for cleaner pre-snap mannerisms to better disguise whether a run or pass is expected, hoping the defense won’t be able to diagnose Cowboys intentions until after the snap.

And most importantly, protection systems that keep the pocket tighter and the quarterback’s footwork more precise.

Prescott missed five games last season after breaking his pitching thumb in the season opener, one game last year due to a calf strain and 11 in 2020 after a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle.

McCarthy insists the Cowboys need to reduce the risk of their QB getting hit.

“My goal every year as an offensive coach was to make sure the quarterback played in every game,” McCarthy said. “If Dak Prescott plays in every game next year I think we’re going to have a hell of a season.”

“A New Challenge” for Dak

While philosophies about when to attack horizontally vs. vertically may change, the Cowboys aren’t going to completely overhaul their offensive attack.

McCarthy plans to keep most of the language consistent for Prescott, whose eighth pro season will be his first without Moore in the building. McCarthy estimates a 20-30% variation in offensive principles from last season to this one. He promoted Brian Schottenheimer – who had experience as a coordinator with the New York Jets, then the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks – to offensive coordinator while McCarthy retained the games.

McCarthy cited Schottenheimer’s experience, leadership skills and interpersonal skills as reasons he will make a significant contribution. The duo draw on offensive principles he learned under Brian Schottenheimer’s father, Marty, the first head coach to give McCarthy a chance in the NFL. Schottenheimer worked in an advisory role for Dallas last season, which McCarthy believes will further allow him to plan a staff gathering he is familiar with.

“We could all use a new voice,” McCarthy said of Prescott’s new coaching brain confidence. “We can all use a sense of motivation and challenge and whatnot. This is a new challenge for him, these are his words. He’s very excited about it.”

McCarthy also says restoring offensive vision has been the most fun he’s had since the Cowboys hired him in January 2020.

“Over the past three years we’ve grown into the offense I wanted, down to the run/pass combo,” he said. “And I just feel like we have another twist and hopefully we can take another step.

“Different fastball, different curveball, different change.

“I think it will serve us well.”

https://sports.yahoo.com/i-want-to-run-the-damn-ball-mike-mccarthy-outlines-surprising-vision-shift-for-cowboys-offense-in-his-play-calling-return-030004489.html?src=rss Mike McCarthy outlines a surprising shift in vision for the Cowboys’ offense in his return to the game


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