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Mike McCarthy or Kellen Moore, who should call plays on offense for the Cowboys?

The Cowboys play-calling duties will be an interesting decision.

Buffalo Bills v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

At this point, we’re assuming that Kellen Moore will be back as the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. While that has not been made official, there have been plenty of reports that it will happen. For more evidence that it will occur, the University of Washington just announced they have hired an offensive coordinator, and it’s not Kellen Moore.

Given that the Cowboys 2019 offense was a statistical winner in many categories, this is seen as a good thing. In just his first year on the job as offensive coordinator, Moore showed that he has skills and that he could be a formidable weapon for Dallas moving forward.

There is an open question out there, though, that has still not been answered. Last year Moore called the plays for the Cowboys offense. The Cowboys new head coach, Mike McCarthy, has called his own plays for most of his head coaching career in Green Bay, and the one time he did give it up, he took it back and said the decision to let someone else do it was a mistake. McCarthy is know for his offensive background, he was a former offensive coordinator too, so just who will call plays for the Cowboys in 2020?

That question has been asked twice now, and McCarthy has not answered directly. The most recent time he was asked was Friday morning:

At McCarthy’s introductory news conference, he was also asked that question. At that time he also didn’t directly answer, but did say something to the effect of the structure being similar to what he’s done before. Based on that, a betting person would have to lean toward McCarthy calling plays.

On the other hand, the Cowboys had to compete to keep Moore from going to the University of Washington, could the promise of calling plays have helped to keep him in Dallas? That’s just speculation, of course, but it could have been a bargaining chip.

There’s another piece in this and it comes from the long video interview McCarthy did with Peter King. He noted that whoever calls the plays needs to be the person that installs the weekly game plan. Here is how we covered that:

[McCarthy paraphrased]: If you’re going to call the plays you have to be the installer of the offense on Weds., Thurs., and Friday. That’s something I got away from in the second half of my career in Green Bay. Staff development took precedence over game-planning process.

Context: One would guess that McCarthy would call his own plays, and he says that if the players don’t hear it from the play-caller during the week when they install that week’s offense, then they can’t always understand or trust the plays being called in the game by a different person. It sounds like McCarthy would be very hands-on with the offense unless he decides to turn it all over to an offensive coordinator.

And there’s the rub. If McCarthy wants to call plays, then that would say, by his own words, that he would also have to be the principal installer of the offensive game plan for each week of the season. That could take his attention away from other “head coach type stuff.”

That could be important. Earlier today, R.J. drew our attention to an article from FiveThiryEight that talked about Mike McCarthy and how he is different from Jason Garrett. There is an interesting section in that article that plays into what we’re discussing here.

And what about challenges? It turns out that McCarthy’s 13-season average hid a dramatic change in his approach to challenging officials’ calls. Late in the 2017 season, The Comeback’s Brad Gagnon noted that McCarthy had the second-best challenge success rate of any head coach from 2015 to 2017. Including his sole challenge in 2018, he went 12-of-18 (.667), a significant improvement from 35-of-75 (.467) from 2006 to 2014.

How did McCarthy get so much better at situational awareness? It might be because he “got away from” focusing on midweek X-and-O gameplanning, as he told King, and instead focused on “staff development.” This is supposed to be the job of head coach: Don’t micromanage every aspect of the game plan, but coach the coaches. It may be that his stale offensive game plans were a direct result of trying to level up as an overall strategist.

Whether McCarthy decides to offload the situational decision-making to a lab full of football scientists or the offensive game planning to Moore so he can make optimal calls, he’s set himself up to perform much better in his — and Garrett’s — weakest areas.

So this sets up an interesting choice. If McCarthy is going to keep the play-calling duties, then he will be spending a lot of time with mid-week offensive installation by his own rules he set out in the King interview, and possibly neglecting other head coaching duties. Or he could do something he doesn’t like to do and that is offload the play-calling duties to Moore, and concentrate more on big picture stuff.

The choice is coming.


Who should call plays for the Cowboys in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Mike McCarthy
    (724 votes)
  • 67%
    Kellen Moore
    (1493 votes)
2217 votes total Vote Now

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