Mike McCarthy has a mixed reputation with Dallas Cowboys fans. The main negative complaint around his in-game performance seems to be that he is a poor clock manager. While that appears true, his in-game decisions for certain situations are something that are more debatable. Of course, fans have all kinds of reasons for liking or disliking a head coach, some of them objective while others are wildly subjective.
An organization called EdjSports has a system for rating the performance of NFL head coaches around in-game decisions such as going for it on fourth down or deciding on going for two or not. Here is their description of their methodology.
EdjSports analyzes every coaching decision during the course of a season. The EdjFootball model enables an in-depth examination of all critical calls (4th downs, PATs, and kickoffs), in terms of the amount of GWC (Game-Winning Chance) at stake. The coach’s play-calling choices (run, pass, field goal, punt) are assessed at the point of decision (pre-snap) and rated with respect to their impact on winning the game. As a result of this process all play calling decisions can be objectively classified as either optimal decisions (correct calls) or suboptimal decisions (errors).The EdjSports Coach Rankings are based on this methodology and consist of two main components that result in the overall ranking.
Edj Power Indexes (EPI) Ranking
This is a cumulative ranking of the Edj Power Indexes (EPIs) including Offensive Pass, Offensive Rush, Defensive Pass and Defensive Rush. This ranking is a reflection of how teams performed in every situation during the season.
Offensive Play Calling (CCI) Ranking
This ranking is based on an analysis of offensive play calling on 4th downs and compares teams in terms of GWC lost or gained, on a normalized basis so that all teams are given the same test. Additionally, the CCI rankings are adjusted to account for the frequency and situational nature of critical calls to allow for fair comparisons of all 32 teams.
Since this is a cumulative rating, EdjSports does not put out a ranking until after the ninth week of the season to build an adequate sample size. They just released their first ranking of the year. Take a look at how they have McCarthy ranked.
No, your eyes do not deceive you. They have McCarthy number two in the league, behind only Los Angeles Chargers head man Brandon Staley.
They also list McCarthy’s best and worst call of the season. McCarthy made his worst decision of the entire season in the recent game against the New England Patriots, and it was a whopper.
Only three other head coaches have made a worse decision this year. But this rating shows that over the season, his good decisions far outweigh the bad. It is also worth noting that the rating looks at the chance of a successful play helping the team win a game. It does not penalize the coach for the team failing on the field. It likely looked very favorably on the four times McCarthy decided to go for it on fourth down against the Broncos despite the team’s failure to convert a single one.
This is a situation where the obvious aggressiveness McCarthy brings to his job works very much in his favor. It stands in stark contrast to the Jason Garrett era, where caution and playing not to lose rather than maximizing the chance of winning were the hallmarks. Of note, McCarthy ranked in the top five at times during his last season as the head coach in Dallas.
Obviously there will be questions about the methodology; no one system is full-proof and always works on some level of supposition. All such rankings are only as good as the data used and the way it is analyzed. But this does seem a valid approach to stripping out the emotional side of thingsr. For years Cowboys fans wanted an aggressive coach who follows the analytics when it comes to crucial in-game decisions. It seems McCarthy is that guy.