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Mike McCarthy was a top 10 coach on fourth down aggression in 2021, but maybe not as high as you think

Nailing down just how aggressive McCarthy was for the Cowboys in 2021.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

If you have watched the Dallas Cowboys over the last two years then you know that they are not exactly shy on fourth down. Ever since taking over in 2020, Mike McCarthy has shown a far greater willingness to roll the dice on the do-or-die down than his predecessor Jason Garrett. His aggression has been something that most fans have been a fan of and one of his better qualities as the team’s head coach.

We can sit here and debate how much credit ultimately belongs to McCarthy, how much should go to Kellen Moore, and everything in between, but for the purposes of this conversation we are going to lump everything under the McCarthy umbrella. That is what our friends at Football Outsiders did when they determined that he was one of the more aggressive coaches in the NFL on fourth and short in 2021, just not as high as you may have thought.

Mike McCarthy was one of the more aggressive coaches in the NFL on fourth and short last season, but maybe not as high as you think

Football Outsiders has measured the aggressiveness of coaches on fourth and short situations, but over the last few years aggression league-wide has grown so much that FO had to literally change the standard for what is now deemed aggressive.

With things reset to properly reflect where the NFL is these days the fine folks at FO measured which coaches were the most aggressive on fourth and short using their Aggressiveness Index. Each number measures how aggressive they are relative to the rest of coaches in the same situations. As an example an AI of 1.3 for a coach shows that they are 30% more likely to go for it than other coaches in that spot.

Football Outsiders Aggressiveness Index Top 10 for 2021 on fourth and short

  1. Brandon Staley (Chargers), 2.08
  2. Kliff Kingsbury (Cardinals), 1.74
  3. Kevin Stefanski (Browns), 1.59
  4. Dan Campbell (Lions), 1.48
  5. Matt LaFleur (Packers), 1.46
  6. Nick Sirianni (Eagles), 1.38
  7. Mike McCarthy (Cowboys), 1.37
  8. Matt Nagy (Bears), 1.35
  9. Ron Rivera (Washington), 1.34
  10. Sean Payton (Saints), 1.26

By this measurement only Staley, Kingsbury, Stefanski, Campbell, LaFleur, and Sirianni were more aggressive than Mike McCarthy on fourth and short situations. McCarthy went 3-1 against those coaches in 2021 although the second win against the Philadelphia Eagles hardly counts the same as everything else given how meaningless it was.

It seems like most Cowboys fans would have thought that McCarthy was near the very top of this list as opposed to all the way down at number seven. There is always room for more aggression as is indicated here. Perhaps McCarthy ups it even more in 2022.