Almost a month ago, we laid out the case for Dak Prescott being the league MVP. At the time, Prescott was tied for the 10th best odds, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Today, he has the best odds to win the award.
Well, it’s time to call another shot: Mike McCarthy deserves legitimate consideration for Coach of the Year.
Odds to win Coach of the Year at @DKSportsbook:— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) December 12, 2023
- Dan Campbell, +200
- DeMeco Ryans, +300
- Mike McDaniel, +450
- Shane Steichen, +750
- Sean Payton, +950
- Kyle Shanahan, +1000
- John Harbaugh, +1200
- Kevin Stefanski, +1400
- Mike McCarthy, +2000
- Zac Taylor, +2200
As you can see, McCarthy has the ninth best odds for the award. Quite honestly, that number needs to be much higher. The things McCarthy is doing in Dallas are pretty special, and it’s becoming harder to ignore the impact he’s had on this team.
For starters, there’s the number one responsibility of a head coach: winning. After blowing out the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, McCarthy made it three straight seasons with double-digit wins. This franchise hasn’t seen that happen since the 90’s.
The only other coach to have already won double-digit games in each of the last three years is Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers. There are three other coaches who could do that this year: Zac Taylor (his Bengals are 7-6), Sean McDermott (his Bills are 7-6), and Andy Reid (his Chiefs are 8-5). It seems unlikely all three of them hit the mark, but even so that puts McCarthy in a very exclusive group of coaches.
Of course, the case for McCarthy goes beyond wins. This season is different from any other season that McCarthy has been on the sidelines in Dallas, and that all comes down to a (at the time) controversial decision from McCarthy in the offseason. This is, of course, his decision to part ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and start calling plays himself.
A lot of digital ink was spilled in the offseason about how this would be a mistake; that the Cowboys offense would become more conservative and run-heavy, while the Chargers and Justin Herbert would thrive with Moore running his offense, free of interference from McCarthy. There were plenty of people who insisted that McCarthy taking over play-calling would be an abject failure not just for Dallas, but for Prescott in particular.
15 int in 12 games and Mike McCarthy is his offensive coordinator now. It’s not looking good.— Clay Harbor (@clayharbs82) April 5, 2023
With four weeks of the regular season left to be played, all of those offseason narratives have turned to ash. For starters, the offense did not become more conservative and run-heavy. Quite the opposite actually: after finishing 2022 ranked 26th in early down pass rate and 17th in rate of throws 20+ yards downfield, the Cowboys are currently fifth in early down pass rate and fourth in deep pass rate.
As a whole, the offense has thrived on this aggression from McCarthy. They rank second in EPA/play, fourth in success rate, sixth in offensive DVOA, and they lead the league in drive success rate. If volume statistics are more your thing, the Cowboys are fourth in total yards of offense and first in offensive points scored. They’re also dead last in turnovers while boasting the best third-down conversion rate in the league.
Every single one of these metrics is a major improvement over what Moore produced last year. So, too, is the MVP play of Prescott. After all the hysteria over his interceptions a year ago, Prescott has just six this year, and half of those came in one game. He leads the league in big time throw rate and has the lowest turnover worthy play rate. He’s also among the top five in completion rate and passing yards while leading the league in touchdown passes.
Prescott deserves plenty of credit for his play, obviously. But with the quarterback at the forefront of the MVP discussion in mid-December, and playing better than he ever has at any point in his career, it’s fair to wonder what led to this uptick. There are plenty of factors to consider, but the change in play-caller - and the wildly successful tweaks to the scheme that came with it - is chief among them.
McCarthy is a proven winner - only four current head coaches have more career wins - but we had not yet seen him run an offense since his year away from football, working to reinvent himself. Now, we’re looking at nearly a full season’s worth of data, and the results are incredibly impressive. Add to it that the Cowboys have won five straight, capped off by a dominant win over the Eagles to claim first place in the division.
Now comes the biggest challenge, though, and a chance for McCarthy to solidify himself as a Coach of the Year favorite in much the same way Prescott did for the MVP race. Road games against the Bills and Dolphins, followed by a home finale against the Lions, present the team with a chance to stack up wins against some of the NFL’s best. If McCarthy can keep winning and keep coordinating a red hot offense, there will be no choice but to acknowledge his coaching job this year as one of the very best.