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The Cowboys are already built to run Mike McCarthy’s offense

How well the Cowboys roster is equipped to run Mike McCarthy’s offense.

Dallas Cowboys v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

Kellen Moore is out, and so too is his offense. Head coach Mike McCarthy has been confirmed to be the one that will call plays going forward, and Jerry Jones even said that McCarthy will operate a similar version of the offense he ran during his 13 seasons as the head coach of the Packers.

McCarthy has had plenty of success calling plays in the past, but what is it that makes his offense tick? We already know that McCarthy likes to air it out, especially on early downs, and he’s gotten a lot of use out of play-action passing concepts and pre-snap motion. All of those tendencies play to the strengths of Dak Prescott, but what about the supporting cast?

McCarthy comes from the West Coast offense and that fundamentally shapes his offensive philosophy. As such, McCarthy’s offenses tend to flood a defense with short, quick passes underneath that stretch the defense horizontally, creating big openings for a deep shot. It’s a simple philosophy, but it requires players that can efficiently execute the quick game and a play-caller who has a great feel for when to call those shot plays. In McCarthy, the Cowboys already have the latter.

They also have the pieces for the former, though it hasn’t quite come together just yet. One thing that really enhances the effectiveness of the West Coast offense is having pass catchers who can create yards after the catch. Because of all the quick passes, there are more opportunities for YAC, which boosts an offense’s efficiency.

McCarthy’s Packers offenses typically feasted on all of the YAC opportunities they were afforded by the scheme. Consider the Packers under McCarthy (excluding the 2015 season, when he didn’t call plays) and where they stacked up in terms of passing depth, YAC per reception, and their overall efficiency in the passing game.

YAC Production for McCarthy’s Packers

% Targets Under 10 Yards % Targets 10-19 Yards YAC/Reception Pass DVOA Rank
% Targets Under 10 Yards % Targets 10-19 Yards YAC/Reception Pass DVOA Rank
2006 49.1% 19.9% 5.9 19th
2007 51.3% 19.1% 6.0 7th
2008 51.5% 18.7% 4.8 8th
2009 48.4% 20.1% 6.3 7th
2010 44.2% 24.4% 5.7 4th
2011 42.0% 26.5% 6.2 1st
2012 48.6% 20.0% 5.6 3rd
2013 44.9% 18.4% 6.2 13th
2014 49.7% 23.1% 6.1 1st
2016 44.0% 20.9% 5.1 4th
2017 49.2% 16.8% 5.5 20th
2018 44.1% 15.7% 5.7 10th

As you can see, the Packers were generally afforded a high amount of opportunities to produce after the catch and they generally did just that. The Packers’ high YAC totals generally correlated to a greater efficiency through the air, though there were some outliers. Now, compare with the Cowboys under Kellen Moore:

YAC Production for Moore’s Cowboys

% Targets Under 10 Yards % Targets 10-19 Yards YAC/Reception Pass DVOA Rank
% Targets Under 10 Yards % Targets 10-19 Yards YAC/Reception Pass DVOA Rank
2019 48.0% 24.8% 4.9 5th
2020 49.8% 17.7% 5.0 24th
2021 47.4% 20.5% 5.1 6th
2022 48.5% 23.1% 4.7 13th

The Cowboys generally were not creating as many opportunities for YAC, but even when they were, the pass catchers did not produce. McCarthy seemingly took notice of this a year ago, and the team made a concerted effort to get better in that area for 2022. It obviously didn’t work out, as they recorded their fewest YAC per reception under the Moore era, but there is still reason for optimism.

As we noted last offseason, the Cowboys made big commitments to both CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz - two of their best producers of YAC in 2021 - while drafting fellow YAC stars Jalen Tolbert and Jake Ferguson:

For Tolbert, he recorded 1,059 yards after the catch throughout his time at South Alabama; for comparison’s sake, Cooper had 1,244 YAC in his time in Dallas. Tolbert also posted the eighth-highest YAC per reception out of all of the receivers selected in this draft despite being the 15th receiver selected.

While Ferguson saw less opportunities in the passing game due to the way Wisconsin uses their tight ends, he still showcased some of the better YAC numbers out of the tight ends in this year’s class. Ferguson saw a lot of quick passes that he managed to turn into bigger gains because of his quickness and physicality to keep going through contact.

So how did it all go this year? Well, for starters, Prescott recorded his highest percentage of targets under 10 yards during Moore’s tenure as offensive coordinator. Lamb’s 4.5 YAC/reception seems disappointing, but he also had the ninth most total YAC among receivers. Schultz took a big step back in his YAC production, averaging just 3.6 per catch, and had a disappointing season all around.

Tolbert obviously didn’t play much at all, with just two catches all year and no real chance to show his ability. But Ferguson really impressed, totaling 6.5 YAC/reception on the season. Only Tony Pollard (8.9) and Malik Davis (10.8) had higher figures. The issue, though, is that Ferguson saw just 22 targets; for that matter, Davis also had just seven targets.

Here’s the good news: Lamb, Ferguson, and Davis will all be back next year. The Cowboys seem to be in good position to keep Pollard as well. And Tolbert will be in a position to make a very big jump after hardly playing at all this year. Perhaps the scheme change under McCarthy, as well as the emphasis on creating YAC opportunities, will unlock Tolbert’s abilities.

In some ways, the 2022 season was a soft launch for McCarthy’s offense, at least from a conceptual standpoint. They put a focus on YAC creation in their skill positions last year, and there were flashes from those they brought in or elevated roles for last year. Now, McCarthy will be relying on each of them more going forward. It’s certainly a good thing to already have several players of this skill-set on the roster, although it doesn’t mean the Cowboys shouldn’t continue to upgrade their offensive weapons.

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