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What Brian Schottenheimer offers the Cowboys as offensive coordinator

Mike McCarthy is calling plays, but Brian Schottenheimer can still have a big role

Seattle Seahawks v Cleveland Browns Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

After conducting several interviews with various coaches around the NFL, the Cowboys have opted to remain in-house for their next offensive coordinator, promoting Brian Schottenheimer to fill the vacancy left by Kellen Moore. Schottenheimer served as a coaching consultant in Dallas this past year.

We know that Mike McCarthy will call the plays on offense, so many expected this position to largely be a ceremonial one, and certainly not one that an experienced play-caller like Schottenheimer would accept. But Schottenheimer actually has a lot to contribute to this offense, and the job itself will be very important as well.

Jerry Jones confirmed at the Senior Bowl that McCarthy will look to install a version of the offense he ran with the Packers, rather than simply continuing to operate from the same system Moore had been running. That means McCarthy will have to teach a whole new offense to the players, in addition to his regular duties as a head coach. That’s where Schottenheimer comes in, as he’ll be a major part of installing the schemes and getting all of the players on the same page in time for the season to begin.

To that end, Schottenheimer has plenty of experience. He’s been an offensive coordinator for four different teams, one of them coming at the college level, and was also the passing-game coordinator for the ill-fated Urban Meyer Jaguars in 2021. In other words, he’s been in charge of installing a new offense several times before, so this won’t be much different.

Furthermore, Schottenheimer will be responsible for working with the offense on game plan installs on a weekly basis throughout the season, a thorough part of the job that head coaches rarely have time for in a given week without also delegating other head coaching duties to someone else.

This is similar to the setup McCarthy had in Green Bay. For example, recently departed Cowboys offensive line coach Joe Philbin, who was McCarthy’s coordinator for six seasons in Green Bay, worked with the entire offensive staff to devise a game plan and then install it with the players. At some point during the week, McCarthy would meet with Philbin and finalize the specific set of plays they were going to call for that game. When Sunday rolled around, McCarthy then used that playbook to make the actual calls, at which point his skill as a play-caller took over and helped guide some extremely potent offenses throughout his tenure.

This isn’t an uncommon setup for head coaches who call plays, either. Sean McVay has had an offensive coordinator in five of his six seasons with the Rams, while Kyle Shanahan has employed a tandem of a passing-game coordinator and running-game coordinator in all but one of his six years with the 49ers. Sean Payton had the same offensive coordinator, Pete Carmichael Jr., for every one of his 15 years with the Saints.

So what exactly does Schottenheimer bring to the table? Well, for starters, he has ties to McCarthy that go way back. His father, legendary head coach Marty Schottenheimer, was the first NFL head coach that McCarthy ever worked for. He also spent the past season in an advisory capacity with the team, largely due to those previous ties to McCarthy. Now, he’ll be the head coach’s right hand man on offense.

In terms of scheme, Schottenheimer has always operated a variation of the Air Coryell, which features a heavy run game with a vertical play-action pass game. Schottenheimer’s most successful stint, by far, as a coordinator came from 2018 to 2020 with the Seahawks. While there, Schottenheimer and offensive line coach Mike Solari - now with the Cowboys - crafted a multifaceted rushing attack while taking full advantage of veritable deep threats in both Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Seattle ranked sixth in EPA/play and ninth in offensive success rate over those three seasons, while Russell Wilson led the league in both completion percentage over expected (CPOE) and average air yards.

Schottenheimer’s bread and butter, though, is his ability to design effective run schemes. Schottenheimer has often used a wide variety of schemes for his ground game, though the inside zone is the starting point for him. Schottenheimer has demonstrated a unique ability to build off of the inside zone preference, throwing almost every type of run scheme out there as change-ups to the inside zone. His run game construction mirrored a lot of what the Cowboys were using at times this season, when they got off to a hot start running the ball, and it’s possible that Schottenheimer had some influence in the design stage.

With the news that McCarthy will be calling plays - as well as his well-established preferences as a play-caller - and running something akin to his Packers offenses, Schottenheimer’s promotion to the coordinator position likely means he will serve as a running-game coordinator of sorts. Both Schottenheimer and McCarthy have tendencies in the passing game designed around hitting receivers on the move, as opposed to the endless stop routes that Kellen Moore called, in an attempt to create more opportunities for yards after the catch.

This would also explain the hiring of Solari to coach the offensive line. He and Schottenheimer did some great work in Seattle, and the results speak for themselves. If those two can build on the momentum this Cowboys run game started in 2022 - they finished 10th in rush DVOA, their highest ranking since McCarthy arrived in Dallas - while McCarthy injects the pass game with some much needed versatility, the Cowboys could actually be in a good spot to improve an offense that ranked right around the top 10 in most categories this year.

Of course, coaching is only part of the equation, and the Cowboys have several big decisions to make as it pertains to the roster. But it’s easy to see why Schottenheimer - specifically in combination with Solari - could make for a valuable offensive coordinator under McCarthy calling the plays.

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