Ever since it was announced that Mike McCarthy would be taking over the calling of plays on offense from Kellen Moore, the question on everyone’s lips has been what the offense will look like in 2023. In his typical fashion, McCarthy has refused to give any direct answers, but he’s offered hints that we can now combine with glimpses of the team in OTA’s and minicamp to get a rough idea.
Dak Prescott has dubbed this new offense the Texas Coast offense, a mix of what the team ran under Moore and the West Coast offense McCarthy cut his teeth in throughout his career. It’s a catchy name, but still not quite clear as to what we can expect on Sundays. Here is everything we know so far about this offense and how it’s changing.
Speed, before and after the snap, will be imperative
One thing that seems quite clear is that McCarthy wants the offense to be faster in 2023. That will manifest in a variety of ways, but most notably being the addition of speedster Brandin Cooks. Similarly, the elevation of the explosive Tony Pollard to the top of the running back depth chart further serves the goal of being faster.
The Cowboys also drafted two highly athletic skill players in Luke Schoonmaker and Deuce Vaughn. While it remains to be seen how big of a role each of these two will play in Year 1, their additions are symptomatic of the new focus on speed. Then there’s Simi Fehoko and Jalen Tolbert, both of whom posted elite Relative Athletic Scores coming out of college, who have gotten off to hot starts so far this offseason.
But this isn’t the only way McCarthy is hoping to speed things up. While the Cowboys have refrained from much 11-on-11 work in OTA’s and minicamp, a common refrain has been the offense getting in and out of the huddle with great efficiency. McCarthy has hinted at an expanded use of plays with one or two word calls, allowing the offense to play at a faster pace. This was a core component of McCarthy’s offenses in Green Bay, and it often led to offsides penalties from the defense that allowed the quarterback to take a deep shot free of risk.
Dak Prescott is running the show
McCarthy has mentioned multiple times that he’s spending more time with Dak Prescott than ever before now that he’s calling the plays. Part of those conversations have been around Prescott taking full ownership of the offense, even if it’s something as simple as how to pronounce “Duquesne.”
One of the reasons for getting out of the huddle quicker also has to do with giving Prescott - renowned for his ability to diagnose defenses pre-snap - more time at the line to adjust the call before snapping the ball. This was another thing McCarthy did in Green Bay, with Rodgers frequently making audibles or tweaks at the line of scrimmage based on what he saw. While McCarthy ultimately caught heat for it - with some suggesting that he was a bad play-caller who needed Rodgers to clean up for him - the results on offense were incredible, and it leveraged Rodgers’ football IQ as a weapon against defenses. Now, McCarthy will try to do the same with Prescott.
McCarthy has remained adamant that he won’t be completely revamping the offense, but rather making tweaks and adjustments where needed. The head coach, as well as other coaches and players, have estimated that roughly 70% of the original offense is remaining.
It appears, though, that the changes being made are changes that are universally agreed upon as necessary. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer recently mentioned that the tweaks they are implementing on offense gained sign-off approval from veterans like Zack Martin and Tyron Smith, as well as Prescott and Pollard. If the players believe in the changes McCarthy and Co. are installing, that has to bode well for the whole operation.
Pass protection will look different
If the input and approval from Martin and Smith weren’t enough of a hint already, the offensive line is set to see several tweaks in the way they operate in this new offense. McCarthy has highlighted the pass protection schemes a few times already, especially when discussing the efforts to reduce Prescott’s turnovers after leading the league in interceptions last year.
New offensive line coach Mike Solari is still figuring out who his five starters on the offensive line will be, but he’s reportedly introduced some new techniques in pass protection. Another emphasis has been on reducing the time Prescott spends in the pocket. In true West Coast fashion, the goal will be for Prescott to get the ball out quickly. And if it’s not there right away, Prescott says it’s time to scramble:
“Guys being to their spot faster, cleaner,” Prescott explained, “which allows them, when that plays not there, to go into scrambling and create a play. That just allows that when the first read and the second read aren’t there for everybody to be on the same page for that scramble drill.”
Prescott had one of the longest times to throw last year on all dropbacks, including sacks and scrambles, but has historically been one of the league’s best when scrambling. Despite this, Prescott has consistently been in the bottom half of the league in scrambles throughout his career. Increasing the rate at which he takes off should lead to better production from Prescott while also helping out the offensive line.
The Cowboys have also appeared to introduce a heavier emphasis on pass protection with their running backs this offseason. New running backs coach Jeff Blasko was the assistant offensive line coach last year, and it seems he is working on beefing up the pass protection options at the new position.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said team is asking more from its running backs in pass protection than in years past. New RB coach Jeff Blasko has O-line coaching background. Tony Pollard has “done an outstanding job in a leadership role, and I really like the young guys” in room. pic.twitter.com/uC2KV34KUn— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) June 6, 2023
Run game overhaul?
Speaking of running backs, the Cowboys are looking to get more efficient results from their run game this year. Schottenheimer has been known as a run-game savant throughout his coaching career, and his time spent with Solari in Seattle provides a common ground for the new approach.
McCarthy hinted as much in a recent press conference when he said the offense’s approach to the outside zone running scheme would be noticeably different. For context, the Cowboys have been one of the more prominent practitioners of the outside zone scheme since 2014, but they were horribly inefficient in that aspect this past year.
That’s why it was so interesting to see Schottenheimer elevated to the offensive coordinator role. As we discussed at the time, Schottenheimer has been a fan of the inside zone as his primary rushing scheme, with the outside zone functioning as a tendency-breaking change-up to keep defenses off balance.
That would be a meaningful departure from what the Cowboys have been running for nearly a decade now, but after a down year running the ball (ranking 18th in yards per carry) this would make sense as a target for change.