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Mike McCarthy’s biggest challenge for the Cowboys offense in 2023

The Cowboys offense did a lot of good things in 2022, but there was one area where they were very inefficient, and Mike McCarthy needs to fix it.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Much ink has been spilt through the 2023 offseason regarding the Cowboys decision to part ways with Kellen Moore as their offensive coordinator, and turn play-calling duties over to head coach Mike McCarthy. Each time someone within the organization is asked about the change, they seem to be downplaying it, emphasizing that despite changes at play-caller, offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, and running backs coach, the language of the offense will stay the same. McCarthy has stated about 30% of the offense will change.

For the next few months, through training camp, the preseason, and even the first few weeks of the regular season, it may be tough to figure out exactly what that 30% change is. But a simple dive into a few statistics should give us a pretty big hint.

Thanks to and we can identify the Cowboys 2022 ranks in the following categories overall, and then on first and second downs respectively.

Cowboys Offensive Ranks

Category Overall 1st Down 2nd Down
Category Overall 1st Down 2nd Down
EPA per Play 10th 27th 8th
Success Rate 13th 20th 13th
Pass Rate 21st 28th 18th
EPA per Dropback 9th 24th 5th
Dropback Success Rate 10th 14th 5th
Rush Rate 11th 5th 15th
EPA per Rush 12th 21st 18th
Rushing Success Rate 14th 21st 22nd
1st Down conversion rate 17th 25th 18th

Looking over this data, it’s clear the Cowboys, who finished third in the league in scoring in 2022, had serious problems on first down, running the ball at a clip higher than almost anyone in the league and falling significantly below league average in each efficiency category on first down. This put them in poor positions, and forced the quarterback, Dak Prescott, to be a hero on second and third downs in order to convert a new set of downs.

This is illustrated by Dak’s air yards per attempt numbers (and rank among QBs w/ 100 plays of each down):

  • 1st down: 6.3 (27th)
  • 2nd down: 7.8 (7th)
  • 3rd down: 11.3 (2nd)

If Mike McCarthy can put a heavier emphasis on first down in 2023, and the Cowboys can improve their ability to generate positive results early in a series. It will make them a more consistent and explosive unit.

Oh, and the last time Mike McCarthy called plays for an NFL team, the 2018 Green Bay Packers finished seventh in EPA per play and third in success rate on first down, while passing on first down at the second highest rate in the league. So he’s done it before.

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