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Why the Cowboys actions don’t match their words when it comes to running the ball

The Cowboys change from Kellen Moore to Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer running the offense has caused some consternation about the direction of the offense.

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

“I want to run the damn ball.”

Those words, among the first spoken by Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy after the team made the decision to move on from Kellen Moore as their offensive coordinator and hand over the reins of the offense to their head coach, have cast a shadow over many fans and analysts as they observed the Cowboys offseason.

But now that the Cowboys players, coaches, and staff have made their way to Oxnard, CA for training camp, and we zoom back out to take a 10,000 foot view of their moves, do we think that’s actually the plan?

If we start with the decision to put Mike McCarthy in charge of the offense and pair him with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, we can see that the last time McCarthy ran an offense, the 2018 Green Bay offense, that team lead the league in early-down pass rate, throwing the ball on 64% of their first or second down plays, and calling pass plays 7% more often than expected according to

Schottenheimer, on the other hand, last led an offense in 2020 for Seattle, and despite the family reputation of ground and pound “Marty Ball” earned by his dad, and Pete Carroll’s insistence on running the ball, Brian’s 2020 Seahawks were sixth in the league in early-down pass rate at 60% and had a pass rate over expectation of 6%. We can compare these numbers to the 2022 Cowboys who, under Kellen Moore’s leadership, were 27th in early-down pass rate at 46%, and passed 6% less than expected.

Then we move to the personnel decisions through the offseason, Dallas released Ezekiel Elliott and placed the franchise tag on Tony Pollard, and added only Ronald Jones in free agency. They didn’t spend more than a sixth-round pick on draft weekend at the position. This means they don’t have a single player on their roster who has ever carried the ball 200 or more times in an NFL season.

They chose not to pick an offensive lineman early in the draft, which is the group with the most influence over the running game, but did trade for veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

So to summarize, the Cowboys shifted from one of the run-heaviest offensive playcallers in the league to one who has consistently leaned towards the pass, de-emphasized the running back position in their team-building processes, and spent a pick and some money on a veteran wide receiver. None of these moves point to a renewed emphasis on running the ball.

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