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7 bold predictions for 2023 Cowboys offense

Is the sky the limit for Dak Prescott and this offense?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys have played their first preseason game, though most starters did not participate. Still, training camp has been enough so far to give us all an idea of how things are going with the offense now that Mike McCarthy is calling the plays. So with that in mind, here are seven bold predictions for the Cowboys offense once the regular season kicks off.

Dak Prescott crosses 4,500 yards and 35 TDs for second time in career

One thing that has seemed apparent from the Cowboys so far in training camp is that they will, indeed, be throwing the ball a lot more than they did last year. Not only that, but much of the focus of McCarthy’s changes on offense are centered on getting the ball out of Dak Prescott’s hands quickly and setting up opportunities for yards after the catch.

Assuming this all works out, Prescott should be in line for a big year. How big? Well, looking at Prescott’s history in the league, as well as the numbers Aaron Rodgers put up when McCarthy called plays for him, it’s conceivable that Prescott could cross 4,500 passing yards and 35 touchdowns for just the second time in his career.

The only time Prescott surpassed 4,500 yards was 2019, when he tied his career high for attempts in a season with 569 and totaled 4,902 yards. That was the first season with Kellen Moore calling plays, and the offense was a very pass-happy one. The only time Prescott has thrown more than 35 touchdowns was the 2021, his first full year with McCarthy. This was also the only other year where Prescott attempted 569 passes and he threw 37 touchdowns that year.

Looking at McCarthy’s time with the Packers, Rodgers only ever broke 4,500 yards in a season once (and he hasn’t done it since McCarthy left either). That was the 2011 season, when Rodgers racked up 4,643 yards. He also threw 45 touchdowns (the first of four different seasons under McCarthy throwing more than 35 touchdowns in a year) that year with just six interceptions, winning his first MVP award.

To make things even more impressive, Rodgers only needed 502 attempts to hit those gaudy numbers that year. Prescott has topped 502 attempts three times in his career, and was well on track to do so in both 2020 and 2022 before missing time with injuries. If things get off to a hot start for Prescott and this Texas Coast offense, it should be pretty simple to hit these marks.

Tony Pollard is top five in rushing yards

Tony Pollard hit the 1,000 yard rush mark for the first time in his career last year, and now he’s entering his first season as the unquestioned starter at running back. It’s not a bold prediction to say he’ll top his 1,007 yards from last year, but how much farther can he go?

Pollard was 15th among running backs in rushing yards last year, though he was third in yards per carry with a 5.2 average; Pollard is averaging 5.1 yards per carry on his career. It seems reasonable to think he’ll keep along that same pace, even with an increase in workload.

Of the 14 backs ahead of Pollard, one (Dalvin Cook) is currently a free agent, another (Tyler Allgeier) will be competing with a first-round rookie for snaps, and another (Josh Jacobs) is holding out from training camp over a contract dispute. Two more (Jamaal Williams and Miles Sanders) joined new teams in the offseason.

Then consider that Pollard hit 1,007 yards last year while still receiving fewer attempts than Ezekiel Elliott, now no longer with the team. If Pollard had received the same amount of carries as Elliott last year, while still averaging 5.2 yards per rush, he’d have been sixth in the league in rushing yards. Pollard could easily hit that number, or more, as he’s unlikely to split reps as much as he did with Elliott. Even with the Cowboys likely to throw the ball more this year than last, it shouldn’t be too far fetched for Pollard to finish inside the top five.

Deuce Vaughn reaches 750 scrimmage yards

This one may be the most lofty prediction on here, but Deuce Vaughn is going to have a role in this offense as a rookie. And from the way McCarthy keeps talking about him, Vaughn’s role is going to be anything but smol:

So is 750 scrimmage yards crazy? Probably. Pollard himself didn’t hit 750 scrimmage yards until his third year in the NFL, and he blew past it with 1,056. But those were also the days when it was imperative to feed Zeke, resulting in less opportunities for Pollard.

It still remains to be seen just how many touches Vaughn will be getting per game, but he’s consistently shown the juice in training camp as both a runner and receiver, as well as producing in the first preseason game. With offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer having spoken recently about getting his running backs more involved in the passing game, Vaughn could end up snagging a lot of passes to utilize his explosiveness.

Last year, there were 89 players who tallied at least 750 scrimmage yards, and 39 of them were running backs. Of those 39 running backs, eight of them were behind someone on the depth chart, and two of them were rookies. So it is possible for Vaughn to accomplish this feat, as long as he gets the kind of role to where he’ll have the opportunity. And based on what we’ve seen of Vaughn in camp so far and in one preseason game, all he needs is the ball in his hands to make something special happen.

CeeDee Lamb leads the league in yards after the catch

CeeDee Lamb proved last year that he’s capable of being this team’s top receiving option, setting career highs with 107 catches, 1,359 yards, and nine touchdowns. He also finally started to replicate his gaudy after-the-catch ability from college, as Lamb jumped into the top 10 of receivers in yards after the catch (YAC) in 2022, ranking eighth. He was just two yards behind Deebo Samuel and five yards behind Davante Adams.

Lamb figures to have even more opportunities to rack up the YAC in 2023. For starters, he won’t be getting doubled as often with Brandin Cooks and a more healthy Michael Gallup on the field. More importantly, though, is Lamb will be getting the ball earlier in the play as a result of the tweaks McCarthy is making to this offense. That means more separation at the catch point and more routes where Lamb can catch the ball in stride rather than being stationary, something he’s done all too often lately.

Justin Jefferson led the league in YAC last year with 632 yards, and A.J. Brown was in second with 565. With the amount of passes that should be thrown Lamb’s way, as well as the likely increase in opportunities for YAC, Lamb should be more than capable of leading the league in this category.

Jake Ferguson leads TEs in catches but Luke Schoonmaker leads in yards

The tight end position is really the only unsettled spot on this offense right now, though Jake Ferguson seems to have put himself in a good spot while Luke Schoonmaker made his way back from injury to start training camp. Still, it seems likely that the Cowboys will use a committee sort of approach this year.

Which leads us to this prediction. The last time the Cowboys went in with a committee approach at tight end was the 2018 season, which saw Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin taking the bulk of the snaps. Jarwin finished with one more catch than Swaim and also had 55 more yards, but Swaim missed seven games with an injury. Prior to that, he and Jarwin were going back and forth for the team lead in both categories.

We could easily see something similar play out this year between Ferguson and Schoonmaker. Ferguson showed reliable hands as a rookie - he caught 19 of 22 targets without a single drop - but his 9.2 yards per catch were lowest of any Cowboys tight end. Meanwhile, Schoonmaker was a more dynamic athlete in college despite not seeing a high volume of targets in Michigan’s run-heavy offense. Still, he averaged 11.9 yards per catch, which would’ve ranked third among all tight ends in the league last year.

That doesn’t mean Schoonmaker will replicate those numbers in the NFL, but it does hint that he could do more with the catches he does have, while Ferguson’s reliable hands could make him a frequent target on checkdowns and quick passing concepts. Thus, Ferguson will lead the tight end group in catches while Schoonmaker racks up the yards.

Mike McCarthy approaches 60% early-down pass rate

The Cowboys have generally been a run-heavy offense as of late, dating all the way back to the Jason Garrett days. But McCarthy was always a pass-happy play-caller, and his Packers led the league in early-down passing rate from 2010 to 2018.

Of course, that was before analytics became even somewhat popular in the NFL, which has spurred a whole host of play-callers who prioritize throwing the ball on early downs to get easy completions for their quarterbacks. McCarthy’s Packers led the league with a 58.2% pass rate on early downs, but that figure would have been seventh in the league last year.

That’s still better than what Dallas actually did last year. Kellen Moore called a pass on first or second down just 47.8% of the time; only six teams were lower, and they all finished with a losing record. It was the third of Moore’s four seasons running the offense that the Cowboys were in the bottom half of the league in early down pass rate; the one exception, in 2021, saw them pass on early downs 56.3% of the time, still lower than McCarthy’s Packers tenure.

The Bengals led the NFL in early down pass rate last year at 65.6%, and four teams (Bengals, Chiefs, Bills, and Chargers) had 60% or higher. McCarthy may not jump right into the 60s in just one year, but it would make sense for a perennially pass-happy coach with a newfound belief in analytics to at least be approaching that mark.

Cowboys finish with top five offense by DVOA

The theme of these predictions have been that the Cowboys will take a step forward on that side of the ball, and that shouldn’t be surprising. The offense has looked crisp in training camp so far despite having to face a really talented Dallas defense on every rep. McCarthy’s offenses in Green Bay were extremely efficient, finishing inside the top five in offensive DVOA in seven of McCarthy’s 12 seasons calling plays.

There isn’t much reason to suspect the Cowboys can’t accomplish the same feat. They’ve already done it twice in Prescott’s career, and just barely missed the top five cut in both 2017 and 2021. With the talent that the Cowboys have on offense, and a veteran play-caller like McCarthy with a knack for efficiency taking things over, the sky is the limit for this offense.

Dallas ranked 15th in offensive DVOA last year, so moving into the top five would be a big jump. But with all that they have going for them, making the top five should be the expectation and not just a bold prediction. Only time will tell if they can capitalize on their potential.

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