Perhaps the biggest move of the offseason for the Cowboys this year was when offensive coordinator Kellen Moore left the team for the same job with the Chargers. Veteran offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, a coaching analyst with the team last year, took Moore’s role with Mike McCarthy assuming playcalling duties.
Thus began the process of tinkering and tweaking the offense to improve the team’s efficiency after two straight seasons where the offense struggled to perform in the playoffs. McCarthy and Schottenheimer have frequently said that they’ve kept 70% of the offense the same from what was used in the past, and many of the changes have been focused on pass protection schemes.
In a recent article from Jon Machota of The Athletic, quarterback trainer Tim Jenkins (who played for the Rams when Schottenheimer ran the offense there) broke down some specifics about what McCarthy and Schottenheimer are likely to bring to this offense, and where that 70% figure comes from:
What I tell everybody is the reason he says 70 percent the same is because the NFL is 70 percent the same. You turn on anyone’s tape, you’re seeing the same concepts. It doesn’t really matter who. We can also say, “I’m a West Coast guy. I’m an Air raid guy.” When you get to the NFL, there’s really only so many ways you can attack the field from the fact that the hashes are so darn tight.
Jenkins also explained in detail how many of the changes in pass protection that McCarthy and Schottenheimer have spoken about has to do with Dak Prescott specifically, and how it’s all built around the quarterback:
When Schottenheimer talks about feet, he should be able to see the progression in your feet. Let’s say Dak is in the shotgun, he’s going to take a three-step (drop). He puts his right foot back, which kind of convolutes things a little bit, but if we’re talking traditional West Coast, your left foot is back, you take your three-step, one, two, three, by the time that foot hits the ground, my eyes are on my No. 1 receiver in a pure progression where it is one, two, three no matter the coverage. His foot is going to hit the ground, his eyes are going to be on one. If that ball doesn’t come out, what you’re going to start to see from Dak and all the Cowboys’ quarterbacks now is, “Hey, I’m going to reset to two. If the ball doesn’t come out, I’m going to reset to three.”
The challenge I saw is from the mental side of it, because a lot of these protections change based on the front. If they have scat right, which is four man down, we’re going to block the will (linebacker), that’s what the O-line is going to account for, the back is going to scan mike (linebacker) to sam (linebacker), and all of a sudden they cloud our center, we’re going to jam out of it. They have a lot of built-in checks that those guys up front need to be able to handle — Dak has to handle because he’s the one who has to be up there communicating what he wants, getting them in the right situation. So, mentally I think is going to be the biggest hurdle.
One thing that McCarthy has stressed in training camp, and something that’s carried over to the preseason games, is a desire to get the play call in as quick as possible to give the quarterback plenty of time to read the defense and make adjustments. As a result, that puts a whole lot of responsibility on the quarterback, which is something the Cowboys have felt comfortable about with regards to Prescott due to his renowned football IQ. Jenkins goes on to explain:
Dak can go up there and see there’s 23 seconds left on the play clock, he can start his cadence and see those safeties rolling and say they’re going to kill, kill and get to their Cover-3 beater and now they can gash them. It’s one of those things where it is harder up front. You have to master the system. You have to be comfortable with everything verbiage-wise you’re spitting out of your mouth in the huddle.
Simultaneously, if you get to that point it is so much better for you as a quarterback because now it’s up to me to get us into the right play. … When you know you’re in that environment, you’d rather at least have it be on you to make sure we’re getting into the right play, especially on those third-and-criticals. That’s why I think the system is going to be way more friendly to Dak.
It’s safe to say that the Cowboys offense in 2023 will be Prescott’s offense through and through, with everything designed to fit around him and be largely dictated by him. For someone with the strengths that Prescott has, that sounds like a perfect plan. But there are, of course, potential downsides and long-term ramifications if things don’t go right with this setup:
There’s not a lot of defense left for the quarterback if we put all this on your plate and you’re still not getting it done — that’s a bigger issue. But to me, the most valuable thing you can do as a franchise is find out what this dude can be. Because it’s either he is our guy for the rest of time or we got to start moving on. I think that’s the value when you have a system when it puts everything on the quarterback.
The Cowboys are putting everything on Prescott’s shoulders this year, for better or worse. If he is the quarterback they think he is, then the offense should soar as a result. If not, then it may be time to start talking about the Trey Lance era.