How did Mike McCarthy improve as a head coach during his football gap year?
This question looms large ahead of McCarthy’s return to the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. Things grew stale between himself and quarterback Aaron Rodgers back in Green Bay, with the team plummeting and missing the postseason in 2018. McCarthy’s firing felt justified at the time, as does his hiring with the Cowboys now.
So, how did McCarthy improve? Much has been made of McCarthy’s jump into analytics and work with Pro Football Focus among other things, but one aspect McCarthy specifically spoke to at the combine was identifying league-wide trends.
And if you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan, hearing McCarthy cite “two running back sets” as one of those trends he’s looking to potentially utilize likely excites you.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy says he has spent his year off looking at offensive trends. Mentions that 2-RB sets are starting to reemerge and work. https://t.co/NSlabOUI4n
The Cowboys have the running back personnel to get creative in their usage offensively. Ezekiel Elliott is a workhorse, the number one running back who’s going to eat up the majority of snaps and carries. But that doesn’t mean the now second year back Tony Pollard can’t get himself involved as well.
Pollard showed off his talents in limited opportunities during the 2019 season, both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. But using Pollard and Elliott together in the offense decreases your predictability, while increasing potential creativity of the offense.
Looking back to early on in the 2019 season, we see how Kellen Moore started thinking about 20 personnel’s possibilities. He started to get creative with motioning Pollard out as the swing back while keeping Elliott in the backfield for the run action, giving the defense a lot to account for right at the snap of the ball.
“The Cowboys can also use this exact look, with the same motion, to run the option. Later in the game we saw the Cowboys use speed option with Pollard as the pitch man, but they can add Elliott as the zone action here as well. This would make Elliott, Prescott, and Pollard all threats to run the ball. That’s a lot of information for a defense to process and defend.”
Yet Moore didn’t go back to these looks unless the Cowboys were in a relatively (or sometimes overwhelmingly) positive game script. When games were close, they leaned on 11 and 12 personnel with Elliott as the main running back.
Hopefully, McCarthy isn’t simply blowing smoke during the Spring. Often we see coaches say the right things for months, but when it comes time to make those decisions during tough moments in games, they tend to shrink back to what is comfortable.
We didn’t see these type of looks in Green Bay much at all, but the personnel here in Dallas is a whole new world.