For all their flaws, the numbers indicate that the 2019 Cowboys possessed one of the best offenses in all of football. And while detractors would point to some garbage time stat padding as a counterargument, the fact is that when this offense was clicking they were nearly unstoppable.
Probably the greatest reason for their offensive explosion was the development of quarterback Dak Prescott. The young QB went from “game manager” to game destroyer in the passing game, putting up career numbers across the board.
Thought of as a run first, smash-mouth football team under Jason Garrett, Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott changed the narrative a bit during the 2019 season. And new head coach Mike McCarthy’s history would suggest that Dallas will lean even further into this passing style.
Not so fast.
McCarthy was asked directly about his offensive philosophy, and made sure to say that running back Ezekiel Elliott “is going to get the football.” He went on to talk about the importance of an effective running game, and how it can open up what Prescott can do through the air.
While the hardcore analytics readers shake their heads, I’m sure many Cowboys fans are happy to hear this. Many do still believe that the Cowboys’ insistence on leaning on Prescott more in the air did not help their record, as Elliott is the team’s best offensive player and their best chance to win.
Regardless of where you stand on this argument, nothing about McCarthy’s past indicates they will be a run first team whatsoever. They do, however, indicate that McCarthy’s Cowboys should be among the most efficient rushing offenses in the league.
From 2016-2018, the Packers finished top 5 in rushing offense DVOA each year, and landed in the top 10 in this category every season dating back to 2013.
While their offense was clearly built around Aaron Rodgers and his prolific passing ability, the Packers remained an efficient rushing offense that could seal games and take advantage of favorable run looks.
Though McCarthy’s offenses have not typically featured a lead back, as no single running back tallied more than 187 carries and 758 yards from 2015-2018, he did lean on a workhorse back when he had the chance. When Eddie Lacy was at the peak of his powers during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, he went well over 200 carries and 1,000 yards each year as the clear number one.
Now, even 280 carries would be quite the decrease in touches for Elliott, who’s been under 300 just once and that was during his suspension shortened season.
Ezekiel Elliott is a whole different animal from even the best version of Eddie Lacy, though.
Elliott is going to eat in McCarthy’s offense, although it may be the pass which opens up the run in 2020.