During Mike McCarthy’s introductory press conference as the Dallas Cowboys head coach, the Super Bowl winning coach addressed a question many fans and analysts had. “He is going to get the football” said McCarthy when he was asked about Ezekiel Elliott‘s fit on his offense. This has raised many fans’ eyebrows after the head coach has spoken about how he’ll implement analytics to his new job.
McCarthy’s history as a head coach has always been centered around passing the ball. His teams have had few carries in comparison to what the Jason Garrett Cowboys have done before. So what does McCarthy really mean about Elliott getting the football?
No running back has run the ball more times than Zeke since he joined the NFL in 2016. He’s ran the ball 1,169 times despite missing six games of the 2017 season. Only Todd Gurley eclipses that number with 1,036. No other RB has more than 900 carries over that period of time.
There’s no doubt Zeke’s workload will be reduced. Perhaps not dramatically, but it’s difficult to imagine McCarthy changing his entire offensive philosophy just because the Cowboys have Elliott on the roster. Mike likes to throw the football.
According to Pro Football Focus, no other team dropped back to pass more often than the Green Bay Packers between 2014 and 2018. They did so in 66.2% of their plays. He’s talked about his offense being designed to make the quarterback successful. This differs from what we’ve seen from the Cowboys lately, who’ve had a run-first philosophy for a long time.
While the Cowboys were certainly more aggressive after moving on from Scott Linehan prior to last season, Dallas wasn’t really a passing team. Their tendencies on first down prove this, when they frequently handed off the ball instead of attacking through the air.
If the Cowboys are able to keep Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott and acquire a better starting tight end, this would remain a team talented enough to find success passing the ball. I’m sure McCarthy won’t let that go to waste considering his history.
Now, this doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t be efficient running the football. In fact, as Kevin Brady pointed out on his recent article, Dallas should do a great job running the ball under their new HC.
“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.”
Only this time, it won’t be the running game opening up the passing game but the other way around. Ironically, Zeke might shine brighter with less carries.
Promising times are ahead for the Dallas Cowboys as we hope McCarthy takes this talented offense to the next level and make them real Super Bowl contenders. But the question remains… will this finally be a passing team? Under Mike McCarthy, I bet it will.