McCarthy brings an 'edge' to Cowboys offense with return to play-calling
By SCHUYLER DIXON
FRISCO, Texas (AP) As coach Mike McCarthy takes over the play-calling for the Dallas Cowboys, All-Pro guard Zack Martin senses an edginess to the offense.
Martin struggles to quantify the observation, other than to reference McCarthy's blue-collar roots as a “Pittsburgh guy.”
“I think it's the accent,” McCarthy said when told about Martin's take.
Going into his fourth season with the Cowboys, McCarthy is calling plays for the first time since his Green Bay days after the club agreed to part ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who was hired by the Los Angeles Chargers a day after Dallas' move.
The decision came after the 27th consecutive season in which the Cowboys didn't reach at least an NFC championship game, losing a divisional matchup at the San Francisco 49ers. Dallas lost a wild-card game at home to the Niners a year earlier.
McCarthy made headlines at the combine a few weeks after Moore's departure by saying he wanted to “run the damn ball,” which was taken to mean he didn't think the Cowboys ran it enough under Moore.
There's no way to get a sense of the running game in offseason workouts without pads, but that doesn't seem to matter to Jake Ferguson. The second-year tight end brought a reputation as a physical blocker with him as a fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin.
“I’m a power guy,” said the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Ferguson, who is the de factor leader of his group after Dalton Schultz left in free agency. “I love running power and having power and this really fires me up. The whole front seven, the tight ends and the O-line, I think we’re a lot more connected right now.”
To be clear, the Cowboys won't be lining up in a power I-formation. The offense will look a lot like Moore's version, with plenty of shotgun formations and short passes.
“It’s more of an attitude deal,” Martin said. “That’s the best way I can describe it. The plays aren’t going to change. We’re going to run our inside zone, outside zone. I think it’s just the mindset and attitude we’re going to bring and that edge I talked about.”
McCarthy has his roots in a West Coast system in which the run game feeds off the pass. He coached Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers with the Packers, winning a Super Bowl and reaching three other NFC title games.
“This is the ‘Texas Coast,’ quarterback Dak Prescott said. ”We just renamed that, the quarterbacks. It’s got definitely some West Coast principles, but has a little bit of what we’ve done in the past and just marrying them together with a lot of detail and maybe in a sense, a system that’s not out there."
There was a time when McCarthy gave up play-calling with the Packers, then said he would never give it up again after reclaiming the duties. He called the plays for almost all of his 12-plus seasons.
When the Cowboys hired him a year and a half after his firing in Green Bay, McCarthy said he didn't want to mess with the continuity for Prescott, the starter from the beginning of his first year and the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Statistically, the Dallas offense was among the best in the league most of the time when Prescott was healthy and Moore was calling plays. But there was a long stretch of inconsistency in 2021, and the offense faltered in both playoff losses to San Francisco.
Last season, Prescott shared the NFL lead in interceptions (15) with Houston's Davis Mills despite missing five games with a broken thumb.
The switch to McCarthy calling plays, with Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator and former NFL quarterback Scott Tolzien as his position coach, means something of a reset for Prescott.
“Definitely refreshed,” Prescott said. “Just the details of everything have went up. That just heightened my focus, heightened everybody else’s focus. You the intentions. You know the purpose of plays. It’s definitely refreshing and exciting.”
McCarthy mused at times over the past three years about missing his days as a play-caller. Now the 59-year-old has returned to the front of the room in meetings with the offense and the quarterbacks, which backup Cooper Rush says has been kind of fun.
McCarthy had to admit it was for him, too.
“It’s everything that goes into preparing the game plan,” McCarthy said. “That’s the guy that gets to compete on game day with the coordinator on the other side of the field. I think it’s only natural that I’m enjoying it.”
And only natural that a “Pittsburgh guy” is bringing a little edge to it.
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Updated June 7, 2023