Cowboys to ‘run the damn ball’ more under McCarthy? Sure, Coach…

Mike McCarthy’s comments from the scouting combine seemed to shed some new light on the decision to part ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore following the Cowboys’ divisional-round ouster from the postseason.

But his remarks also raised plenty more questions about what exactly fans will see when the offense takes the field again with McCarthy once more calling plays.

“I think Kellen did an excellent job if you look at the way we played over the course of the last three years,” McCarthy said from the podium in Indianapolis on Wednesday. “As a head coach, every head coach has a vision of how you want the football team to play, what they look like. Our complementary football formula, I felt, was the best this year of the three years, so I think every three, four, five years into your offense, you need to make pretty good – not significant – but changes and adjustments, tendencies and things like that. I just felt this was a good time to make that change.”

Quarterback Dak Prescott explained to reporters during Super Bowl Week that he was told to expect “20 to 30 percent change” in the Dallas offense with McCarthy resuming playcalling duties for the first time since being fired in Green Bay before the 2018 season ended.

The numbers in McCarthy’s own answer Wednesday nudged even higher.

“Thirty, 35 percent is kind of the number we’ve been hovering at as how much change we want for the current players,” he estimated.

So call it a quarter to a third of the offense. That should be a noticeable amount that will look different on Sundays.

“There’s some things, conceptually, that I believe in more in situational football than may have happened the last three years. But, you know, let’s be honest: I had all the input that I wanted the last three years, too.”

And now that he has all the input, at least to hear McCarthy tell it (still six months out), Cowboys fans can expect to see a lot more ground game. His focus, he says, will be more on controlling the clock and less on providing fireworks.

“I’ve been where Kellen has been,” the coach offered. “Kellen wants to light the scoreboard up. But I want to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense. I think when you’re a coordinator, you know, you’re in charge of the offense. Being a head coach and being a playcaller, you’re a little more in tune with [everything]. I don’t desire to be the No. 1 offense in the league. I want to be the No. 1 team in the league with a number of wins and a championship. And if we gotta give up some production and take care of the ball better to get that, then that’s what we’ll do, because we have a really good defense.”

His logic, at least taken at face value, has left many analysts stunned.

“What are you doing?” ESPN’s Dan Graziano asked on-air Thursday morning. “Are you admitting to the world that you fired your offensive coordinator because you scored too many points?”

“If you think that just running the football is the key determining factor in winning a Super Bowl in the NFL,” Dan Orlovsky added, “you’re watching a different NFL than me right now.”

The Super Bowl champion Chiefs, who just happened to have the league’s passing leader and MVP in Patrick Mahomes, led the NFL this year in points scored, yards gained, passing yards, and passing touchdowns.

But they finished the season 20th in rushing yards.

In 2021, Dallas led the league in points scored and yards gained. They finished second in passing yards and third in passing touchdowns, but were bounced in the wild-card round.

That same year, the Rams were the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. They had the Offensive Player of the Year and the receiving yards leader in Cooper Kupp… and also the 25th-ranked rushing attack.

Running the damn ball is not some magic express-lane pass to winning a championship.

But McCarthy actually knows that, too.

His lone Super Bowl win came with the 2010 Packers. They were 24th in the league in rushing yards that season; their air attack ranked fifth.

In fact, a broader look at his rushing-versus-passing rankings in his full seasons as head coach and playcaller in Green Bay shows a heavier overall lean (and generally, more success) toward throwing the ball.

Yr

Pass Att Rk

Pass Yds Rk

Rush Att Rk

Rush Yds Rk

2006

1

8

21

23

2007

6

2

28

21

2008

9

8

14

17

2009

11

7

15

14

2010

16

5

20

24

2011

14

3

26

27

2012

16

9

16

20

2013

18

6

12

7

2014

20

8

14

11

2015

18

25

12

12

2016

5

7

29

20

2017

14

25

27

17

Sure, there’s more to the story than just those stats. There were the two years that running back Edie Lacy was a bona fide monster. There were two years when Aaron Rodgers missed a big chunk of the season due to injury. There was the 2015 season when McCarthy gave up playcalling, only to take it back in December. There were times when he was panned for stubbornly sticking to the run instead of putting the ball in the hands of his future Hall of Fame quarterback, and there was the widely publicized drama between McCarthy and Rodgers that dated all the way back to the 2005 draft and stayed ugly for much of their time together.

Those bits of history certainly lend extra perspective to (and sometimes skew) McCarthy’s playcalling past, but the fact remains that, on the whole, the longtime coach is still seen as a quarterbacks guy who’s only too happy to put the ball in the air.

After all, he worked with Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and Rodgers before arriving in Dallas for what were supposed to be Prescott’s prime years.

So while McCarthy did plainly say, “I want to run the damn ball,” he also clearly stated that the team needs to “take care of the ball better.” Logically, Prescott’s interception totals will go down if he’s always handing the ball off.

And he emphasized the importance of the defense having another smothering year under Dan Quinn… even while hinting that he’d like them to be on the field a little less.

All are, in fact, sound arguments.

But while the headlines will zero in on some new-and-yet-also-antiquated three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality from the 59-year-old coach, it’s probably best not to take every press-conference quote given on the first day of March at face value.

It is, let’s remember, smokescreen season.

And McCarthy and the Cowboys could be content to keep fans- and opposing teams- guessing as to their true intentions and plans as they begin to tinker with a new-look offense.

“I just felt that this was the right time. Different fastball, different curveball, different changeup, you know. I think it’ll serve us well.”

McCarthy was actually talking about taking over playcalling responsibilities from Moore when he said that on Thursday.

Of course, the real curveball may be getting the rest of the NFL to believe that he’s the one who’s suddenly changed up and become a run-first coach and playcaller.

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire