Will Dallas Cowboys offense be Mike McCarthy’s or Kellen Moore’s? McCarthy explains
Mike McCarthy’s adage of choice is fitting.
“The old theory of ‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,’” the 56-year-old Cowboys coach said Thursday in a sitdown with local beat writers. “I want to build off what’s been established.”
And thus, despite assembling a highly experienced and almost completely new staff of coaches to shepherd what the franchise considers a talented roster, McCarthy is retaining one of the babies of the Cowboys staff: 31-year-old offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
McCarthy, who has called plays for most of his career, even anticipates Moore handling that responsibility.
“I’m confident that Kellen can still be the play caller,” McCarthy said. “That’s the path we’re going down. We’re still working through that, but my goal is for him to be the play caller.”
The freedom further speaks to the belief McCarthy has expressed in Moore.
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Of 13 coaching hires McCarthy confirmed, Moore is one of just two carryovers from Dallas’ 2019 staff. Moore is the only 2019 Cowboys coach to keep his position (tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier will coach quarterbacks). McCarthy sought that partnership.
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“The opportunity to work with Kellen is something I was going to pursue either way,” McCarthy said. “Kellen’s first year, I thought he did a very good job. So I want to keep the language on offense the same.”
Mike McCarthy says he only wants to build on what Kellen Moore had going with Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys offense. (Photo: Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports)
McCarthy interviewed for his job with the Cowboys less than 2 weeks ago. His plans for the season, like his knowledge of headquarters at the Star — he joked he hasn’t been outside since landing on Jerry Jones’ helicopter last week — will grow. But Thursday, McCarthy shed some light on his directions for the 2020 Cowboys season.
Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, most recently the Saints linebackers coach, McCarthy anticipates “big change” for the Cowboys’ defensive system. Keep four defensive linemen, but be more multiple. Special teams, too, will overhaul under John Fassel, who in 2019 coached Rams special teams. But offense?
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“I want to keep it the same,” McCarthy said. “Same is not the right word. I want to build off what has been established.”
The still-evolving plan: McCarthy will drive the Cowboys’ 2020 offensive installation, structure and components. He’ll integrate his philosophies, developed across decades coaching in the NFL and further honed in his 2019 gap year of analysis. But he will cede gameday play-calling to Moore. And they will install the hybrid system with terminology that Prescott and Cowboys teammates are familiar with already.
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“This is the first language change that I’ve had to go through since 1989,” McCarthy said. “I’ve been in the same terminology since my days at Pitt. But this will be good for me. And frankly, it’s not about me.
“So we want to keep the language the same.”
Moore will help there. He rose from Prescott’s backup quarterback in 2017 to Cowboys quarterbacks coach in 2018 and then Cowboys offensive coordinator in 2019. Dallas finished 8-8 despite ranking top 10 in both offense and defense. But, often, the Cowboys offense was firing.
No team had more yards per game (431.5) or per play (6.46) than the Cowboys in 2019. Their 27.1 points per game ranked sixth. For the first time in franchise history, the Cowboys boasted an offense with a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver. By season’s end, Michael Gallup joined Amari Cooper to make it two 1,000-yard receivers. Prescott threw for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
“What Dak has established here in this current offense is very important to me as we put this offense together,” McCarthy said. “That’s why the opportunity for [Moore] to call plays is the focus, his relationship with the quarterback.”
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Since his introductory press conference, McCarthy has spoken with Prescott. He said his quarterback was “energetic” and “headed out west.” Prescott works with 3DQB on biomechanics and techniques in the offseason. The Cowboys have not signed the 2016 fourth-round pick to an extension though McCarthy and Jerry Jones both emphasize Prescott is their franchise quarterback of the future. Jones even said McCarthy’s “appreciation of what Dak is as a player” helped seal the deal.
Now it’s time for the Cowboys coaching staff to determine how best to utilize Prescott and his teammates’ talents.
“I think between us,” McCarthy said, “we can take this offense forward another step.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein
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