FRISCO, Texas — Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Dak Prescott want to make one thing clear about the expected changes offense in 2023.
They are not trying to re-invent the wheel about something that was a productive and successful as any unit in NFL over the past couple of years.
Their focus is on being more efficient, which will hopefully manifest into postseason success and possibly a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time since the Cowboys' last title in 1995.
And it is embodied by the whole unit to understand the purpose of each play call to help the offense play faster and cut down on turnovers.
“There are some changes,” Prescott said following OTA practice on Thursday. “It’s not like we’re going to throw away our playbook and try to start over, anything like that. Obviously, we’ve had some success. There is good there. We had to take that and detail the hell out of it. Everything we’re doing. Plays we’ve already had, new plays in, just understanding the purpose and just making sure everyone knows the why and what the purpose is in their play and in their roles. All of that detail will make us play faster and be better.”
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But it starts with Prescott and McCarthy spending more time together than at any point since the former Super Bowl champion coach with the Green Bay Packers was hired to replace Jason Garrett in 2020 and taking over playcalling from Kellen Moore, who was fired as offensive coordinator following last season.
Scott Tolzien is the new Cowboys quarterbacks coach and Brian Schottenheimer is the new offensive coordinator.
But McCarthy is the one who will be in Prescott’s ear calling plays in 2023 and that steady flow of contact and communication to get on the same page is nonstop.
“Frankly, not enough, but it’s never enough,” McCarthy said about his communication with Prescott. “It’s important. I’m not really worried about the football part, as far as drills. Just more the collaboration of calling the game. You know, how do you see this play? This is how I see this. We have a thing called PCP. And just really the purpose of the play call, play call purpose. It’s one thing to learn to play and the intricacies of play, but I think when I know, you’re continuing to anticipate when and where it’s going to be called. That the stronger communication and connection the quarterback and the play caller need to have.”
How much communication they need to have is up for debate. While McCarthy said they can’t have enough. Prescott said he doesn’t need to talk his coach at night.
“No. Nah. I’m good on that one,” Prescott said. “I see him enough.”
But the communication and relationship has has changed greatly over the last few months.
“Oh, a ton, just from the simple fact he’s the play caller,” Prescott said. “Just being able to understand, being in the same wavelength and understanding why he’s calling a play, what’s the purpose of the play, what he expects out of that and making sure we’re on the same accord there. It has to be that constant communication.”
There have been a few hiccups and points of confusion. But it is more about a different voice with a different twang than a lack of understanding.
“It’s different. You hear that accent a little bit more when he’s calling these plays,” Prescott said with a smile. “He called one out there today and I looked back and I go, was it the right one? Yeah, it was, it’s just that his accent was tough to hear. No, it’s been fun. Being able to work with him in that light, every day hands on, it’s exciting, it’s refreshing. I know he’s enjoying it, getting back into football, head first into the film and what we’re doing. It’s exciting, for sure.”
Right now, they are trying to over communicate again with the goal of being on the same page with the purpose of the play call in mind.
“As we broke practice (today), he said, ‘go look at everything we put in and make sure we’re running the things you like and the things we’re good at. If it’s something you’re a little iffy about, let’s get it out. Let’s master what we’re great at’,” Prescott recalled. “Just having that clear communication, being able to work with him day in and day out, it’s new, it’s refreshing, it’s fun for both of us.”
The work that McCarthy and Prescott are doing now and what they plan to do during game weeks once the season starts should result in less communication when it’s time to call plays in the game. Prescott doesn’t want reminders in his ear before each play.
“No, no, no, leave me alone,” Prescott said. “One is because the time we spend throughout the week. He shouldn’t have to give me a reminder and I think he would say the same. It’s because we’re going to be talking all week long about the communication, the play, what it’s purpose is, the situation of the game, down and distance so therefore when that play is called, that conversation should have been held a couple of days ago, that I know what he’s thinking, why it’s called, where we are in particular with that situation and how to execute.”
Play call purpose or purpose of a play continually came up with Prescott and McCarthy. It’s the new Cowboys buzz phrase of the offseason, not just for the quarterback but for the entire unit.
“That’s the detail and the accountability and discipline within a play that all 11 guys have to have,” Prescott said. “Understanding their role and understanding if hey, they’re a clear out or they’re really eating up a window or eating up a guy to open up that space and for that guy to understand to not kill his window, to open it up. Some things I guess some of these young guys may not have heard and you see it click and you see them understanding early on, some of these plays. ... It’s just been good. You can see it and feel it and understand everybody is locked in, everyone is buying in to the purpose of it and the purpose of their role which overall allows us to play faster and play cleaner.”
Playing faster, cleaner and more efficiently should help him make faster decisions as a quarterback.
And it should also cut down on the problems of last season, namely Prescott’s NFL-leading 15 interceptions in just 12 games and two more in a season-ending loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
McCarthy and Prescott went over all the interceptions from the 2022 season and they have concluded these changes and the entire offense understanding the purpose of the play will help cut down on turnovers and get them to where they want to go.
More than a few of the picks could be attributed to a two receivers being in the same area and not being where they were supposed to be.
“It’s really the things that were cleaning up this offseason and whether it had been my decision making or the details within the play that ultimately my decision making fell fault to,” Prescott said. “So, just being cleaner and understanding that. That’s why I’m saying purpose. When you went back and looked at the tape, you could see that guys weren’t necessarily thinking what I was thinking. We weren’t on the same page. Maybe on that clear-out route, he didn’t understand that he had to get out of there and that was part of the interception. When all 11 are on the same page and we understand why the whole passing game is going to be cleaner. My decision-making, my throws, these guys play-making, them catching the ball, all of that is going to be cleaner.”
The purpose is clear.
Will the results come in 2023?