Mike McCarthy was hired to coach of the Dallas Cowboys not long after the team said goodbye to incumbent Jason Garrett. This will be McCarthy’s second stint as a head man after spending 13 years with the Green Bay Packers most of which was with one of the best quarterbacks ever to play in Aaron Rodgers.
In Dallas, McCarthy has another one of the game’s best, only this time it’s at running back. This isn’t to say that Dak Precott isn’t great, but Ezekiel Elliott is one of the elite players in the sport at his position. It’s been a long time since McCarthy’s had a RB like Elliott and it should be interesting to see how he utilizes him.
During his time with the Packers, only one running back carried the ball 300+ times (312), Ryan Grant in 2008. In that season, Grant ran for 1,203 yards, at 3.9 yards per carry and four scores.
It was a rarity for McCarthy’s backs to even pass the 250 carry threshold during his time in Green Bay. Only Ahman Green (266) in 2006, Grant (282) in 2009, and Eddie Lacy (284) in 2013 accomplished the feat. That’s just four times in 13 seasons that McCarthy fed the lead RB in his offense.
McCarthy’s backs also only ran for 1,000 yard in five of his 13 seasons in charge.
That should change with Elliott. In his first four years in Dallas, Elliott has 300+ carries and gone over 1,000 yards three times, and was on track to achieve landmarks in 2017 if he wasn’t suspended.
McCarthy’s offenses were more known for throwing the ball, which is understandable when he had Brett Favre and Rodgers under center. In the last few years, the current landscape of NFL offenses have also shifted to more of a pass-first philosophy.
In McCarthy’s last five seasons with the Packers, no RB caught more than the 44 passes Ty Montgomery hauled in during the 2016 campaign. One would have to go back to McCarthy’s first season in 2006 to find a running back that eclipsed 45 receptions, when Green caught 46 balls.
Elliott has caught 77 and 54 passes in the past two seasons, respectively.
The difference in talent between Elliott and any RB McCarthy had with the Packers is one of the reasons Elliott should be getting the ball more than anyone in McCarthy’s previous offenses. To McCarthy’s credit, he knows that he’ll be utilizing Elliott as a focal point for the Cowboys:
McCarthy’s had talented first-round RB’s in his offense before, he was the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints from 2000 through 2004.
In those five years, McCarthy led five straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons and each runner had, or was scheduled to have if not for injury, over 300 carries.
Fifth-overall pick in 1999, Ricky Williams was on his way to a monster year under first-time coordinator McCarthy in 2000 before an injury sidetracked him for the final six games. Williams had 1,000 yards and eight scores in just 10 games that year, but followed it up with 1,245 yards in a full-season in 2001.
Another former first-round pick, Deuce McAllister, picked up where Williams left off. In 2002 McAllister ran for 1,388 yards and scored 16 total touchdowns. For the 2003 season, McAllister exploded for 1,641 yards, eight scores and caught 69 passes for 516 yards. Under McCarthy, McAllister had three-straight 1,000-yard seasons and at least eight scores each from 2002 through 2004 before McCarthy moved on.
It’s safe to say McCarthy knows how to use elite running backs and Elliott should still see a healthy workload. He might not have had the talent with the Packers to always commit to giving his RB the ball, but that shouldn’t be a problem in Dallas.