Some teams find out what they do well and stick with it. They identify their ideal personnel, packages, and schemes, and ride it all the way to victory. Other teams, like the Dallas Cowboys, find their strength in diversity. They identify they have the rare ability to use multiple personnel packages a variety of ways and lean on their fluidity to find victory.
Other teams, like the Cowboys, find their strength in diversity. They identify they have the rare ability to use multiple personnel packages a variety of ways and lean on their fluidity to find victory.
Since joining the Cowboys in 2020, Mike McCarthy has been slowly applying his fingerprints to the offense. Now in his first season as play-caller, he’s showing his true self, and that’s a play-caller who constantly cycles personnel groups on and off the field.
The Cowboys are currently top-10 in usage rates in seven different personnel groups. They lead the entire NFL in 10 personnel (1 RB, 0TE) and 23 personnel (2RB, 3TE) and have used 10 different packages for at least one percent of their snaps.
While 11 (1RB, 1TE) and 12 (1RB, 2TE) are still their most frequently used, their usage percentage ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in both since they frequently mix in less traditional packages into their drives.
The only successful package that includes two RBs is their 22 (2RB,2TE) grouping. 21, 20 and 23 personnel are all operating with a negative EPA.
Their most successful package from an EPA/p perspective, is the 02 personnel grouping (0RB, 2TE) but the sample size is just three plays, making it potentially misleading.
Cowboys' Mike McCarthy getting creative with personnel groups as play-caller
This early in the season, it’s difficult to say which personnel packages are their bread and butter and which should get dumped by the wayside. The value is found in their comfort in doing so many different looks because it forces defenses to carry and cycle extra players, in order to matchup properly.
The Cowboys know all too well, the NFL is a game of mismatches, and the offense usually gets to dictate terms. By rolling out so many different groupings, McCarthy is searching for that key mismatch he can exploit.
Defenses with abnormally good rotations and deep rosters might be up to the task, but for most of the NFL, McCarthy’s frequently changing personnel grouping are difficult to adjust to.
Perhaps as things settle and the Cowboys discover the strengths of their roster, they’ll move away from the diversity we see today. But for now, it’s a wrinkle that makes them stand out. It's something that could provide just the mismatch they need to change a game.