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Cowboys OC Brian Schottenheimer discusses working with Mike McCarthy, using screens on offense

Aug 12, 2023

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Brain Schottenheimer, the Cowboys new offensive coordinator, gives some clarity on the Dallas offense for 2023.

On Friday, while the Dallas Cowboys were having a break from practice, new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer sat down with the K&C Masterpiece crew from 105.3 The Fan and talked about the offense and how it might change this season with Mike McCarthy now calling plays. This is something we all are curious about.

The first topic of substance was his role. For most of his career, Schottenheimer called the plays for his offenses. Now he is serving in a different role, which he describes as helping communicate to McCarthy how the defense is reacting to the Cowboys’ offense. He said it involves looking for changes and adjustments that McCarthy will need to react to, or whether the defense is largely what they expected in the game preparation. He described the process in terms of flow and how McCarthy, with the help of the people in his ear, can choose the plays most likely to result in success.

The next topic, which came from a very good question, was about the whole idea of halftime adjustments. Schottenheimer agreed that adjustments are ongoing throughout the game, and reinforced the idea that NFL halftimes are too short to do much. After his one year as a coordinator at the college level, it was one of the biggest things that struck him about the difference in the pros. He described it as “a fire sale at an auction.” In his mind, the adjustments have to take place throughout the course of the game. That allows them to quickly communicate anything needed at halftime. The way he put the overall objective was interesting. He said it was a matter of allowing the players to “play free” by knowing what was expected and needed on the field.

Another point of interest to a lot of fans was his discussion of the running game. Schottenheimer wants a stable of backs the offense can use, not just a lead back who gets 70% of the workload. This looks like good news for players like Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, and perhaps even Ronald Jones, suspended for the first two games. It also infers that they are not going to ride Tony Pollard until he wears out, which might be crucial in the postseason. He summed it up like this.

“We’re gonna play based on our guys, and what we’ve done well. The Cowboys have run the ball well, and we’re going to continue that... When you’re a good running football team, which we’ve been (here referring to a couple of his previous stops in the league) when we were in Seattle in ‘18 and we were a couple of times with the Jets, leading the league in rushing, which I think we’re going to be really, really good this year, you have to be able to run the football, when the defense knows you’re going to run the damn football.”

Now, before you throw your hands up in frustration, he clarified that this is situational, like four-minute situations when the team is trying to bleed clock to preserve a win, or set up a winning score, and goal line situations. He said it is easy to cross the defense up when they are not looking for the run and pop it for some big gains at times, but in the kinds of places he specified, you have to be able to line up and get the yards despite how the defense tries to load the box or otherwise focuses on stopping the run. A big part of that is that the receivers buy in, and put the effort into being part of the run-blocking scheme. Additionally, being good at all that sets up the play-action pass for future gains.

The discussion turned to personal matters and he was asked about the most emotional moment of his career. He talked about playing the then San Diego Chargers, who had just fired his father as their head coach. Marty Schottenheimer had coached the team to a 14-2 season, but was still shown the door after another futile playoff appearance. Brian was surprised at how emotional he got when he called his dad to tell him about how he had used one of Marty’s bread and butter plays to get the first down that sealed the win. But he said that the moment Deuce Vaughn was drafted, getting the call from his father Chris, was right up there in terms of how emotional he got.

He spoke briefly about the development this year of Jalen Tolbert and how much that impresses him. He is also as impressed as the rest of us by what Micah Parsons is doing in practice, adding significantly to the degree of difficulty for the offense along with the way the rest of the defense is performing.

For me, the best thing in the interview was one of the last, when the screen game was brought up. The radio guys mentioned how we seem to be seeing more of it this camp, involving a variety of players. Schottenheimer described it as “an awesome weapon” for the offense. He said screens and draws are “a lineman’s best friend” because the defense has to diagnose what is happening so quickly. It slows their reaction and gives the blockers an advantage. He certainly made it seem that screens are going to be a bigger part of the offense this year. In recent seasons, the Cowboys have not done well with them. His explanation was focused on how Dallas has the personnel, both on the line and at all the skill positions, to do it if they execute well. For most of us, this would be a very welcome development, getting those receivers a chance to make an explosive play.

The segment wrapped up with Schottenheimer talking about how much he likes camp in Oxnard, particularly the weather. But he made a point about how the compact setup lets the players have more time to talk and get to know one another, and he stressed how important that is.

This interview offered some welcome clarity about some things and some tantalizing hints at what we will see from the Dallas offense. Schottenheimer sounds like a great addition to the staff in his second year overall with the team.