Mike McCoy's Impact on the Cardinals' 2018 Fantasy Outlook

Mike McCoy's Impact on the Cardinals' 2018 Fantasy Outlook

Following a season where the Arizona Cardinals finished in the bottom 10 in points scored and total yards, head coach Bruce Arians retired, leading to a total reconstruction of the coaching staff. One of the major changes was the addition of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Working under the defensive-minded new head coach Steve Wilks, McCoy is expected to be in charge of play calling for Arizona in 2018. With a healthy David Johnson returning and Sam Bradford starting the season under center, the Cardinals are hoping to reignite the offensive spark that they had in 2016. The following will examine how McCoy might help lead that charge. 


More in the OC impact seriesNorv Turner | Todd Haley | Pat Shurmur | Brian  Schottenheimer


A Snapshot of Mike McCoy’s History

Mike McCoy has spent nine seasons at the NFL level as an offensive coordinator or head coach, but he has been the primary playcaller on just five of those teams. In his first two years in Denver, McCoy ceded play-calling duties to head coach Josh McDaniels, and for two seasons in San Diego, McCoy delegated play-calling duties to Ken Whisenhunt. In his second stint with Denver last season, McCoy was let go after Week 11, so all references to last season will use that time frame.

As is usually the case, player talent usually dictates who touches the ball the most. Where a coach can have a major impact is in how they manage their offense in specific situations, especially as it pertains to game script.

Mike McCoy Pass Rates in Wins vs. Losses
Year Team Overall Rank Wins Rank Losses Rank
2011 Broncos 44.1% 32 37.7% 32 55.2% 32
2012 Broncos 55.0% 21 53.1% 13 67.5% 5
2014 Chargers 59.8% 10 57.2% 7 65.7% 15
2015 Chargers 63.2% 5 59.1% 4 66.0% 17
2017 Broncos 58.8% 10+ 47.5% 24+ 63.6% 19+
Mike McCoy Situational Pass Rates
Year Team Neutral* Rank Negative* Rank Positive Rank
2011 Broncos 38.0% 32 60.6% 30 19.2% 31
2012 Broncos 58.2% 9 67.2% 20 43.8% 10
2014 Chargers 58.9% 9 73.2% 11 39.8% 20
2015 Chargers 64.4% 2 63.3% 30 52.6% 6
2017 Broncos 53.6% 22+ 69.1% 17+ 42.3% 15 +

*Neutral game script is when the score is within seven points. Negative game script is down by eight or more points. Positive game script is up by eight or more points.
+Projected end-of-season rank

Except for 2011, when Tim Tebow was Denver’s primary quarterback and the Broncos posted the second-highest rush rate of any team since 2010, McCoy has actually been one of the league's most pass-happy coaches, ranking in the top 10 in neutral passing rate in three of his last four seasons as a primary playcaller. Curiously, McCoy has generally failed to adjust his approach when facing a large deficit, consistently ranking outside the top half of the league in passing rate in negative game script. On a team projected to win 5.5–6 games, depending on which sportsbook you look at, McCoy's tentative nature towards game script could come into play in 2018.

McCoy’s Quarterbacks

Mike McCoy Primary QB Per-Game Averages
Year Player Games Completions Attempts Yards TD INT Fantasy Points
2011 Tim Tebow 14 9.0 19.4 123.5 0.9 0.4 14.8
2012 Peyton Manning 16 25.0 36.4 291.2 2.3 0.7 20.1
2014 Philip Rivers 16 23.7 35.6 267.9 1.9 1.1 17.9
2015 Philip Rivers 16 27.3 41.3 299.5 1.8 0.8 18.5
2017 Trevor Siemian 7 21.7 35.3 238.4 1.3 1.4 13.4

Determining McCoy’s influence on the quarterback position is quite complicated—he went from one of the worst quarterbacks that the league’s ever seen in 2011 to one of the best of all time in 2012. 

It’s worth noting that McCoy oversaw the two most pass-heavy offenses in San Diego in the Philip Rivers era. Some will point out that Danny Woodhead arrived in San Diego the same year as McCoy—and Woodhead's involvement in the passing game probably has a lot to do with it—but Woodhead missed 27 games while McCoy was the head coach (14 while McCoy was calling plays).

Returning to McCoy's attention to game script, Denver ranked ninth in the league in passing attempts through 11 weeks last year but they led the league in plays ran when down by eight or more—the Broncos were in negative game script for 322 plays after 11 weeks, one of two teams with at least 300 such plays and 60 more (nearly a full game's worth) than the third-ranked team.

McCoy’s Running Backs

Mike McCoy Primary RB Per-Game Averages
Year Player Games Rushes Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of RB Touches
2011 Willis McGahee 15 16.6 0.8 83.3 10.9 56.1%
2012 Willis McGahee 10 16.7 2.6 95.2 14.1 37.5%
2014 Branden Oliver 14 11.4 2.6 60.9 10.4 44.4%
2015 Melvin Gordon 14 13.1 2.4 59.5 8.0 42.9%
2017 C.J. Anderson 10 13.9 1.5 68.4 9.9 51.9%
Mike McCoy Team RB Per-Game Averages
Year Rushes Receptions Total Yards PPR FP % of Team Touches
2011 25.6 3.4 146.2 21.1 60.9%
2012 28.1 4.1 146.4 23.6 58.2%
2014 22.4 5.2 117.2 19.5 56.7%
2015 23.3 8.4 153.8 27.5 60.6%
2017 24.8 4.9 139.7 21.1 60.3%

Whether by design or happenstance, McCoy has never offered a single running back the workload that we would expect of a true featured back. Even in Willis McGahee’s Pro Bowl 2011 season, he accounted for a backfield touch share that ranked just 15th among all backs. 

What McCoy has lacked in terms of feeding a single back, he’s made up for in creating a large backfield pie for them to eat from. McCoy's backfields have averaged 59.3 percent of total team touches, a touch share that would have ranked ninth among running backs last year. In three of his seasons as a playcaller, McCoy has offered his running backs over 60 percent of the touches, which is a number that would have ranked in the top 10 in three of the last four seasons. 

McCoy’s Pass-Catchers

Mike McCoy Primary Receiver Per-Game Averages
Year Player Games Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
2011 Eric Decker 16 6.0 2.8 38.3 0.50 9.6 22.7%
2012 Demaryius Thomas 16 8.9 5.9 89.6 0.63 18.6 24.4%
2014 Keenan Allen 14 8.6 5.5 55.9 0.29 12.8 21.4%
2015* Keenan Allen 8 11.1 8.4 90.6 0.50 20.4 13.5%
2017 Demaryius Thomas 10 8.8 5.3 63.3 0.30 13.2 24.5%

*In 2015, running back Danny Woodhead led the Chargers in targets and receptions.

Mike McCoy Secondary Receiver Per-Game Averages
Year Player Games Targets Receptions Rec Yards Rec TD PPR FP % of Team Targets
2011 Demaryius Thomas 11 6.4 2.9 50.1 0.36 10.1 16.5%
2012 Eric Decker 16 7.6 5.3 66.5 0.81 16.8 20.8%
2014 Antonio Gates 16 6.1 4.3 51.3 0.75 13.9 17.3%
2015 Antonio Gates 11 7.7 5.1 57.3 0.45 13.5 12.9%
2017 Emmanuel Sanders 8 8.3 4.3 56.0 .25 11.4 18.4%

Regardless of who the primary pass-catcher has been in a Mike McCoy offense, there’s always been a player who has commanded a healthy target share. Keenan Allen missed two games in 2014, but was on pace to see over 24 percent of the Chargers’ targets that year; in 2015, a full season would likely have allowed Allen to see well over a quarter of San Diego’s targets. 

McCoy seemingly has made a concerted effort to keep his tight ends involved. Even with Antonio Gates playing just 11 games in 2015, and no outstanding talent at the position in Denver, McCoy’s tight end units have ranked in the top 12 in the league in positional target share three times. They have also finished seventh or better in team tight end PPR fantasy points in three seasons. 

What It All Means for the Cardinals in 2018

As a coach who slants towards the pass taking over a team projected to finish near the bottom of the league in the standings, McCoy should lead one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the league in 2018. While McCoy hasn’t been as sensitive to game script as other coaches in the league, a passing rate above 60 percent—a number that just six teams hit in 2017—is within the range of outcomes for this squad.

Quarterback

Arizona drafted Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick in April’s draft and he will compete with Sam Bradford to be the Week 1 starter. Whether it’s the conservative veteran or the rookie, neither figure to be draftable fantasy assets come August. The most glaring change this year figures to be the lack of the deep ball—Bruce Arians consistently led the league in deep ball passing (thrown 15+ yards downfield) rate as a playcaller, while McCoy’s quarterbacks have consistently finished below the league average in that department. If Sam Bradford wins the starting job, shorter passes are a near certainty—only one quarterback has thrown deep at a lower rate than Bradford over the last five seasons. 

Running Backs

The one position where McCoy’s tendencies figure to have little impact—at least in terms of snap rates or touch share— is at running back. While McCoy has traditionally opted for a committee approach to his backfields, David Johnson is one of the few true workhorse, game script-resistant backs in the league. When fully healthy in 2016, Johnson accounted for a league-high 80 percent of the backfield touches. Given McCoy's history of high running back usage on the team level and Johnson's ability to catch the ball, he is a candidate to lead the league in touches despite being on a non-contender.

Receivers

One constant in McCoy’s offense had been a pass-catcher with a high target share and that trend should continue in 2018 with Larry Fitzgerald as the primary receiver. Fitz showed no signs of aging last season, accounting for 27 percent of the Cardinals targets, the seventh-highest target share of 2017. With little competition for targets outside of Johnson, expect the 15th-year receiver to command at least a quarter of Arizona’s targets again.

After Fitzgerald and Johnson, the role of the third pass-catcher is up for grabs but it could be a valuable role on a team that will find itself forced to throw quite often. Rookie Christian Kirk is currently penciled in as the team’s No. 2 WR but rookie pass-catchers typically progress slowly. Two players to monitor this offseason are Brice Butler and Ricky Seals-Jones. Since coming into the league, Butler’s 8.85 yards per target ranks 19th out of 112 active wide receivers with at least 100 targets. We know McCoy likes to get his tight ends involved and Seals-Jones led tight ends in targets per snap in 2017, albeit on just 132 snaps.

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images. 


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