By: Jeff Barnes
When the 2019 NFL regular season ended, Cowboys Nation could not wait for the news that Jason Garrett would not be returning as head coach. It took several weeks before the Cowboys made it official. Soon after it was made public that Mike McCarthy would be the next head coach. With that, there was renewed hope in the eyes of many fans. A proven head coach that has a Super Bowl resume is leading the team that Jason Garrett couldn’t get to reach their full potential. The 2020 season has been the exact opposite. Many fans want to blame Jerry Jones saying the buck stops with him. The truth is yes, Jones deserves blame, but not in the way you think.
The hiring of Mike McCarthy was highly touted in the media and by the fans especially. The Cowboys would once again have a head coach with a proven Super Bowl pedigree. Although his tenure in Green Bay ended in turmoil, McCarthy was still widely respected. He was expected to help Dak Prescott grow as a passer. Mike McCarthy offered a major change from the Garrett era. He was going to be more heart on his sleeve as opposed to the reserved consistency Garrett displayed. He seemed to be more amicable to adapting to analytics which is something Garrett didn’t factor into every situation. McCarthy’s year away from football was supposed to be him preparing for his return to the sideline. If you have watched this season so far it doesn’t look as if it has worked.
McCarthy’s decision making has been a major issue. He has been willing to let his coordinators make some horrible in-game calls. While his predecessor was considered conservative he has been anything but that with ultra-aggressive calls at key moments in games that have led to his team suffering blowout losses. His most recent example was in the 2nd half of the Cowboys Thanksgiving day loss to the Washington Football Team in which McCarthy allowed John Fassel to call a fake punt deep in his own territory when the Dallas defense was struggling to stop Washington on a short field. The attempt failed miserably and Washington would score quickly swinging what was a close game into an embarrassing blowout. This has been a common occurrence for the Cowboys this season.
More rushing YDs Week 13
Mike McCarthy’s issues started early in his tenure. He made two key decisions that would challenge him quickly. The first was hiring Mike Nolan. The second being retaining Kellen Moore. Both decisions were questionable because they both came with major concerns. With Moore, you have a young coordinator that struggled with play calls in some key situations. If McCarthy was going to keep Moore, he should have been more involved in the play-calling because Moore still has room to grow. Garrett gave Moore too much room for error and McCarthy has done the same. The offense bogs down and he struggles to get it going. When he finds success moving the football he tries to throw a haymaker with a trick play or screen that often backfire. He needed a coach to be on the headset and keep him on the right track. McCarthy has relented.
Nolan was unable to fully install his defense this offseason. That was the only thing logical about the struggles of the Dallas defense under his guidance. Otherwise, it is solely on him. Since 2014, the Cowboys have been drafting and signing players to fit a 4-3 defense. It was sheer arrogance to think that he was going to change that in an abbreviated offseason. It takes a couple of seasons to retool a defense under normal circumstances. Nolan has traditionally been a 3-4 coordinator. He has never been known to use a 4-3 exclusively. With the money the Cowboys have tied up in the front of this defense his hiring made no sense at all. The months of the coaches saying they are multiple fronts also did nothing to make you feel confident he had a realistic plan for this defense. Historically that has never been an instant transition.
When Bill Parcells took over as head coach of the Cowboys in 2003 he wanted to install a 3-4 as he always did. He opted to keep the defense as a 4-3 for the time being because he knew that it would take multiple offseasons to achieve this. He won 10 games and went to the playoffs that year. The following year he started the transition from a 4-3 to 3-4 and the defense suffered. They had a losing season and would go on to draft Demarcus Ware and Marcus Spears in the 1st round of the draft. In 2013, after years of being a 3-4 defense Jason Garrett said the Cowboys will be a 4-3 defense as they brought in Monte Kiffin. The defense was historically bad that year as they struggled to rebuild the defense in the new scheme. Changing schemes always has challenges as you have personnel that doesn’t fit. Nolan had to have known that when he got there. Adding pieces like Aldon Smith, Gerald McCoy, and Dontari Poe were not going to change the fact that the Cowboys gave large deals to Demarcus Lawrence and Jaylon Smith who are more of a fit for a 4-3 defense. Trying to transition should have been ruled out once COVID shut down the NFL. Instead, he forged on and the defense has been abysmal most of the season.
There are things that are out of Mike McCarthy’s control, however. They lost both starting tackles for the season. Gerald McCoy was lost in training camp. To make matters worse Zach Martin was lost again to injury on Thanksgiving along with Cam Erving. Even without their starting tackles, they have had their chances, and yet the coaching has been worse than the previous staff. Keith O’Quinn had an underperforming special teams unit, but this year’s units are even worse. Whether it is the kickoff return unit and returner Tony Pollard mishandling kickoffs or bringing it out of the end zone resulting in poor field position, or his punt units continually failing on fake punts leaving an already shaky defense with a short field. The talent on the roster has caused plenty of issues that I can’t even fit it all in this article.
Yes, Jerry Jones is responsible because he hired McCarthy who in turn hired this staff. Garrett’s tenure wasn’t bad, but in Dallas that isn’t good enough. The fans demand Super Bowls. In all honesty, the fans wanted Garrett gone. Jerry listened. This year is showing the fans that they were a lot closer to winning under Garrett than they are now under Mike McCarthy.