For the first time in a long time the work of Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys general manager, hasn’t undermined the Super Bowl aspirations of Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys owner.
The roster is stacked. Dak Prescott is back from injury and freed from the cloud of contract talk. Ezekiel Elliott is still cooking. The wide receivers room is full of game breakers, including plenty, such as CeeDee Lamb, that Jerry drafted. Ditto for the defense, such as interception machine Trevon Diggs.
How ’bout them Boys? Well, they are 5-1 headed into the bye week.
Except, perhaps, for the team’s glaring weak spot.
Mike McCarthy. Or at least, some of Mike McCarthy’s in-game focus and decision-making.
The Cowboys coach deserves credit for the record. The team is prepared. The team is motivated. The team is winning. Yet some of that is in spite of him, or at least in spite of his game management.
This season in general, and Sunday in particular, have been riddled with inconsistent fourth down philosophies, clock management befuddlement, bizarre timeout usage and a strange inability to always recognize what down it is.
It’s like the guy isn’t paying attention.
McCarthy doesn’t call the plays for either the offense or the defense — Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn are handling that respectively with aplomb. So he isn’t overworked. Down, distance, time remaining? These things should be front of mind.
Somehow they aren’t. It hasn’t cost Dallas yet … but September and October games don’t determine Super Bowls. The littlest of things, the smallest of errors, can come in January, when the competition and (often) the coaching competency on the other sideline are better.
McCarthy coached Green Bay for 13 seasons. He had a run of nine playoff appearances in 10 seasons, a stretch when his Packers often looked dominant in the regular season. Yet, even with Brett Favre and (mostly) Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, McCarthy led the Packers to just a single Super Bowl appearance (they won it after the 2010 season).
Other than that, Green Bay was just 6-8 in playoff games under McCarthy. It’s both a fair and unfair stat, of course. The unfair part is that it takes a good coach to get to the playoffs that many times. No one is saying McCarthy is a complete stiff of a coach.
Yet the goal in Dallas is to win it all. That’s the goal even when the Cowboys don’t have a loaded roster full of stars. It’s how Jones runs the team, optimism in defiance of reality, like Dallas is still a dynasty.
Well, this time reality is optimistic.
As such, it is fair to wonder just how many more Lombardi Trophies, or at least trips to the Super Bowl to face Tom Brady and the Patriots, the Packers could have had with a different coach? How often did the littlest of decisions cost them in some NFC divisional round?
McCarthy was fired from Green Bay during the 2018 season and vowed to spend a year in a sort of sabbatical where he said he studied up on the modern trends of the NFL.
It included, he told nbc’s Peter King, a crash course in analytics from Pro Football Focus. There was also lots of time sitting inside his refurbished barn where he reevaluated mechanics, or pondered broad strategy, or, supposedly, took time to recognize game decisions.
Well, some of it might have helped. Some, eh, not so much.
The Cowboys have the week off and if McCarthy wants to do something that could have a profound impact on the end of the season, taking a couple of days to bury himself in clock and down and distance decisions sure might help.
So far, he looks overwhelmed when the obvious isn’t in front of him.
Don’t be surprised if opposing coaches look to exploit that — Patriots coach Bill Belichick was able to deny Dallas a final possession before halftime Sunday because McCarthy didn’t know when to call timeout. In an October game against a losing team, this didn’t wind up mattering. In the playoffs against Tampa Bay or Kansas City, it might.
Maybe this can change.
Maybe, if the Cowboys are going to do what they appear capable of doing — contend for the Super Bowl — it must.