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Point-counterpoint: Looking for culprits as the Cowboys implode

After leaks about player frustrations with the coaching staff, our dueling writers debate who’s at fault for the Cowboys woes.

NFL: OCT 11 Giants at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is not what we signed on for. As fans of the Dallas Cowboys, we were convinced that change was going to be a big help after the frustrations of the Jason Garrett years. A new coaching staff under Mike McCarthy was seen as a breath of fresh air that would blow some of the disappointments away. Then we had an apparently very successful free agency to go with an exciting draft class. The limitations of the pandemic response were going to be a challenge, but then, everyone faced those, right?

So how did we wind up in this ghastly situation? While injuries have played a part, just about everything else has gone about as badly as could be imagined. Our Terence Watson and Tom Ryle have looked at things, and have ideas about where most blame should be placed. Of course, their ideas don’t coincide.

Tom: I figured there would be some growing pains and stuff with the change of coaches, but this is bordering on the ridiculous. Now we have anonymous comments from someone within the organization that the players don’t think McCarthy and his assistants are very good at their jobs. You know what, whoever that was may have a point. This team has looked unprepared, unsure, even lost at times, especially on defense. We knew that Mike Nolan was brought in to run a more complex and unpredictable scheme after the reports of how opposing teams were well aware of what Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard were doing in advance. But the failure to adjust things after COVID-19 eliminated offseason work and the entire preseason is another example of what I see as a type of arrogance too many coaches have, especially at the highest levels. They just think they know better than anyone else how to do things, and stick to them until they hit that iceberg everyone told them was out there in the dark North Atlantic waters.

I always suspected it would take the staff longer to get everything working, and we should be cautious about our expectations this year, but this sinking ship is far worse than I ever imagined. It all starts with the staff. McCarthy was supposed to be so much better than this. Now he is having to figure out how to pick up the pieces of this shipwreck only six weeks into the season, and it was his job to properly navigate things. The coaches truly failed this team.

Terence: There are things in this league that are pretty easy to follow, the coaches draw up the plays and the players execute them. It’s as simple as that, well at least it was for the Cowboys defensive players under Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard because it was the one of the most vanilla defenses in the league. Now that the players have been given more of a voice under Mike McCarthy than they had under Jason Garrett they want to leak comments to the media instead of bringing it to the coaching staff. Yes, Nolan’s defense is more complex than his predecessors but they still had all offseason to talk things through and run through them in practice.

And let’s not forget changes are being made and yet the players on the field continue to fail in their execution. Players are continuously called out by the sportscasters as out of position, failing to communicate on the field, and getting caught looking at the quarterback instead of the receiver in front of them. How is that on the coaching staff? If you ask me the players see that they either don’t understand the system or aren’t that good at anything other than a vanilla defense and are trying to call out the coaches to cover themselves.

Tom: Yeah, I don’t see that as giving the coaches an out at all. They are paid to put the players in a position to succeed, and that is hardly evident so far. They also seem to be really struggling with who is the best player to put out there. As an example, Justin Hamilton was arguably the best defensive tackle they had against the Arizona Cardinals, and you have to ask just why they took so long to play him ahead of the largely ineffective Dontari Poe. I also think they were far too easy on Elliott. Just sitting him for a few plays was not enough. He should have been benched until Tony Pollard gave them reason to have to put Elliott back in.

The entire defense is my biggest reason for blaming the coaches, however. That has just been one problem after another, and it is really hard to not think that they coaches have been far too stubborn in sticking with the original plan. It smacks of “the players just have to execute” to me, and that has always struck me as something bad coaches fall back on. They know they have weak positions, and that what they are calling is not working. I just haven’t seen them responding with any effectiveness at all, and they have a lot better chance of changing their plan and play calls than suddenly getting the players to become better on the field.

Terence: I’ll give you that, they should have had Justin Hamilton in there over Dontari Poe but that doesn’t really fall on coaching as much as it does injuries. The loss of Gerald McCoy and Trysten Hill really crippled the interior of this defensive line. Now back to the matter at hand, the coaches may be struggling to figure out which players give them the best chance to win but it’s hard to choose a player when they all are giving them reasons to doubt them.

And yes, the players do have to execute, these players were coddled so much under the previous coaching staff that now when they are pulled and someone is replacing them they are now crying about it. These defenders are finally being held responsible for their lackluster play and hustle. If they were performing on the field then we wouldn’t have this problem. When it comes to the adjustments, this coaching staff has made more adjustments during games then the previous coaching staff. Hell, Nolan even came down to help coach and make adjustments in real time with the defense. So their argument for not making adjustments in games is a weak argument.

Tom: But still things fall wildly apart. Look, I won’t claim that all the players are giving it their best effort. I continue to maintain that the coaches are not getting this team prepared, and there seems to be a real breakdown with many of the players, which it is up to the coaches to correct. The only way they are going to instill any confidence they know what they are doing is to do some better things. I’ll admit this was a totally unanticipated and unprecedented situation with the pandemic, but again, that was up to the staff to sort out and find a way to make something work. And given that coaches don’t have any cap impact, I think some of them should be out of a job sooner rather than later.