For the Dallas Cowboys, the 2020 season continues on a seemingly inexorable path from bad to worse. As we look forward to the likelihood of the team starting Ben DiNucci at quarterback behind an offensive line that is still undergoing shuffling based to a large degree on who is actually available, we are reduced to wondering just what they are going to do to fix this unspeakable mess.
With the defense managing to equal or exceed the ineptitude of the offense, just without the wave of injuries, some have already targeted Mike Nolan for replacement. The team has already started a bit of roster housecleaning with the trade of Everson Griffen and the release of Dontari Poe and Daryl Worley. The question now is, just how far will this go? Our David Howman and Tom Ryle square off with different views of things.
Tom: I’ve been hurt by this team before, but this has gotten to the point of making me angry. It is a total failure by the coaching staff, the scouting department made an absolute mess of free agency, and more than one player has looked stunningly incompetent so far. While we will have to accept that the GM, who should be held accountable, will still be back next season since he owns the team, there are many other things that could be done.
And nothing should be off the table. No one should be comfortable in his job. Every player should be wondering if he will follow Griffen, Poe, and Worley out the door. And so should the coaches, right up to and including Mike McCarthy. The rest of the season should be a prove-it situation for him. That’s how badly I think he has done in his job.
It is painful to say that, because I was one of the first on board the McCarthy bandwagon. But there is a glimmer of hope that maybe Jerry and Stephen Jones are willing to try some more drastic things in light of this debacle. That should include not giving the head coach another year unless he comes up with some evidence that he deserves it. Fast!
David: Back when all the injuries to the offensive line hit this team, I channeled my inner Leslie Knope and declared “Everything hurts, and I’m dying” to be the slogan for the 2020 Cowboys. Now, the vibe is more along the lines of “Everything hurts even more, and I’m nearly dead.” Yes, the 2020 Cowboys are on life support, and the quick disposal of three veterans brought in during free agency is a sign that the Joneses are pulling the plug.
But blowing everything up is not the answer. Before Dak Prescott went down, we saw what this team was: a really good offense that can win a lot of games if their defense could just look competent for a few plays. That was apparently too much of an ask, and now that Dak is gone (along with almost the entire offensive line) that offense has faltered in a big way as well. But they’ll be back next year offensively, so the objective for right now needs to be fixing this defense to give Dak and Co. a shot in games.
As for the coaching staff, I’m in full support of them staying on. Not only is it almost always a terrible idea to fire a coach after one year (see: Cleveland Browns), I think Mike McCarthy is legit. His hard-nosed approach to football is a culture shock for a team that got complacent way too often under the previous regime, and if you can filter out the guys who simply don’t want to be held accountable while sticking with McCarthy’s vision, I think good things are in store for the Cowboys.
Tom: Well, that’s one place we truly disagree on, because I am becoming more and more convinced that blowing things up is exactly what has to be done. We have been through this cycle too many times. The Cowboys can’t seem to get anywhere without some superhuman performances from their quarterback, except for that brief (and glorious) period when they had the best offensive line in the game. Of course, they completely misunderstood what was happening and decided that Ezekiel Elliott was the key to the running game, not the huge holes he had to run through.
Those days are long gone, and the entire team has fallen apart as the defense continues to display staggering levels of incompetence. To recycle and mangle an old joke, you know what parting ways with Griffen, Poe, and Worley is? A good start.
Certainly you can’t dump the entire roster, but they need to be a lot more free about dropping the hammer.
As for the coaching staff, note that I mentioned proving something in the last nine games. The verdict isn’t in, and they have an opportunity to start the turnaround now. Not necessarily by clawing their way back into the NFC East lead, which would have some interesting negative side effects. But the staff needs to exert control and get the team to do something besides that total rolling over and submitting we saw last game. If they don’t, I don’t know why we should have any faith things will change next year.
David: I think this season, aside from the obvious impact of injuries, really boils down to two things: Scheme and culture. When McCarthy was hired, and when he subsequently put together a staff that would usher in a scheme change on both defense and special teams, he didn’t know that the offseason was about to be dramatically shortened. That created a massive hurdle to get over from a coaching standpoint. In looking at the teams with new coaches this year, they’re a combined 13-22; five of those wins are from the Browns, the only such team with a winning record right now. Point being that making this level of change in an offseason like this is hard.
But the biggest hurdle, as it turned out, was changing the culture. Now, culture changes don’t happen overnight even in a normal year, and this was anything but normal. I think the culture McCarthy is going to instill is a winning culture, but he needs time to finish that culture change. He’s taken a big step already by sending the message that guys who underperform won’t be here long. Now we’ll see who responds by stepping it up and who responds by continuing to underperform.
I think it’s a good practice to choose coaches over players, generally. Obviously there are times where coaches need to go (cough, Adam Gase, cough), but if you have a coach with a vision for their team, it’s your duty to see it through. Between the injuries, scheme, and culture issues, we haven’t really been able to see anything about the McCarthy era yet. I think a full offseason to install schemes and create a culture is the bare minimum we need to see before you can make any final evaluation on this coaching staff.
Tom: Well, I would change my tune on one condition: We see some actual evidence things are changing. Maybe cutting some players loose will help. But until I see some actual fight from the team on the field, I won’t buy it.
Of course, it may all be moot as long as Jerry is in charge. That is the real challenge for any head coach in Dallas, and I’m not sure if anyone could really overcome that. So we may have some grim years ahead.