Changing coaching staffs rarely go smoothly. And for most teams, it takes a few different firings before they get it right. The Dallas Cowboys are not exempt from the norm, and as excited as many were for the addition of new head coach Mike McCarthy, history suggest things are likely to get worse before they get better.
McCarthy was an available candidate because he was fired after two losing seasons with the Packers. And it certainly doesn’t make us feel any better that his successor in Green Bay, Matt LaFleur, has won 17 of his first 20 games with the organization. It’s a little unsettling that McCarthy has already lost as many games with his new team as LaFleur despite the young head coach having an entire full season of extra games under his belt. While it’s tough to know who was to blame in Green Bay, it’s certainly appears that they have a much better head coach now.
Despite this stark contrast, what really matters is just how awful the Cowboys have performed thus far. But the question begs - are the problems going on McCarthy’s fault?
One thing that should be quashed right away is some of the questionable in-game decisions that haven’t worked out. Passing up on the field goal that would’ve tied the Rams game or going for two “too early” are just a couple of things that fans have been angry about, but that’s because we attach our emotions to the outcome rather than fully examine the reasoning behind it. Anyone can hindsight coach, and we did the same with Jason Garrett for years because of the outcome of those situations. Personally, I’m not faulting McCarthy for those decisions.
Another thing he’s been criticized for is the usage of his players. Starting Terrance Steele over Brandon Knight was a clear misstep. And how the Cowboys defensive line can suddenly be so abused has us questioning if the coaching staff’s new scheme has completely taken their legs out from underneath them.
Both of those things have proved costly. As far as the right tackle situation goes, yes they had the wrong guy playing, but credit them for recognizing it and making a change. All the injuries the Cowboys have faced along the offensive line hasn’t made things easy on the coaching staff and they have to think fast. Not every decision is going to be right, but at least it seems like they figured it out.
When it comes to the defensive line, some players are doing well in the new system, while others are having fits. Despite making more plays than some are willing to give him credit for, DeMarcus Lawrence isn’t being utilized to his full potential in this defense. You don’t sacrifice a $100 million player in a scheme that doesn’t work for him. And as far as Everson Griffin is concerned, he’s been absolutely invisible. Why is it that a reliable 10-years veteran is suddenly having the worst year of his playing career, and it’s not even close?
But then true 3-4 edge rushers like Aldon Smith are playing beyond expectations. And I don’t know what has changed with Trysten Hill, but they are getting a lot out of that guy as he is actually one of the team’s best defenders to this point. That should make us both happy and sad.
The play of the defense is highlighting the ineptitude of the coaching staff. Players are out of position and they’re not staying disciplined as frustration is causing them to stray from their assignments.
Of course, there’s another possibility that this defense isn’t nowhere as good as we thought they were. They are currently giving up the most points in the entire league. While this group hasn’t been anywhere close to elite, they’ve always ranked in the upper half of fewest points allowed over the past six seasons. When did the talent suddenly disappear?
Losing Byron Jones didn’t help the team’s cornerback situation, and a slew of injuries have forced two reserves plus a rookie into the starter positions. That’s a problem. It’s unclear what it is about not having Leighton Vander Esch on the field with him that turns Jaylon Smith into a baby giraffe because he is struggling thus far. It’s true that the talent of this roster on defense is lacking, but there is no excuse for it to be this bad.
A more likely reason points to the unfamiliarity in the scheme, poor judgment by players, and a lack of focus that can be seen throughout most of the game. This explains why players are being left out to dry on any type of misdirection play, the gaping holes in the run defense, and a complete inability to generate takeaways. This is happening across the entire defense. Those are huge red flags and are directly attributed to coaching.
Adding to the frustration is what’s going on with the specials. This team was especially bad last season, which had to lead to some type of improvement, right? Not so fast. This team is finding all new ways to be horrible on special teams. Watching Tony Pollard keep running kicks out of he end zone is like watching Roy McAvoy continuing to take drops after hitting the ball in the water. They’re dead set on doing it even if it keeps producing terrible results. Between poor fielding of kicks and just awful executions of fake punts, this special teams unit is hurting the team worse than they did a year ago.
We can sit back and talk about how difficult things are with the COVID situation, and how a new coaching staff makes things challenging, but then how do you explain all the success the Cleveland Browns are having? Their head coach and both their offensive and defensive coordinators are in their first year with the team. Even offensive line coach Bill Callahan (who reminded us again just how good he is at his job) is in his first year with the Browns. Coaches who are new to the team can’t be an excuse for this level of atrocity.
There is certainly time for things to change, but we must entertain the notion that they will not. Any type of struggle with a win-less New York Giants team is not going to be good regardless of whether they come away with the victory. If this team continues to under-perform, especially when better health arrives, this is going to be one bumpy ride for Cowboys fans.