After a nine-year tenure of Jason Garrett that never included the Dallas Cowboys making it past the divisional round of the playoffs, the front office made the change to a head coach who has a Super Bowl win. This was supposed to be the year that Mike McCarthy would inherit an already-good football team and help them take the next step.
But things didn’t quite go according to plan.
Instead of looking forward to an exciting playoff journey, the Cowboys sit with a 2-7 record as fans now start setting their sights on draft positioning. There are a lot of reasons things are bad in Dallas. The team has been hit hard with injuries this season, and we all learned rather quickly that despite their attempt to take preventative measures by signing Andy Dalton, this football team was not equipped to deal with the loss of Dak Prescott.
While injuries have played a big part, the Cowboys losing ways can also be blamed on the coaching. The team has looked very unprepared at numerous times this season, and the defensive group has struggled immensely with their communication that has resulted in so much disarray. The Cowboys have lost four straight games, allowed the most points in the league, and only scored one touchdown over their last three contests. Things are pretty ugly in Big D.
Regardless of what happens this season, McCarthy is going to get a free pass due to not having Prescott. It’s the same type of free pass that Jason Garrett got in 2015 after losing Tony Romo. The Cowboys bounced back in spectacular fashion in 2016 when they went 13-3 the following season. The organization is hoping for something similar next season.
It’s hard to adequately assess the job McCarthy is doing considering the circumstances, but there are some big differences from the previous coaching staff that does stand out. Garrett was known for his ability to be patient and his overwhelming confidence in his team, even when things weren’t going well he believed they would work themselves out. He tried to impose his team’s will on their opponents with physical play and proper execution. When it worked, they won. When it didn’t, they lost. Either way, Garrett would have his team right back on an even keel the following week.
McCarthy doesn’t work that way. He’s a little more impulsive. He doesn’t stick anything out and is quick to pull the trigger if things are not working. One example is how he’s handled the quarterback situation. Like 2015, the Cowboys had four different starting quarterbacks as they scrambled to find someone remotely viable to backup Romo. Back then, they used Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore. However, each time it took the coaching staff too long before they figured out that the guy they had wasn’t working.
This season, McCarthy isn’t exhibiting that same amount of patience. While additional injuries have intervened, he had a short leash on Ben DiNucci. The seventh-round rookie only made one start against the Eagles on Sunday night before the team opted to go with Garrett Gilbert the following week against the Steelers. Whether his decision ends up being good, bad, or moot, you have to admire his willingness to keep shaking things up.
And that attitude can be seen all over the field in other decisions as well. The continuous gambling on special teams, unconventional fourth-down calls, and his strategy of going for two have all been quite the contrast to Garrett’s by-the-book coaching decisions that hinge totally on trusting the process.
We may not agree with some of McCarthy’s decisions. Analytics may tell you one thing, but the game situation and feel for what is going on isn’t always depicted in statistical probabilities. Whatever drives McCarthy’s choices is certainly a lot more fraught with controversy. Garrett is more likely to break even and live for another day, whereas McCarthy is more willing to go for broke.
Right now, the Cowboys are broke. They have no reserve of talent or clever coaching to get them out of this mess, but that doesn’t mean they won’t produce on the next go round. McCarthy is going to keep taking chances, and sometimes it will cost the Cowboys games. But his impulsive nature also could be the thing that helps them get over the top. It may be more excruciating at times as there could be a lot more hills and valleys than the steady pace of Garrett’s environment.
Being careful has it moments. It can win games, and it can win division titles. But if you’re too careful, you’re whole life can become a grind.