Imagine getting a new coach that has a Super Bowl victory. And imagine this coach fell right into the Cowboys lap because recent struggles with his former team caused him to be fired. One team’s garbage is another team’s treasure, right? Is that how the saying goes? Imagine finding out later, that as it turned out - that coach wasn’t all that great after all.
Now, how can we put such a dismal fate on new head coach Mike McCarthy. I mean, give the guy a shot, would ya! Actually, the coach we’re referring to above is former defensive backs coach Kris Richard. If we rewind a little bit, we’ll enter a period of time where Richard was thought to be the answer in Dallas. Not only were fans in awe of his fiery behavior as finally the team had a coach who would holler at people, but many had already penciled him in as Jason Garrett’s successor. Now, with the luxury of hindsight - that was clearly not the right way to go.
So, why are people so quick to be enamored by Mike McCarthy? Well, the short answer is - he’s not Jason Garrett. Truth be told, you could probably slap a headset on a CPR dummy and many fans would still be excited about the change. Without any arms, there would be no clapping. While the “anything is better than Garrett” rings loud throughout Cowboys Nation, it’s hard to overlook how not good things were for McCarthy in recent years.
One of the things that makes this hire unsettling is that as an observer of the Green Bay Packers over the last few years, there were many things about how they played that turned fans off about the head coach, with many of those fans being cheeseheads. Forget the two losing seasons for a second, we’ll get to that in a minute. Instead, just tell me what impressed you about the way they played football.
If you look at the last three games McCarthy’s Packers played versus the Cowboys, you’ll see Green Bay with a two to one advantage. But if you look closer, you’ll see a few other things. You’ll see a Packers defense that couldn’t stop anything, giving up over 400 yards and 30+ points in every one of those games. You’ll also see some really fortunate plays for Green Bay, where balls bounced right into the arms of a defender for a pick six, some needle-threaded passes from Aaron Rodgers, and some amazing sideline catches by the receivers. If you go back a little further, you’ll even see a controversial “no catch” that played a bit part in the outcome.
What is frustrating about these games is that the Packers looked very one-dimensional as they lived and died by the arm of Aaron Rodgers. And unfortunately for Dallas, Rodgers delivered in most cases. Of course, when he didn’t - the Packers were dead in the water. Back in the regular season in 2016 when Dak Prescott was just a rookie, the Cowboys rolled the Packers in Lambeau Field as suddenly the ball wasn’t bouncing right for Green Bay. The Packers offered no hint of creativeness to their game plan unless you count Rodgers trying to catch the defense with 12 men on the field.
Even more frustrating was watching the Packers play in other weeks where they would just fall flat on their face when Rodgers didn’t have it together. It was as if they had no other means to win a football game, and that is not what you hope for from your football coach. Suffice to say, McCarthy lost 70% of his final 23 games he coached for the Packers. But despite these two seasons worth of failures, people seem to completely brush that aside when it comes to McCarthy. Newy Scruggs recently had this to say about the Cowboys new head coach.
“Mike McCarthy is a guy who’s not going to get beat by the New York Jets after Sam Darnold takes off a month,” Scruggs said, referencing an infamous Dallas loss from last season. ”We’re not going to see that happen. Jason Garrett’s going to lose two games a year.”
What Scruggs apparently fails to realize is that McCarthy was fired after losing to the worst team in the league, a two-win Arizona Cardinals team led by Josh Rosen, at Lambeau. The Cardinals would never win another game that year, securing the no. 1 overall pick in the draft to select Kyler Murray.
Meanwhile, McCarthy was out of work while the Packers turned it around under new head coach Matt LaFleur, finishing 13-3 last season. What’s even more astonishing is that they did all that without relying on Rodgers to carry them. The veteran quarterback finished with his second lowest passer rating over the last decade. How did they do it? Balance. Team play. Coaching up a defense that ranked in the top 10 in points scored for the first time in 10 years, which just so happens to be the last time the Packers won the Super Bowl.
During McCarthy’s final years with Green Bay, it’s not fair to say that their failures are his fault as there was plenty of blame to go around, but it doesn’t go unnoticed that the new coach helped turn them into instant contenders.
All of that is water under the bridge. The past is the past. Let’s focus on the positive and recognize that the Cowboys are getting an innovative offensive mind who loves to use analytics. Right? That’s what we’ve been promised. However, many things we saw on the field his last couple years were quite the contrary. His decisions went against what analytics suggested to do and the offense was very bland. Dallas Morning News’ John Owning does a great job breaking down the pro’s and con’s of the McCarthy hire if you want to dive deeper.
While Green Bay’s offense and scheme were cutting edge during the early portions of McCarthy’s tenure, his offense slowly devolved into one of the most conservative and unimaginative units in the league, as it was inundated with slant-flat route combinations ad nauseam. Even by his own admission, the Packers got away from frequently utilizing pre-snap motion, shifts and multiple personnel groups.
McCarthy also had some questionable in-game decisions that went against what analytics suggest despite the coach reiterating his philosophy that proclaims, “we play the numbers.”
There are still plenty of reasons to be excited about the McCarthy hire. For starters, he’s just one guy. Sure, he’s the head coach, but the success of this team depends significantly on the coaching staff around him, and on the surface - he’s already miles ahead of Garrett in that regard. The additions of Mike Nolan, Jim Tomsula, Joe Philbin, and John Fassel to his staff bring a world of experience to the team, which is something that has presented holes in the past under Garrett.
McCarthy also inherits a great roster, so it’s not like this team is in rebuild mode. Considering all the fantastic front office moves this organization has made this offseason, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change anytime soon. The Cowboys are going to be a strong football team. The only question that remains to be answered is - how strong? And while we don’t know precisely what to expect, there are reasons to be excited, but at the same time - it’s also okay to be a little apprehensive.