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Coaching has repeatedly squandered offensive talent for the Cowboys

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The Mike McCarthy era can change the coaching deficit to get Dallas back to glory.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
With so much talent, why has the team struggled so?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There are so many questions we want answered about the 2020 edition of the Dallas Cowboys. How will the rookies pan out? Have the free agent signings helped the defense? What about the new coaching staff? And of course, when will we see real football again? Now those are way too many things to make even educated guesses about in just one article, but another one popped up while scanning the internet. That is, was the talent, specifically on offense, as good as we thought it was, and if so, how was it squandered so badly?

The first part of that is hard to quantify. We think the Cowboys have some real studs all over the offense, but we also might be a tad less than fully objective. We can look at statistics, which tend to bear out the contention that this is already a very gifted bunch that should just get better with the addition of CeeDee Lamb and Tyler Biadasz. However, talent evaluation is also a relative thing. The crucial thing is how you stack up against the rest of the league. Is your roster better or worse than the one it lines up against each week?

Fortunately, there is an article up at The Athletic that attempts to answer this. Mike Sando used a simple criteria. He examined the percentage of snaps taken by non-quarterback players who had been voted into the Pro Bowl. It left out the quarterback to gauge how well the organizations supported the most important and influential position on offense. While Pro Bowls may not be the most scientific and analytical approach, he justified using it this way.

The Pro Bowl obviously is not a perfect measure of player performance, but this exercise captures massive disparities between haves and have-nots. The Steelers and Cowboys have had Pro Bowl players account for more than one-third of starts at those positions. At the other extreme, the Jets have not gotten a single start from a Pro Bowler at those positions during the time frame in question (including even injury replacements to the Pro Bowl). Brady’s Patriots also rank well down the list.

Using his admittedly down-and-dirty methodology, he concluded that Dallas had the second-best supporting cast in the NFL to put on the field with Dak Prescott. Coincidentally, his time frame for measuring things was the past four seasons, which is exactly how long Prescott has been the starter. Further, if you look not just at the “starters” for the Pro Bowl, but add in players who were invited to replace those who dropped out for injury or being in the Super Bowl, then the Cowboys swap places with the Pittsburgh Steelers to ascend to number one.

That is sobering for a team that only made the playoffs twice in that four year span. Just on offensive talent alone, they should have been there every year. Even factoring in the defense, a top two offensive roster should have been enough to carry the team, barring a defense that was the absolute bottom of the barrel. If you assume that offense is indeed more important to winning, then the argument becomes even stronger.

Two variables remain when trying to determine just what went wrong for Dallas. The first, as noted by Sando, is that QB.

As the Dallas Cowboys work toward a new contract for Dak Prescott, skeptics question how the quarterback would fare without so many Pro Bowlers surrounding him on offense.

While Prescott certainly struggled at times, particularly during the stretch from the Burning in Atlanta until the boost provided by the acquisition of Amari Cooper, his body of statistical performance argues that he really isn’t the issue. Without belaboring that point, we point to the other variable as the culprit: The coaching.

And coincidentally, I found Sando’s article at The Athletic when I went there to read another one solely about the coaching. It was written by long time Cowboys analyst and guru Bob Sturm. It is the first of a three part series on how Jason Garrett should have been fired long ago, an argument Sturm has repeatedly made during the former head coach’s career in Dallas. This one covers just the first three years of Garrett’s tenure, and by then Sturm already had seen six times when he believed the coach had failed. He did understand that he needed some time to get his act together and deserved that first three years to do so, but by the latter part of 2013, which would be the third of the 8-8 seasons that are forever seen as the exemplar of Garrett’s coaching, he had enough. Here is what he said after the poor performance on December 15th against the Green Bay Packers that all but killed the playoff hopes that year.

This loss is unpardonable on the heels of the disaster in Chicago and considering the way this team has a history of playing just well enough to stay alive in the race until the end and just poor enough to spit the bit at the moment of truth.

The long, slow descent of last season was finally too much even for Jerry Jones, who Sturm faults for being too loyal to a coach because of the latter’s personal likability and the good professional and personal relationship they shared. Now Mike McCarthy has the reins. As an offensive mind who was impressed enough by what he saw in Kellen Moore’s inaugural stint as offensive coordinator to retain his services, McCarthy seems perfectly poised to unleash the full potential of the talent at hand.

It was serendipity that had these two articles back-to-back on The Athletic’s Cowboys page. Separately, they both had a lot of food for thought. Together, they paint a compelling picture of just how the coaching failed on offense. The also had serious issues on defense and especially special teams the past couple of years, but that is another topic. It does bear mentioning that the talent acquisition for Dallas has arguably been much better for the offense than the other two phases of the game, but this year’s draft and free agency went a long way toward addressing that problem.

Now, it is up to McCarthy and Moore to properly utilize the talent at hand to control the game and score points - hopefully a lot of points, as is hoped for by #Team40Burger. From what we think we know, there is every reason to believe that is not only achievable, but probable. If McCarthy can fix these issues, then Sturm will not soon be discussing when it is time to move on again.