Thanks to a game on Thursday night, the Dallas Cowboys were not playing that particular Sunday. America’s Team had reeled off four unexpected victories in a row with the most recent of them coming against the NFC-favorite New Orleans Saints exactly seven days after Thanksgiving. Amari Cooper had re-energized the offense, rookie Leighton Vander Esch was looking like a future cornerstone, and Jaylon Smith had proven the Cowboys right in taking a chance on him just two years prior.
These were different times as you can tell and they led to the most recent division title that the Cowboys have won. A lot has changed for them in the time since, but a lot has changed for another organization since that particular week as well.
You see that Sunday was December 2nd, 2018. It was the last game that Mike McCarthy coached for the Green Bay Packers (they lost 20-17 to the Arizona Cardinals... incidentally he lost his first game with the Cowboys by the same margin against another NFC West team). Our northern rivals took the following offseason to get their ducks in a row and things have worked out rather wonderfully for them since.
Does that concern you?
The Green Bay Packers have been almost unstoppable since moving on from Mike McCarthy
While our focus here is the Dallas Cowboys, it bears discussing how the current head coach’s former team is doing without him. As they often say, Mike McCarthy was available for a reason, after all.
The Packers hired Matt LaFleur on January 8th, 2019 in the middle of all of the “wow, he had a cup of coffee with Sean McVay he must be a great head coach!” jokes. LaFleur’s latest victory came over his friend Sean McVay in this season’s divisional round, the second straight year that the Packers have found success in the round that has plagued the Cowboys for a quarter century.
Never mind that LaFleur has now surpassed McVay for NFC Championship Game appearances with two, but the Packers in general have looked like one of the best teams in the NFL since 2019 and the obvious change is just that - obvious.
Green Bay has gone 26-6 and appeared in back to back title games since moving on from Mike McCarthy. Their success is frustrating from a Cowboys fan perspective in general, and it is only exacerbated by the fact that McCarthy now leads the ‘Boys in blue.
There are a lot of reasons for why the Packers have been so successful as of late. Obviously they have one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in Aaron Rodgers, and he has seemingly locked in to an even more unbelievable mode this season, where he is very likely going to win MVP.
Aaron Rodgers, 2019: worst in the league at avoiding bad throws, No. 16 in on-target throw percentage— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) December 24, 2020
Aaron Rodgers, 2020: third-best in the league at avoiding bad throws, No. 2 in on-target throw percentage
(numbers from PFR)
And CPOE paints a similar picture pic.twitter.com/YfNonosveG
Rodgers deserves credit for his 2020 campaign and when your quarterback plays at an elite level you are obviously going to have a great chance of winning. Many point to Rodgers as a primary reason for the success that McCarthy experienced in Green Bay, so it is fair to note that Matt LaFleur is enjoying that same perk (not to take away from LaFleur at all).
The quarterback position is in just about every way the straw that stirs the drink, that’s right Stephen Jones, and all things sing more wonderfully together when your contribution comes from all places. Aaron Jones has become an elite running back over the least two years. Davante Adams has taken his game to an entirely different level in that stretch. It isn’t surprising to see a team atop the league with a great set of offensive playmakers.
What’s more is that Mike McCarthy has hardly had this run of consistency among his offensive weapons during his time in Dallas. The Packers have had Aaron Rodgers available for 100% of their games post-McCarthy while the head coach only had Dak Prescott (not equating him with Rodgers here) for less than five full games. The proverbial rug was yanked out from underneath McCarthy right about since the jump.
On top of that, the Packers won on Saturday (and have done so at times over the last two years) with some big help from their defense. Green Bay is very well-known historically for not dipping their toes all too deep in the free agency waters, but in the first offseason after McCarthy left they went big on the pass rush side of things by signing Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith.
The @Packers generated a 35.7% team pressure rate, their 3rd-highest in a game this season. Three of the Packers four highest pressure rates have come since Week 13.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 28, 2020
Za'Darius Smith, Rashan Gary, & Preston Smith all forced a turnover from pressure.#TENvsGB | #GoPackGo
On the surface it looks like McCarthy was the problem with the Packers, and for what it’s worth maybe he was. The results in Green Bay and Dallas are not doing him any favors from a narrative standpoint.
It is still way too early and there are way too many factors to consider for us to properly gauge who McCarthy is as the Cowboys head coach. With a full complement of players and ideally some help from the front office on the defensive side of the ball, it’s possible that this past season is more of an outlier than the norm for him.
For the time being we will all have to put up with the Packers continued success and hope that McCarthy’s vision in Dallas takes hold in a season that isn’t weighed down by a number of injuries and a global pandemic. Perhaps that is being a bit too optimistic, but it certainly feels fair given that a vast majority of the time that McCarthy has been in charge has been while some sort of turmoil is going on.
Does the Green Bay Packers success post-Mike McCarthy make you nervous at all?
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