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Mike McCarthy press conference: Update on Dak Prescott; still not convinced a challenge would overturn Giants catch

The head coach took to the podium as the offseason begins.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys saw their season end on Sunday against the New York Giants. As is customary head coach Mike McCarthy took to the podium on the day after the game.

Considering that the season is over, this is one of the last times that we will see and hear from McCarthy for a while, perhaps until the NFL Combine. (All answers are paraphrased and not actual quotes).

Message to players

McCarthy noted that his season-ending message to the Cowboys was mostly about moving forward. He said that he mostly visited with everybody last night in the locker room and that Monday was more about administrative procedures. He talked about how there is a lot of work in front of the Cowboys and that they want to shift gears and move their eyes to 2021. He said this involves an evaluation process and that this is what they started today (he noted they met with 32 players on Monday).

Were injuries the overriding reason for lack of success

McCarthy noted that you can’t simply think that everything is going to be alright because everyone is back. He noted he does believe that injuries were a big factor in 2020. He said he felt the team’s football operations did a tremendous job navigating all of the changes that they were constantly faced with. He said that when you have the injuries, and who they happen to, are the biggest things.

Update on Dak Prescott

McCarthy said he is looking forward to working with Dak Prescott full time. He said the quarterback is at The Star every day going through rehab and that Dak is attacking it with full speed. He said he doesn’t know the specifics in terms of a timeline when Dak is going to be doing different things during his comeback from his injury. He added that ultimately everything is right on course.

In terms of Dak’s contract situation, McCarthy noted that he is confident that the team is going to get things worked out. He said his conversations with Dak are always very positive and that the focus is what they are going to be working on with regards to the offense and things like his leadership. He said that as far as how and when a deal happens that he does not have that information.

The non-challenge on the Dante Pettis catch

McCarthy said on Monday that he clearly understands “the other side of the story” and that it is a play that you would consider challenging. He said he is still not convinced that it would have been overturned and that his experience is that unless it is clear cut the officials generally stick with the decision on the field. He said he does see what a lot of other people see in terms of the potential for overturning but that the Cowboys feel confident in their process for challenging.

What’s needed for success

McCarthy said that the way he’s always done things is to go back and start at page one. He said the Cowboys have a lot of work to do and that he recognizes this and that it’s important for him to get all of the information and answers out of the evaluation process.

Biggest challenge early on defense

McCarthy said he believes the biggest challenge early on on defense had to do with communication and clarity. He noted that when you’re having success or not having success, that it’s not just one thing. He said that clarity and communication issued led to not playing fast and that confidence was not where it needed to be. He said that the way the team played down the stretch was the same defense and scheme and that the players played with a whole different level of confidence and understanding.

Timeline for staff decisions

Asked what the timeline would be on decisions relating to the team’s staff, people like defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, McCarthy said that it’s important for him to talk to everybody and that you start having cross conversations of all those things. Ultimately he said that he does not have a timeline.

Assessment of Mike Nolan

McCarthy was asked specifically to assess Mike Nolan’s job in 2020 and he noted that this is part of the process that the team is going through. He said you have to look at everything and how the team was able to transition to the last eight weeks. He said his priority has always been to win the turnover differential and that history speaks for itself in this capacity. He said the Cowboys have done a “tremendous job” of taking the ball away in the last month and that they have the first part in order now.

Senior Bowl

McCarthy was asked if he and his staff would be attending the Senior Bowl this year. He noted that he has had a conversation with Will McClay, but that they haven’t set guidelines for it yet.

Dalton Schultz’s play this season

Coach noted his blocking continues to improve. He also complimented his YAC abilities and ability to break tackles and that he is very savvy in the passing game. He also noted he understands run blocking and was very pleased with how he played.

DeMarcus Lawrence noted the defense got more comfortable with the scheme

Coach agreed with Lawrence’s outlook on it. He said a huge part of all the offense shifting is to challenge eye discipline, to create angles and leverage in passing game. Like a lot of things, coach said you have trends to stay on and he said the defensive players got more comfortable as the season progressed.

Lawrence also mentioned McCarthy is honest in dealing with players

McCarthy said there are things you have to do professionally, there are expectations on the players. When those expectations aren’t to the standard, coach said he told the players about it and said it was something you have to do to grow you culture.

Special teams evaluation

McCarthy said it might have been the best unit over the course of the year. He once again pointed out that it was very impressive that they had five rookies on the punt team and team’s didn't come after them with a punt block rush. He said that shows what other teams thought of them, and the young players got experience now.

Jaylon Smith evaluation

Coach said he did a lot of good things, including making the move to WILL and allowing Vander Esch to play the MIKE. He said Smith practices hard and plays hard, and gave the team some big-time productive games. He also noted that Smith might have been challenged as much as anyone with the scheme change and position change.

Are Zeke’s better days behind him?

McCarthy emphasized he was very impressed with Zeke from day one, and that he doesn’t share some of the concerns he’s heard from outside opinions. He conceded it’s been a tough year running the ball, but he has no concerns about Zeke. He finished by saying Zeke is a big-time player and will be a featured part of the offense going forward.

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