With training camp in Oxnard just under a month away, we are left with speculation about the way this season should go for the Dallas Cowboys. The long wait may be interspersed with an occasional development. We’ll pounce on those like Scooby-Doo on a snack, but for the most part we just construct scenarios in our minds. In light of that, Jon Machota of The Athletic did a survey this week to gauge what fans are expecting. Like all such solicited questionnaires, it is not exactly scientific. Also, a lot of the questions, like whether CeeDee Lamb should continue to return punts, are a bit deep in the details. What did seem interesting, at least to me, was the bigger things, like win totals and what would constitute a winning season.
On the first question, expected wins, 71% of the respondents think the Cowboys will win 10 or 11 games. That has long been a bit of a default expectation for the team, and the expansion of the season to 17 games hasn’t changed things much at all. In the interests of full disclosure, that is what I would have answered.
That doesn’t mean it is right. We are putting a lot of hope on the return of a big group of injured players on offense and a mass of new bodies plus coordinator Dan Quinn on defense. There are some signs that things are headed in the right direction after OTAs, but it is going to take a lot more to find out just how well this will actually go. This is a team that was embarrassing last year in only scraping out six wins in a truly pitiful division. So much has to go well for Dallas to get to those double-digit victories and the expected playoff berth that would also ensue. It also assumes that the rest of the NFC East will not make major jumps forward. There isn’t much evidence that will happen, but they want to win just as badly. If, for instance, one of them does find an answer at quarterback, things could be a lot more challenging that expected.
This is where one dichotomy arises in the survey. Barely half the respondents were either very confident or confident in Mike McCarthy. Combined with the expected wins, that would indicate that many think the team can get to 10 or 11 wins despite him, rather than because of him. It is easy to understand the somewhat shaky support after the botched debut season. It is just odd that it didn’t seem to dampen things much as far as the ability to get back to a strong win total.
Which brings us to the third question that shows some inconsistency, this one is about how the fans view success and failure. When responding to the question of what would make this a successful season, fully 40% will only be satisfied by an appearance in the NFC championship. Another 45% have to see them in the divisional round.
We all want to see a bit of a playoff run, but winning those postseason games is hard. It has been a quarter of a decade since the Cowboys got that far, and they are not exactly starting from a strong position if you look at 2020. I would argue that the bar is set a bit too high. Just winning ten games and having a playoff berth should normally be seen as an accomplishment for a six-win team that is mired in such a dry spell.
It may not be unique to the Dallas fan base, but it is a case of where expectations for the team ignore a couple of decades of history. Fans don’t seem willing to give the staff time to build something. Part of that comes from a very high opinion of the offensive talent, and with Dak Prescott healthy, there is an argument to be made for the optimism. But that defense was just woof last year. Quinn may bring some obvious improvement with his bevy of new players. That is a lot of moving parts, mostly new, for him to deal with, however. It would possibly more realistic to expect him to need a couple of seasons to really get things working well.
Cowboys fans just don’t think that way. They expect immediate gratification. They have often been described as a bit arrogant in how they always seem to think the team is better than it is. Again, they are hardly alone, but it may be a more pronounced thing in Dallas than most NFL cities.
We need to bring some objectivity to things. Last season was a class in that. When Prescott was lost, the season was really over. It was hard at times to see since the rest of the NFC East was so very bad. The fact that they were still in contention for the automatic playoff berth led to a kind of false hope, but going on a run with the cast at hand in January was not in the cards. We saw how the Washington Football Team only accomplished moving back in the draft order by taking the NFCE.
Well, it also bought their head coach Ron Rivera some good will. He is cited by many as the best HC in the division, and it is on the strength of getting to the playoffs. It discounts the losing record they carried, or the many flaws that were demonstrated. For McCarthy, there is at least some credibility in pointing to those manifold injuries to starters. Rivera did do a much better job at handling things through the pandemic as well. McCarthy clearly needs to use the much more normal offseason he had this year to take a major step forward. The issue here is just how we define that.
We wouldn’t be fans if we didn’t hope for the best. This may be a case where it would also be wise to be a bit cautious due to the many things that the Cowboy have to correct.