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Mike McCarthy should have called a timeout at the end of the first half against the Eagles

Should Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy have kept his foot on the gas?

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Opportunities to score in the NFL are precious. Consider that the Dallas Cowboys are 2-1 and that two of their three games this season (save for their thrashing of the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night) have come down to last-second field goals where the attempting team had the happier locker room. It is a game of inches as many have said.

Mike McCarthy let the Eagles off the hook a little bit on Monday night which is a serious no-no.

Mike McCarthy should have called a timeout at the end of the first half against the Eagles

Let us all remember that the Dallas Cowboys won on Monday night. This isn’t a discussion to dwell on ifs, ands, or hypotheticals, but we are always interested in examining how things could be better in the future.

Getting to the point, it is difficult to understand why Mike McCarthy did not call a timeout near the end of the first half against the Eagles. Here is the context of the situation:

It’s important to know that Philadelphia was facing 3rd and 24 from their own 32-yard line. Dallas was up 20-7 and has two timeouts in their pocket. That’s the time to call a timeout.

In an ideal world. the Cowboys stop the clock with over 90 seconds remaining. Philly likely runs the ball to keep wasting time, the Cowboys stop the clock with their final timeout, and they ultimately get the ball back around their own 10-yard line with a little under 90 seconds to put together a drive where they score points.

What ultimately happened was that the Cowboys let the clock run down, Philadelphia picked up 19 yards on third down, Dallas still didn’t call a timeout, and the Eagles punted the ball from just past midfield. But every Cowboys fan had the same question on their minds, why didn’t Mike McCarthy call a timeout on third down?!

McCarthy could have actually gotten the timeout on third down in with about 1:48 or so (give or take a second) left in the first half, the screenshot I shared was even significantly after that. It was third down for the Eagles and the Cowboys had two timeouts. This feels like a no-brainer.

Plenty of people have suggested that this is a moment where you want to “keep your foot on the gas” and things of that sort, but again, this isn’t even about that. Yes it is nice to continually be aggressive and want to put as much distance between you and your opponent, but the simple reality of the situation is that it was a potential opportunity to score and McCarthy just watched it fade away.

This isn’t the first instance where McCarthy has performed questionably at the end of a half

In a vacuum this isn’t the biggest deal. McCarthy decided not to call any timeouts and probably did so as a point of caution. Maybe he didn’t want to risk a weird penalty on third and long that would set the Eagles up well, or maybe he thought the offense was tired and not fit for another series. I’m stretching a bit here but the point is it is possible he is coming from some point of reason, whatever it is for him.

But making this assumption requires a benefit of the doubt that McCarthy has sort of squandered even this early in the season. He has not exactly handled the end of halves well in each and every game so far this year.

You will recall that at the end of the first half against Tampa Bay that the Cowboys sent Greg Zuerlein (a kicker who they would cite themselves as returning from recent surgery when they tried to defend him the following week) for a 60-yard field goal attempt. He missed and gave the Buccaneers strong enough field position that Tom Brady was able to throw a Hail Mary attempt that entered the airspace of the endzone.

There was obviously the end-of-game situation last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, another game that the Cowboys won by the way, where McCarthy let the clock run down as Dallas was entering what they seemed to feel was comfortable field position. McCarthy and Kellen Moore would go on to note that they had issues literally seeing the play clock which is a truly unique thing (being kind here).

All of this is why it’s hard to buy that McCarthy was acting off of some grand plan by not calling a timeout against the Eagles on Monday night. This isn’t to suggest that he doesn’t know what’s going on, and he deserves his fair share of credit for the team’s two wins in the middle of all of these injuries, but this is sort of a third strike in this particular space.

Tom Brady’s Hail Mary wasn’t caught for a touchdown and the Cowboys converted their field goal against the Chargers so the “mistakes” made in Weeks 1 and 2 didn’t have direct consequences for Dallas. Similarly the Cowboys blew out the Eagles so this whole moment might feel inconsequential to some, but we are all wanting to see this team play big games against big opponents. These little things will be magnified when the competition is tougher.

For what it’s worth, McCarthy was asked about this whole situation on Monday and whether or not analytics played a role in the team’s decision-making process. He admitted that “playing it by the numbers,” which is seemingly McCarthy speak for incorporating suggestions based off of analytics, would have leant to calling timeouts but that he chose to play it conservative instead.

The Cowboys have to figure out how they start figuring things out at the end of halves. It sounds silly to say, but we have now reached a point where it is undeniably a trend.