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A reason for optimism as Cowboys enter fourth year under Mike McCarthy

Some winning recipes in the NFL take longer to cook than others.

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

There’s an air of urgency around the Dallas Cowboys heading into 2023. Both head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Dak Prescott are in the crosshairs of heavy scrutiny, needing improved postseason results to silence their growing horde of critics. But if McCarthy’s run in Green Bay offers any indication, their time to shine may finally be approaching.

McCarthy joined Dallas in 2020 and got off to a miserable start, going just 6-10 thanks largely to Prescott’s major leg injury and the struggles during COVID-19. He’s since gone 12-5 in consecutive years but suffered two second-round playoff exits, continuing the Cowboys’ long absence from the NFC Championship Game. A reasonable debate continues as to whether or not McCarthy has truly moved the needle from Jason Garrett’s run.

Prescott has played under both coaches for the last seven years. Has he been a reason for their playoff struggles or just another victim? That debate also rages on among Cowboys fans and observers, with Prescott’s playoff performances providing evidence to support either argument.

If history means anything, especially with another franchise, perhaps their fourth season is when McCarthy and Prescott will finally push Dallas to the next level. It took three years for McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers to win their one and only Super Bowl with the Packers, and it came with some interesting similarities.

Remember, it wasn’t like McCarthy was sitting around waiting for a franchise quarterback to finally show up in Green Bay. He inherited two when he joined the team in 2006; Brett Favre as the longtime veteran and Rodgers as the heir apparent drafted a year earlier. It wasn’t until 2008 that Favre finally “retired” and Rodgers got his long-awaited opportunity.

After going 6-10 in that first season, the Packers improved to 11-5 but then lost in overtime in the Wild Card round. They reached the mountaintop in 2010 with Green Bay’s victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

One could argue that 2023 is more like McCarthy and Prescott’s third season together. While technically their fourth, that first one came during the COVID-19 outbreak and drastically altered the offseason process. And then with Prescott’s season-ending injury in Week 5, they barely got to work together.

2023 will also be the first time that McCarthy works as the offensive play-caller in Dallas, which he did in Green Bay for the first nine years of his run. Kellen Moore has been the offensive coordinator to the fullest extent up until now, but will now be doing that work for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Between time together and now McCarthy’s increased offensive influence, perhaps 2023 is when the pieces finally come together for the Dallas Cowboys. They’ve been close with these 12-win seasons and second-round exits, and hopefully will now be more cohesive and potent with the change from Moore to McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer as the offensive brain trust.

Of course, plenty of other debates are ongoing. If McCarthy could only win one Super Bowl with a prime Aaron Rodgers, how much can his partnership with Prescott really produce? If it does fail, is that Prescott’s fault or the result of saddling him with mid-tier coaches the last eight years?

What the Cowboys can accomplish with Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott are perhaps the two biggest questions going into the 2023 season. Will they give reasons for their show to go on, or prompt the front office to consider big changes?

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