Cowboys Nation is going through a myriad of emotions following another disappointing playoff exit. Some examples include confused, angry, and heartbroken, and others are deemed NSFW.
Frankly, the Cowboys had the playoffs in the palm of their hand. After stealing the #2 seed in the conference, they were in line to have two home playoff games with an outside chance to host the NFC title game.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys were outclassed by a plucky Green Bay Packers team that showed the poise of a team well beyond the years despite being the youngest team in the postseason. The Dallas Cowboys? Not so much. The swiftness of another playoff failure drives the conversation from hopes of champagne and confetti to despair and difficult decisions.
By no means were the Cowboys perfect or without their flaws, but there undoubtedly was much more to be expected. A few internal questions need to be asked about this team in the aftermath of an embarrassing home playoff and the third consecutive one against Green Bay. Considering so many questions without expeditious answers will only evoke more questions. The first is more immediate.
Did the Cowboys take Green Bay too lightly?
The Green Bay Packers’ focus and urgency were apparent from the opening whistle. Green Bay won the coin toss and opted to receive the ball, and in doing so, they set the tone of the contest. They would easily move the ball down the field for the opening score and seize the momentum.
Jordan Love may have felt some pressure, but he often extended plays just long enough to find receivers running free in zone coverage. Speaking of coverages, why did the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn elect to call so many zone coverages versus playing man defense? Quinn has routinely played his defense in man coverages against the pass and inexplicably went against his tendencies and what we’ve come to expect from the defense.
Seeing Micah Parsons dropping in coverage is odd. One conclusion may be that Quinn figured making Jordan Love force the ball into tighter coverage would lead to turnovers. He guessed wrong, and the defense suffered dearly for it. It’s also strange that the team had no answer for the Green Bay rushing attack that dominated them at Lambeau Field last season. The defense and the offense, for that matter, were flat and woefully unprepared.
With the game slipping away, Mike McCarthy maintained his convictions to staying with the run instead of understanding that his passing game needed traction instead of using second and short opportunities for unsuccessful runs, leaving the Cowboys in predictable passing downs.
Further, on the offense, how is it possible Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb weren’t on the same page, given what this week meant? Lamb and Prescott struggled to click in the first half, and that’s inexcusable. We are beyond this. These breakdowns in communication were thought to be resolved during the bye week and shouldn’t have impacted the offense as it did. It raises concerns about the nucleus of this team.
Is it time for a roster reset?
The Cowboys have 14 players who are set to enter free agency. Among those players are Tyron Smith, Tony Pollard, Stephon Gilmore, Jayron Kearse, and Tyler Biadasz. The Cowboys had a good roster this year, but Tyron Smith has had injury troubles. Pollard was mainly ineffective in the running game, and Gilmore will turn 34 years old next season. Simply running it back isn’t realistic. They could retain those players, but they would still need to get younger at those positions, if nothing else, for added depth.
The Cowboys also have $18.5M in cap space tied up in DeMarcus Lawrence and Michael Gallup in 2024, and Dallas is projected to be $16M over the salary cap at the start of the new league year. Suppose the Cowboys decide this group has gone as far as it can go, and the nucleus cannot win a championship. The big conversation the team then needs to have is about the future of Dak Prescott. The team is convinced they have their guy with Prescott, but let’s play devil’s advocate.
Most fans are, at worst, split down the middle in how they feel about Prescott, but could the team ever consider that Prescott is maxed out as a player? Sure, he was an All-Pro, but what if the team decides that the bottom line of another year without a Super Bowl, let alone an NFC Championship game with Prescott, is all the Cowboys can expect with their signal-caller?
The Cowboys will likely continue contract negotiations with Prescott, but stranger things can happen with the following question on this list. It is again doubtful, but possible. As everyone knows, new quarterback contracts reset the market, and the highest-paid quarterback presently is Joe Burrow at $55M per year. The Cowboys would have to find a way to match the asking price and then maneuver the contract with having to balance new deals for CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons soon.
Do you fire Mike McCarthy and start over?
Finally, the hottest question that will make national sports media. Should the Cowboys fire Mike McCarthy? After all, this performance falls squarely on the shoulders of the head coach. Dallas falling behind by a score of 27-0 illustrates how unfocused they were at the outset of the game, and preparation falls on the leader in charge. Following the game, Jerry Jones was dumbfounded by his team’s performance. How else can you explain falling behind like that to a lesser opponent?
A few names have circled social media, such as Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Houston Texans coordinator Ben Slowik. Of course, there is also Bill Belichick, who is arguably the greatest head coach of all time. It may appear impractical for the Cowboys to fire a head coach who has won 12 games for three straight seasons, but there is a question about the discipline of the Cowboys and their playoff success. McCarthy isn’t strictly isolated from those troubles. While he has won a Super Bowl, McCarthy is 11-11 in the postseason. Belichick, 31-13.
Think back to when Andy Reid was available after he was fired by the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Cowboys stuck with Jason Garrett. The Cowboys ignored an upgrade at head coach, believing their current coach was the right man for the job. Jerry Jones could see this as an opportunity he could not pass up and make the switch. If Dallas chooses that path, there will be sweeping changes to the coaching staff and the roster. The next few days around the Cowboys will be pivotal for the team’s future.