The Cowboys are 2-4 under new head coach Mike McCarthy. Don’t expect the season-ending injury to quarterback Dak Prescott or McCarthy’s big contract to keep him immune from being fired by Jerry Jones after his first season in Dallas — or worse, during it.
The speculation has been sparked by a bombshell report earlier this week by Jane Slater, a locked-in Cowboys correspondent for NFL Network, citing the team’s players aren’t either happy with or buying into McCarthy’s coaching style.
Since Slater’s scoop, McCarthy has gone from having a built-in free pass to being firmly on the hot seat to be a one-and-done coach. Although Jones was patient with McCarthy’s predecessor, Jason Garrett, giving him nine and a half seasons, this situation is much different.
Jones had a strong, long rapport with Garrett, loving him since he was Troy Aikman’s backup QB during the Cowboys’ early 1990s glory years. In the end, Garrett posted an 85-67 record and had only one losing season, 2015, when injuries led to a 4-12 mark. He also was a likable, organized and smart coach, despite the big playoff results (only three trips) not being there.
IYER: Dak Prescott’s injury gives Cowboys even more reason to work out contract
McCarthy did go 125-77-2 in 13 years in Green Bay, with 10 playoff wins, including Super Bowl 45, which the Packers won at the Cowboys’ stadium. But in the end of his Packers’ tenure, there was a sense the team was underachieving with many reports of a tenuous relationship between McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay unceremoniously fired McCarthy in the middle of the 2018 season and he spent a year away from the NFL in 2019. The Packers are now up to 17-4 with McCarthy’s young replacement, Matt LaFleur.
When Jones had to finally make his move on Garrett to try to break the Cowboys out of yo-yoing and mediocrity, there was a feeling he might lure a bigger-time winning coach, a big college name, a young offensive-minded hotshot, or a combination of all three (see Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley). Instead, Jones quickly, to the shock of many, settled on the fading McCarthy, 10 years removed from his ring.
As another former Packers Super Bowl-winning coach, Vince Lombardi, might say, “the ring is the thing.” There’s no doubt Jones, with his team in a 24-year Super Bowl drought, envisioned McCarthy finding glory again with a chance of scenery. But when you go for a marriage of convenience, nay coincidence, there’s a good chance for a divorce.
The problem is, other than McCarthy wisely retaining young offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, he hasn’t inspired much confidence that he still has it in motivating players, despite saying he worked to adapt better to the modern NFL in his time away. The defense that used to bend without breaking is in shambles with Mike Nolan as coordinator. When the team was rallying early in the season, it was evident that it was more around Prescott and less about McCarthy.
Then Prescott didn’t play in Week 6, and there came the listless, lifeless debacle, a Monday melodrama playing out in prime time in a 38-10 home loss to the Cardinals. That didn’t look like a team pushing to step up and help the “next man up,” Andy Dalton. There were big mental and physical lapses. They were lackadaisical when they should have been laser-focused to fully turn the corner from a 1-3 start.
Jones, according to multiple reports, gave McCarthy a five-year, $30 million deal, or the exact value of Garrett’s final contract with the Cowboys. Jones saw Garrett’s deal through its expiration in 2019 and simply didn’t extend him.
When the Cowboys got clipped by the Eagles in the end to lose the weak NFC East and not make the playoffs, Jones was searching for better results, not a regression that would have the same thing happen again, even with the Eagles stumbling more out of the gate.
Despite no Prescott, despite a wave of offensive line injuries, with the level of the Dallas’ offensive talent in relation to Philadelphia, New York and Washington, Jones should expect his team to take back the division, still in first place going into Week 7.
The game at Washington is a must-win with the Eagles positioned to take over the top spot in the division with a Cowboys loss. Consider the Cowboys have beaten Washington three straight times, in seven of the past eight meetings and nine of the past of 11, all under Garrett. For all the Cowboys’ issues with the Eagles, they at least have owned Washington of late. McCarthy cannot start the losing to WFT again.
This latest matchup for McCarthy is critical coming off that Cardinals embarrassment to save face and the season. Because after that the Cowboys could be limping into a Sunday night matchup at the Eagles in Week 8. The mighty Steelers visit Dallas in Week 9 and a trip to the Ravens looms to begin December.
There’s a real possibility the Cowboys could be 2-7 or 3-6, which is totally unacceptable under McCarthy, even with Dalton. Then consider the Cowboys have a bye week before hosting the Vikings in Week 11, followed quickly by Thanksgiving vs. Washington in Week 12.
Although saying bye to McCarthy during the bye would seem to be a drastic overreaction by Jones, if the players don’t get more motivation and the team keeps going through the motions with its performances, it is now a strong possibility. Three or more games under .500 after midseason might confirm falling out of contention sooner than expected, with the Eagles improving and getting healthier fast.
If McCarthy and the Cowboys show a little better in the short term and the Eagles stay within reach, the next critical point for McCarthy’s job security will be after Christmas. The Cowboys host the 49ers in Week 15 on Dec. 20, a week before their home rematch with the Eagles. The goal, like with late last season, is making that a de facto NFC East title game again.
The bottom line is the Cowboys are now under heavier pressure to turn things around, not less with Prescott. Anything less than the playoffs should not be acceptable to Jones. The Falcons and Texans already will be on the lookout for new coaches in 2021, as likely the Lions, too. It’s unlikely that top candidates such as Eric Bieniemy will go another year without being hired. Also, for a redo, Jones can think about that young offensive hotshot, whether it’s the well-liked Kellen Moore, only 32, or Panthers rising superstar Joe Brady, only 31, before someone else steals them, a la the Saints and Sean Payton.
Jones went inside the box with his hire and it’s rolling toward being more disastrous than imagined. The clock is ticking for McCarthy to get it right, or Jones will gladly eat his money and get a better man for the most-demanding sideline job in the NFL.
Source: Read Full Article