Cowboys still need to change, even after the decision to keep Mike McCarthy

Well, this is another fine mess the Dallas Cowboys have gotten themselves into. After we got our hopes up, thinking this was finally the year the long string of playoff disappointments would end, it was particularly crushing to see the Cowboys not even looking like they deserved to be in the postseason, much less in the number two seed. We are having to face the fact that they got their 12 wins because they are in a weak division and had some other pushovers on the schedule. It was a season where Dallas bullied a lot of bad teams, but got smacked around by good ones.

Something needs to give if Dallas is ever going to be a challenger for the ultimate prize. Sadly, there is no assurance that the right things will change. It is rather doubtful that they will change this year, at least not enough.

One of the things that happened during the brutal loss to the Green Bay Packers was the performance of their supposed star players. It was not just one. While Dak Prescott is the most mentioned, Micah Parsons, CeeDee Lamb, and others also looked far worse than we were accustomed to seeing. Stephon Gilmore had a bad game as well, but he was playing through a shoulder issue that may have contributed. Nonetheless, when the best performer on your team is the third wide receiver who has done little to nothing in the regular season, you have a problem. Michael Gallup was the most effective player on offense until the game was well out of hand and the Packers had pulled a lot of their starters. He deserves credit for his effort, but it just makes the others look worse.

We discussed this overall idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

In the heated emotions following the loss, there were some who called for a teardown of the roster, starting with Prescott. That is just not feasible. Because the team has for years relied on restructures to find cap space, most of the top players come with prohibitive dead money costs should they be released. And Dallas is going to have to go the restructure route again this season, as they are already over the cap for 2024 by about $15 million. The cap considerations also come into play if they should try to trade some of their players. There may well be a few players cut loose or shopped around, but it will be far short of blowing the roster up and starting fresh.

That is why we all were waiting to see what happened to head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. If one or both of them were to leave, by being fired in McCarthy’s case or getting a head coaching gig for Quinn, it would represent major changes for next year. Now we know McCarthy is going to be back, and if Quinn does not get hired elsewhere, so will he.

Before the Green Bay debacle, most of us were wanting Jerry Jones to open up his checkbook to money whip Quinn into staying. The performance of his defense in the wild card round threw some freezing cold water on that. They were completely unable to even slow down Jordan Love and company, giving up five touchdowns on the first six Packers possessions. Almost effortless ones. Wide receivers were wide open, Aaron Jones was slicing through the defense, and Quinn had no answers. Or rather, he had all the wrong ones. He relied heavily on zone coverage when Dallas has been doing better in man. He moved Parsons around, and always seemed to put him in a bad situation. The entire secondary looked lost, and the pass rush never got to Love. They came close, but Love was basically playing his best game ever, getting off passes a split second before he was hit, and exploiting ridiculously soft coverage while doing it.

This game also laid bare the issue with linebackers. The Cowboys had high expectations of DeMarvion Overshown in training camp, but his preseason injury ended those hopes until this year’s camp. Rather than seek help in free agency to fill the hole, they decided to convert safety Markquese Bell. Bell played very well, but when Leighton Vander Esch was lost during the season, that left the team with only one true linebacker in Damone Clark. And still the team failed to acquire any real help. Part of that may have been the lack of good options at that point, but it also smacks of an arrogance that seems endemic for Dallas. “We like our guys” has become more a guideline for personnel management than an honest evaluation of the roster. There seemed to be a belief that Quinn could work his magic with the players on hand. That turned out to be more smoke and mirrors. What we don’t know is whether this approach was the one Quinn wanted to pursue, or whether it was dictated by Jerry and Stephen Jones, who control player acquisition. In either case, this was an issue that was badly handled, and it cost them.

We need to look beyond the Green Bay mugging, though. This was not a singular failing for the defense. The same thing happened for entire games against the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, and Buffalo Bills, and late in the games against the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions. Softness against good offenses, particularly involving coaches from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, looks more like a feature than a bug for Quinn. He just seems baffled by that kind of offense.

Rather than fret about his departure, we may need to be hoping for it. His hiring elsewhere seemed inevitable, but that collapse last Sunday may cool the ardor of his suitors. If he doesn’t get a head coaching job, is it time to consider firing him and trying to find someone who can put up some resistance to good teams? If he is still the DC by default after the coaching carousel grinds to a halt, that needs to be given serious consideration.

McCarthy was briefly seen to be back on the hot seat, despite three consecutive 12 win seasons. The Jones family apparently decided they did not want a full housecleaning, and with Quinn’s future not completely in their hands might have decided there was some risk of having that forced on them. The key to this decision, however, was probably more about whether the offense, particularly Prescott, really improved or not. That is muddied by how Prescott had another big game stumble, something he has done repeatedly. No one knows if he can fix that, but as mentioned above, the team is tied to him due to his contract. Any decision on him may well have to be deferred until the end of his current deal. An early extension looks far less desirable, although that is countered by how the price will inevitably go up due to market forces if the ownership waits. There were still times during the season when Prescott was on fire, and many point to McCarthy’s coaching. A change in the head coach would have also meant another change in who runs the offense. Retaining him is a clear sign the Jones family thinks the roster they carry over into 2024 still has the talent to compete. We are going to have to find out if that is true the hard way.

Additionally, McCarthy has one year left on his contract, and Jerry Jones has a history of giving his head coaches more time than many others would. Jones seems a bit risk averse and does not seem comfortable with change unless he has no choice.

But even had he decided to move on from McCarthy, it might not have led to a better option. Jones truly does not like rookie head coaches, and almost always looks for a recycled candidate or a former college head coach. The sole exception this century was Jason Garrett, who was an internal promotion. That has been the second choice in Jones’ tenure as owner. This conservative nature may doom the team. If the team is to be truly fixed, it may well need a fresh mind in the mold of current NFL coaches like Matt LaFluer, Sean McDermott, or DeMeco Ryans. Unfortunately, Jones just seems incapable of going with an up-and-coming assistant, preferring familiar head coaches he has come to know in his dual role as owner and GM. And while we all may think there is another big change this team needs, there is no sign at all that Jones will ever give up that GM role while he is alive and well. And if he isn’t, the best bet is Stephen will assume the full GM duties.

It is obvious things need to change for the Cowboys. The problem is that the owner wants to do so more incrementally than radically. So far, that has not gone well at all for almost 30 years. It is hard to see how that will change, and that may be the change they need the most.


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