NFL

Is the Dallas Cowboys Coaching Staff Getting Too Much Blame for a Terrible Season?

The Dallas Cowboys made a big change going into the 2020 season: they fired 10-year head coach Jason Garrett and hired the veteran Mike McCarthy as his replacement. Given McCarthy’s excellent record and prior Super Bowl victory, many commentators viewed the move as an excellent one on Dallas’ part. Some even thought the Cowboys might end up winning the NFC East.

Instead, the team has struggled mightily all season. Some media members, like Sporting News, have already begun speculating whether Dallas will fire McCarthy in his first year. That kind of thinking seems a little premature, however, given the Cowboys’ multitude of other problems.

The Dallas Cowboys have battled injuries all season

This season has consisted of a seemingly endless stream of injuries for the Cowboys. At this point, franchise owner Jerry Jones must be wondering if it’s some sort of karmic payback for his at-times tone-deaf leadership of the team.

First, and most drastically, it was star quarterback Dak Prescott suffering a season-ending broken ankle in the Cowboys’ Week 5 matchup against the New York Giants.

That injury alone cost the Cowboys most of their hopes for a successful season. To add insult to injury, fill-in starting quarterback Andy Dalton was injured in Week 7. He is currently in the concussion protocol, and nobody can say for sure when he might return. Dallas has also seen a number of injuries to their offensive linemen.

Left tackle Tyron Smith—a seven-time Pro Bowler—has been shut down for the season in order to undergo surgery for a neck injury. Offensive tackle Cameron Erving has been out since Week 1, and center Joe Looney injured his knee in Week 4.

The defensive line has also suffered devastating injuries, losing key starters like Leighton Vander Esch, Chidobe Awuzie, and Gerald McCoy.

The lack of an NFL preseason might have hurt the team

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Another important factor to consider when trying to assign blame for the Cowboys’ current 2-5 record is the lack of a preseason this year, which the NFL canceled in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The preseason is normally a valuable time for teams to develop on-field chemistry, make roster tweaks, and hone new schemes and offensive strategies.

This year, a preseason would have been especially valuable for the Cowboys. Bringing in a new head coach after 10 years is never a completely smooth process. It takes time for players to learn their coach’s personality and system. That holds doubly true for a head coach with an offensive arsenal as sophisticated as McCarthy’s.

To make matters worse, McCarthy wasn’t the only new coaching face in Dallas this year. Assistant head coach Rob Davis is also new — and not just new to the Cowboys, but new to NFL coaching completely. Mike Nolan was also a new hire as defensive coordinator, as was John Fassel as the special teams coach.

All of those new faces present additional challenges. Not only do they have to develop relationships and learn to communicate effectively with players, but they have to learn to work together as a coaching unit. That process takes time, and it isn’t fair to deem the attempt a failure this early in the going.

Broken culture with the Dallas Cowboys organization

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Perhaps the biggest problem the Cowboys are currently facing is a toxic culture. Commentators have been pointing that out for years now, while also identifying that team owner Jerry Jones is the source of many of those problems. Jones has been slow to get with the program with regards to social justice movements and generally unpopular with both players and fans.

Equally bad from a football perspective, Jones has always been quick to criticize his coaching staff. He doesn’t give his coaches enough breathing room or autonomy to make decisions for themselves, instead micro-managing the roster and undermining his staff.

Until he either sells the team, or at least steps down as GM, it’s hard to imagine the Cowboys building the kind of culture that can lead to long-term success.