With resounding expectations surrounding “America’s Team” seemingly every year, it was more of what didn’t go wrong for Dallas in 2020.
Winners of three straight as Week 17 approached, the Cowboys’ playoff hopes weren’t an afterthought. A win and a Washington loss would have placed Dallas in the playoffs, somehow, someway.
It didn’t happen. Now, it’s on to year two for Mike McCarthy, where his coaching seat will increasingly become hotter if he fails to lead Dallas to the postseason. Prior to the year, people called it a “safe hire,” but at times, McCarthy looked lost. It’s made many people wonder just how good Aaron Rodgers was that he made McCarthy look suitable in Green Bay for 13 seasons—including a Super Bowl victory in 2011.
"Absolutely no change with coach McCarthy, and I’m surprised someone would question Mike," team owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan. "There’s unprecedented situations that everyone has been in. On top of that, no one is making excuses, but we have some real challenges in the injury category."
Don’t bash me for it, but in this instance, Jones was spot on.
INJURIES RATTLED COWBOYS’ OL
Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Tyler Biadasz. All injured. All starters. That doesn’t include a recently retired Travis Frederick who, when in uniform, was the most dominant center in football, who played next to one of the top guards in football, who played next door to one of the league’s top tackles. Their injuries limited everything Dallas did, or didn’t do, on offense.
In Weeks 2-5, Dallas was a juggernaut on offense, scoring 30-plus points in each of their matchups. Then the injury bug began to rear its ugly head. Smith and Collins were both placed on injured reserve following the Week 9 matchup against Pittsburgh, Cameron Irving and Brandon Knight missed time, Terrence Steele was thrown to the wolves, and despite it all, Connor Williams served as a lone bright spot starting every game up front for a unit that allowed 44 sacks, 21 more than in 2019.
LOSS OF DAK PRESCOTT
Prescott suffered a brutal compound fracture in Week 5 against New York, immediately ending his, and Dallas’ season as a whole. Prior to the injury, Prescott looked like a top-five quarterback in the league. His reads were decisive, he was pass-first outside the pocket, and everything just seemed to be clicking.
As is the story with quarterbacks around the NFL (except for Philadelphia), once your QB1 goes down, your seasonal aspirations follow suit. It was a devastating injury that many believe Prescott will never fully recover from, and, if so, Dallas’ offseason will be one of its most important in years.
Or, lack thereof.
Dallas’ defensive unit was inept at every level; they were a historically bad group. Let’s highlight some of their follies, shall we?
They allowed a franchise-record 473 points scored and gave up a combined 601 (!!!) yards rushing to just the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. For context, Dallas hadn’t allowed an opponent to rush for more than 290 yards more than once in its 60-year history. It happened TWICE in 2020. Despite an influx of youth brought upon by Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch in the second level of the defense, the latter can’t stay healthy and it was an otherwise underwhelming unit. The loss of Byron Jones in free agency was huge on the backend. Trevon Diggs was inserted as CB1 and despite showing flashes with above-average cover skills, he enjoyed plenty of rookie struggles, and he needs help—Patrick Surtain, I’m looking at you.
There were many things to point fingers at for the lack of success in Dallas. The main culprits inside the Cowboys’ dreadful 2020 are listed below in order of most to least blame:
- A devastating injury to Dak Prescott unhinged the Cowboys’ season in an instant.
- Mike Nolan was underwhelming; his defense was non-existent.
- The offensive line was ravaged by injury.