Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told team owner Jerry Jones that he watched every play of the 2019 season to prepare to return to a head coaching position the following year. Whether that was true or (most likely) not, it clearly wasn’t enough to make him a good head coach. Dallas hadn’t made it to even the NFC Championship since they won Super Bowl 30. That was 26 years ago, and this team was supposed to be different. This team had a high-flying offense that was averaging a league-leading 407 total yards each game. They were the league’s top-scoring offense too, with 530 total points this season. The Cowboys’ passing game production was second only to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while their rush attack also finished in the top 10 in yardage. If that wasn’t enough, the defense had also begun to turn a corner after their rough 2020 season. They were the first team in NFL history to have a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver, a player with 10+ sacks, and a player with 10+ interceptions. Yet, after one postseason game, the Cowboys are going home. So much of what went wrong in their matchup with the San Francisco 49ers falls on bad coaching. For one thing, Dallas was flagged 14 times on Sunday, losing 89 yards collectively in penalties. That’s tied for the second-most penalties by any team ever in a playoff game. Many of those penalties were before the snap, including a Randy Gregory neutral zone infraction on the first play of the game. That many penalties just can’t happen ever, let alone in a win-or-go-home playoff game. It’s a sign of bad coaching. What’s worse, many of those penalties extended 49ers drives or ended Cowboys drives in what was a one-possession game—it cost Dallas their season. The real indictment of the coaching staff—and especially McCarthy—was the final play call and ensuing chaos. Even after all of their penalties throughout the game, the Cowboys were still in a decent position to try to win the game. They were only down six points, and a poor punt by the 49ers resulted in a touchback with less than a minute left. That, in turn, gave Dallas good field position to start a potential game-winning drive. And indeed, the Cowboys drove down to the 49ers’ 40-yard line in about 17 seconds. Then, for some reason, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called for a QB draw with 14 seconds left in the game and no timeouts, and McCarthy didn’t veto him. In a vacuum, it might have been a smart play call. The 49ers were guarding the sidelines and leaving the middle of the field open, but the surrounding context matters. For one thing, the Cowboys have a quarterback who could attempt two 40-yard heaves. Why risk losing all of that time for an extra 10-15 yards and only one throw to the end zone? For another, the coaching of plays in those scenarios needs to be better. Dak Prescott claimed they’ve practiced that scenario “over and over again” in postgame comments. If that’s the case, then he should have been coached to slide earlier than he did. Even if he wasn’t, then he still should have at least been coached to hand the ball to the official once the play was over. Prescott didn’t do either of those things, and the result was a mad scramble by the official and not enough time left for the Cowboys to clock the ball. It isn’t wrong nor an overreaction to say that it was the Cowboys’ coaching that cost them the game. When Jones was asked after the game whether McCarthy would be back for next season, he declined to comment. It’s hard to give McCarthy too much flak for one (very) poorly coached game alone, especially after just two seasons as head coach. It’s the surrounding context that might make Jones reconsider. The most important factor in deciding McCarthy’s future is the fact that both his offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator are highly sought after. Both Moore and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are high on the list of potential head coaching candidates for other teams. If the two most important members of McCarthy’s coaching staff are gone, there’s a good chance the head coach isn’t nearly as successful. What most likely comes into play here is whether Jones wants to keep Moore in the fold. The Cowboys’ offensive coordinator has been a hot name for head coaching vacancies for a while. If Jones thinks he can take over Dallas’ head coaching position and succeed, there’s a good chance he lets McCarthy go to promote Moore. Otherwise, Jones takes the chance Moore walks and finds more success elsewhere. This has to be at the forefront of Jones’ mind because it’s happened before. Sean Payton was an assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach with the Cowboys before taking the New Orleans Saints’ job. Four years later, Payton won a Super Bowl with the Saints. Dallas has been without a title for 26 years—and linked to trying to trade for Payton almost every offseason. Coaching changes are likely coming for the Cowboys whether they like it or not. The question is whether Jones takes matters into his own hands by firing McCarthy or not. But after two seasons and one poorly-coached showing in the postseason, the head coach hasn’t done much to prove he deserves to stay. The decision for Jones seems easy: it’s time to let McCarthy go.
- May 20, 2022
- May 20, 2022