Even before Jerry Jones told reporters that Dak Prescott will miss multiple weeks with a fractured joint in his thumb, the Cowboys were approaching the nascent stages of potential, gawk-worthy spectacle. The classic Cowboys stuff that we haven’t seen in years. The kind of thick, multilayered chaos that Jones used to live for.
No one likes to balloon a one-game sample size, but the Mike McCarthy era has already shed most of its convenient excuses. The Prescott injury in 2020, when he missed 11 games, bought time. The defensive coordinator change that following year, moving from Mike Nolan to Dan Quinn, bought time. It was all somewhat dismissable and couchable as the kind of growing pains a team must endure.
But after getting nearly blanked on national television in the season opener, the McCarthy regime flamed out the remainder of its goodwill before receiving the news that matchups against the Bengals, Giants and Commanders (at least) will take place with Cooper Rush under center. That’s two division opponents that won their openers and the defending AFC champions; it greatly scrambles the odds of Dallas keeping pace in the division for a little while.
Forgive the overwhelming negativity, but it seems emerging from this hole will require a great deal of luck and finesse.
In order for Dallas to do so, they’ll have to display a resiliency and schematic creativity offensively that we haven’t seen when the team has been hamstrung in the past (who can forget their first time at the Ben DiNucci experience?). There are few teams that can conjure a similar look and feel when a backup goes down, and even fewer—the Saints with Taysom Hill and Teddy Bridgewater toward the tail end of Drew Brees’ career—that can invent something new entirely.
We make that Saints comparison purposely. It’s not solely to drag out a click-worthy Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy comparison at a time when Jones is obviously desperate for solutions and Payton happens to be hanging out in a television studio somewhere, but to illustrate the panorama of landmines splayed out in front of McCarthy.
Back in January, we noted that Dallas has Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn, two coordinators with head coaching aspirations who both left a mark on the interview circuit this past year. This past summer, Jones told reporters that he had intentionally inflated the idea that he would replace McCarthy with Quinn “to deter somebody else from getting him because I wanted him to be our coordinator.” In that same conversation with reporters, Jones mentioned how having your “ass out there” might be a motivating factor for McCarthy, while also affirming his support for McCarthy and saying that it made him uncomfortable that others believed he’d actually change head coaches (what?) While it’s impossible to dance conversationally with Jones—he likened this gambit to a game of poker, though it seems more like an old man haphazardly chucking playing cards in the air and trying to shoot them like clay pigeons—there appears to be a part of him that thinks McCarthy needs motivating. There is an expressed love for Quinn. There is absolutely a track record of promoting the young offensive coordinator before he leaves the building.
All of this needs to be taken into consideration as we approach the next few weeks of Cowboys football. Don’t mistake this for a plea to fire McCarthy; that isn’t the case. Consider this piece of writing like you would a massive warning outside of a haunted house letting you know that what comes next might range from weird to unpleasant. It’s an acknowledgement that Jones did not simply hand over his sense of unpredictability, he just effectively buried it for a while because it was good for business.
We don’t know if Prescott’s injury is a harbinger of things to come or the prelude to a coaching masterpiece that will ultimately culminate in Prescott returning and leading the Cowboys to another NFC East title. But we do know which is more likely. We know who is calling the shots and who is standing nearby.
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