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Mike McCarthy facing pressure to get Cowboys over the hump

Mike McCarthy facing pressure to get Cowboys over the hump
Mike McCarthy has won 18 games in his first two seasons as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. (Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

DALLAS (BVM) – It’s been over 25 years since the Dallas Cowboys last won a Super Bowl. With a talented roster and a Super Bowl champion coach in Mike McCarthy at the helm, it seems the Cowboys are perhaps as close to a championship level as they have been in the last two decades.

However, after a 12-5 season in 2021 where the Cowboys claimed an NFC East championship, the team faltered in the postseason, losing a home game in the wild-card round to the San Francisco 49ers, 23-17. 

The bitter end to last season has the Cowboys flying a bit under the radar amongst the NFC contenders in 2022. Yet, the pressure still remains on Jerry Jones’ squad to not only make the postseason but finally perform while there.

A native of Pittsburgh and former college football player at Scottsdale Community College and Baker University, McCarthy has a coaching resume that stacks up with many of his peers. He got into coaching through the college ranks, first at Fort Hays State University and later at the University of Pittsburgh, before making the leap to the NFL as an offensive quality control assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mike McCarthy Brett Favre Green Bay Packers NFL
After working with Brett Favre as a position coach in 1999, Mike McCarthy reunited with the Hall of Fame quarterback as he became the Packers’ head coach in 2006. (Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Getting to work with Joe Montana in the final years of his career in Kansas City, McCarthy then got to work with another Hall of Famer in Brett Favre as quarterbacks coach of the Packers in 1999. After stops as offensive coordinator with the Saints and 49ers, McCarthy reunited with Favre in 2006 as he became the 14th head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

McCarthy took a 4-12 team the year prior to 8-8 in his first season. By 2007, the Packers were 13-3 and a Brett Favre interception away from a Super Bowl appearance. The coach’s West Coast offense remained a focal point as Aaron Rodgers took over in 2008. From 2009 to 2016, the Packers made the playoffs every season and won the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl title in 2010.

However, with growing tension between McCarthy and Rodgers, and getting off to a 4-7-1 start in 2018 after missing the playoffs in 2017, Green Bay let the longtime coach go. McCarthy sat out of coaching in 2019 before being hired by Jones to take over the Cowboys in 2020, receiving a five-year contract.

While they were in the hunt for a division title in a lackluster NFC East in 2020, Dallas finished just 6-10 after the team lost starting quarterback Dak Prescott to a severe ankle injury early in the season. As a result, last year was seen by many as McCarthy’s first true test as Dallas’ head coach. While his regular season probably passed, it was again the lack of playoff success – which he was often criticized for while in Green Bay – that did in the longtime head coach yet again.

Mike McCarthy Green Bay Packers Super Bowl NFL
Mike McCarthy guided the Packers to a Super Bowl title in the 2010 season and is now one of eight active head coaches to have won a Lombardi Trophy. (Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

After the loss to the Niners, some even clamored for McCarthy’s firing. The head coach received support from Jones as well as his son, executive vice president Stephen Jones, following the season, but it’s clear the leash is now shorter than it was. 

In 2022, McCarthy should have the roster he needs to compete. Prescott will enter the season much healthier than he was at this time last year, and is ready to take full control of the Cowboys’ offense.

Meanwhile, the backfield remains intact with Ezekiel Elliott looking to rebound from an injury-derailed season in which he played with a partially torn PCL, and upstart Tony Pollard ready to become an even bigger playmaker for the offense.

While Amari Cooper moved on to Cleveland, the Cowboys still feature one of the league’s brightest young stars at the receiver position in CeeDee Lamb. However, the rest of the receiver room is in question. Michael Gallup is a fine No. 2 when healthy, but the start to his season is in doubt as he works back from a torn ACL suffered in January. 

The Cowboys brought in former Steelers’ wideout James Washington this offseason as well. However, he was recently carted off during a training camp practice with a foot injury, later revealed to be a Jones fracture which will sideline the receiver for six to 10 weeks.

It will now be up to veteran receiver Noah Brown and third-round draft pick Jalen Tolbert to build chemistry with Prescott and fill the No. 2 receiver role. Perhaps also filling the void will be tight end Dalton Schultz who emerged for a career year last season, catching 78 passes for 808 yards and eight touchdowns. 

No matter the weapons, the most important part of this offense may be the line, which has changed a bit after being one of the best in football just a few years ago.

Staples of the line remain in left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zach Martin. Wisconsin product Tyler Biadasz will also be back at center this season as will right tackle Terence Steele. The new addition comes from the Cowboys’ first-round pick, left guard Tyler Smith, who they hope will solidify their line to the level it was at years ago.

Mike McCarthy Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys NFL
Mike McCarthy will look for Dak Prescott to lead a successful offense once again in 2022. (Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Also aiding McCarthy on that side of the ball is the fact that his offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore, is back in Dallas for another season after being one of the hot names in the offseason’s head-coaching cycle. So too is McCarthy’s other assistant, Dan Quinn, who will man a defense that could be the strength of this year’s team. 

Last season, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons turned into one of the most dominant pass rushers in the game with 13 sacks and 84 tackles. 

Pairing that alongside DeMarcus Lawrence, and now former No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler who signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in March, makes the team’s defensive line a big strength. 

Behind them, Dallas still features middle linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, while the secondary has also remained intact with experienced guys in Anthony Brown, Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker and Trevon Diggs. In his second season last year, Diggs was truly special, leading the league in interceptions with 11, and returning two of those for touchdowns. He was a ball hawk and elite corner for the Cowboys, and if he plays like that again, this defense will be tough to handle.

The talent is in place and the assistants are top notch, but ultimately, this season’s success is going to come down to McCarthy, who will make a salary around $4 million in 2022. Even going back to his final seasons with the Packers, there were some who thought the game had passed he and his West Coast offense by. The coach has also long had a tendency to make critical errors in big moments, proved by just a 10-9 record in the postseason compared to a 143-92-2 regular-season record. 

Last year’s Wild Card game was also a perfect example. McCarthy made several questionable decisions in the game, including not calling a timeout to preserve time at the end of the first half, leaving his punt team on the field on a first-down play that resulted in a delay of game, and agreeing with a quarterback draw on the final play of the game when Dallas had no timeouts.

It’s those same mistakes and lack of aggression that cost McCarthy many playoff games in Green Bay too, perhaps none more notable than the 2014 NFC Championship game in which the Packers gifted the Seahawks a comeback overtime win.

Mike McCarthy Dallas Cowboys NFL
Mike McCarthy could be on the hot seat if the Cowboys fail to meet expectations in 2022. (Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Still, the Pittsburgh native is a Super Bowl champion – one of just eight active head coaches who can say that. He has also proven to be successful while being able to maximize the talent he has on his squad as evidenced by his run in Green Bay and last season in Dallas.

However, in the NFL, it’s about what you do when the lights are brightest. The Cowboys have the kind of talent it takes to contend for a championship. The question now is will they? Another early exit or missing the playoffs altogether could spell the end for McCarthy, and no matter how well the team is playing, that pressure will weigh on his shoulders throughout the year.

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