Now that we've nudged Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy into admitting that under his watch this team has an “effort issue,'' it's time for another nudge: Can we persuade this 3-9 failure of a franchise to admit its unprecedented error in judgment in trying to install a brand new defense during an offseason devoid of spring work, training camp and preseason games?
Owner Jerry Jones is with us. Coach Mike McCarthy? As with the two-months-too-late admission of the "effort issue,'' McCarthy remains as stubborn as he was in overseeing the commitment of this arrogant and ignorant error in the first place.
I've been saying it and writing it since September: The Cowboys wisely opted to leave the offense essentially as it was a year ago. There simply wasn't time, due to the COVID influence, to make major alterations. Newcomer McCarthy pledged that the coaches would be the ones who'd learn the established players' terminology, and not the other way around.
And then, mindlessly, the exact same coach opted to do the exact opposite thing with the other half of his football team.
McCarthy also promised, in response to my question, that Dallas would "be a four-down-linemen team,'' which turned out to be false. And he grandly insisted that his regime would "fit the scheme to the players'' rather than the other way around.
That one's not just false; it's turned out to be a season-changing goof of epic proportions. And if Jones could undo the major misstep, he's admitting he would.
“I would really make sure that any changes we were making, I would want to make sure that we did it in the same way that we didn’t make changes on offense,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan.
COO Stephen Jones chipped in, too, adding that he, his father, McCarthy and vice president of player personnel Will McClay have recently discussed how they were “probably too aggressive” in allowing the defensive scheme overhaul.
“I think the biggest thing,” Stephen said, “would be just maybe not diving in headfirst in changing, a total change of our scheme.”
Think about it: McCarthy and coordinator Mike Nolan took last year's Cowboys group (admittedly minus Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback Byron Jones, allowed to go to Miami) which was a middle-of-the-pack 4-3 bunch ... installed a new system without really having met any of the players ... taught most of the installation via Zoom meetings without the benefit of a usual summer of learning ... and turned largely the same group into what very well might be the worst scoring defense in the history of the NFL.
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Think I'm being harsh about the people? I like Mike McCarthy just fine. I like Mike Nolan, too. (We'd all like 'em much more if not for the fact that they lose three-fourths of their games.) But for them (and their bosses, for GM Jerry takes the buck-stops-here blame, too) to think that they're that great at teaching? To perform a classroom task that has never before been attempted in the annals of sports?
Arrogance and ignorance.
Oh, and think I'm being harsh about the numbers? Through 12 games, the Cowboys have given up 393 points. The NFL record is 533 by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.
Starting with Sunday's noon kickoff at Cincinnati, the Cowboys can easily set this unenviable record.
Is there something to be learned from all of this? Certainly. The concept of "fitting the scheme to the players'' can be peddled to the public. But the players realized way back in September that it was a lie - and along with the legitimate criticism of the "effort issue,'' there is also an "attitude issue'' when your boss throws you under the bus for something that is, at its root, the boss's fault.
In addition to avoiding lying to/about players, it's the coach who needs to be "multiple,'' much more than his scheme needs to be. Trying to force this system down the players' throats with no proper time to learn it was a disservice to all.
Jerry insists he's willing to change. Admitting his desire for a do-over here is part of that.
“I'd like to start again on how we approached our defense this year,” Jerry said. “I'd like to start that over again. I'm sure everybody else would, too."
“We’re pretty far down the road to blame this on scheme,” McCarthy said. “Our execution clearly wasn’t where it needed to be.”
So, it's not the teachers' fault. It's the pupils'. It's not the system's fault. It's the pupils'. It's not a mistake by McCarthy and Nolan at all!
It's ... arrogance and ignorance.