Sturm: Morning After - Mike McCarthy’s first Cowboys game wasn’t perfect. Give him time

dpf1123

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My initial thoughts after watching the 2020 Cowboys were certainly filled with all of the hot reactions that only Cowboys football can elicit. Dallas was promised a new coach would bring new beginnings and that we might instantly see some differences indicating the team had jumped a weight-class or two up the ladder to league heavyweights. After all, this new coach has certainly been where they want to be.

People, people. I must ask you nicely: When you are one of just a handful of teams with a new coach in a pandemic year, take a breath. This offseason barely included any football activities. Mike McCarthy had to find time to move out the old furniture, then begin a long remodel and insert new ideas and new bodies into many spots. Can we give the guy a minute?

When the status quo was irrevocably altered and training camp was shortened, apparently the message to all Dallas fans was that the entire shake-up could be executed in three weeks. You won’t even recognize the operation that was here for a decade because the new guy rebuilt an entire football organization with a snap of his fingers. Not only does he know football, but he also engages in magic!

Maybe things get better in Week 2 and he creates a lasting memory like Bill Parcells’ second game in charge, when the Hall of Fame coach took the baton from Dave Campo and secured a Monday Night Football win in New York. For now, though, McCarthy’s first impression left something to be desired in the eyes of Cowboys fans because sometimes the refs are not going to give you the 47-yard completion to Michael Gallup you believe you earned with 22 seconds left to play. This is perhaps a fair moment to point out that it seems both Tony Romo and Dak Prescott have earned the distinction of having one of the most clutch passes of their careers disallowed by officiating. This is no “Dez Catch,” but are you kidding me? The referees let Jalen Ramsey clutch and grab all night long, but the moment Michael Gallup extends half a forearm to Ramsey’s chest, they throw the flag and bring a huge play back? I guess it only took four paragraphs of my season opener to complain about the officiating, but give me a break. That call is not being made with almost any other cornerback. To make matters worse, Amari Cooper is probably not being flagged for that either. The Cowboys probably didn’t get that call because Ramsey is Ramsey. That is one argument in the Rams’ favor when we discuss how much they overpaid in the trade and contract to secure one of the best defensive backs in the sport. He will make plays and then he will be granted others when he flails to sell a call. If it works, I guess you have to credit the hustle.

We can blame the refs, but I know most of the talk today will hinge on the mysterious fourth-and-3 decision with 11:46 to go in the game. Dallas was sitting at the Rams’ 11-yard line just two snaps after Dalton Schultz let a ball go off both hands at the sticks, and one snap after they handed off on third-and-6 and Zeke got half of what they needed. Both situations have a story to tell and the first would start with the realities of football’s return. With the possible exception of the September tradition known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs, few sports come down to the war of attrition more often than NFL football. Sometimes, as Dallas and Philadelphia both demonstrated yesterday in their season opener, you start losing players at a rapid pace. Often, what is left will bring you back to your competition very quickly. If Blake Jarwin and Leighton Vander Esch are in fact lost for a while in addition to La’el Collins, these things begin to matter.

The next aspect is continuing to run the ball all night. This will be a major part of our “Decoding Kellen Moore” series for Tuesdays, but while I would tend to agree that running Elliott is effective, I think it’s only to true a point. Yes, 4.4 yards per carry is solid. But the average reception on Sunday night led to 10.6 yards, and hopefully we don’t need to spend much time explaining that gaining 10.6 is significantly better than adding 4.4. I do believe in running the ball, and this conceit keeps teams in a balanced defensive posture, but “Feed Zeke” is actually asking for inefficiency.

Let’s talk about the fourth-and-3. For a moment, let’s discuss the decision and not the outcome. The outcome is a problem because we know that CeeDee Lamb did not quite get deep enough to the sticks and Dak’s throw was not precisely on the money. To be clear, the throw was fine. The route was fine. And while fine usually works, there are certainly times in the NFL when that is not good enough. Sometimes, everything has to be perfect or your opponent makes a perfect play on the ball and you fall a yard short.

But if we don’t know the outcome, we can simply discuss the premise of being down 20-17 and wondering if, with 12 minutes to go, you demonstrate that you believe your offense can be a juggernaut and you aren’t ready to trust a defense that has had issues getting off the field all night. You are close enough to the endzone and feel this team is definitely built around its offense — as every McCarthy squad has ever been. So, like his previous stop in Green Bay, when it comes down to a fourth-quarter decision of “trust my offense or trust my defense,” he will certainly trust his offense.

That might require modification, but it appears he won’t be using Jason Garrett’s notes. Garrett often didn’t trust either side, and that is why he played poker as if he was afraid to lose his ante. McCarthy, on the other hand, is definitely a gambler. I wrote an entire profile on the man when he was hired here, and there were two things I pointed out are much different than Garrett:
  • McCarthy’s teams ran the ball on first down the 32nd-most in the NFL from ’16-18, while Garrett’s ran it the most.
  • McCarthy went for it on fourth down when he didn’t have to more than anyone. Garrett was 28th.
You can see the irony in both of these things being a factor in his first game. Clearly, the two coaches have contrasting philosophies.

If you have played blackjack or poker, hopefully you understand that the outcomes are not the determining factors. You are playing the long game here. You don’t hit on 16 because it always works; you do it because, over the long haul, it is the right play. In other words, this is a matter of trusting your core beliefs. You have a plan and stick to it, even if you lose three hands in a row.

Mike McCarthy didn’t start coaching yesterday, but he did for a healthy portion of his audience. It is also important to note that he isn’t perfect and is unlikely to be considered a top-10 coach of all-time. He won a Super Bowl, but he has never authored a dynasty, and it is unlikely that he will win a Super Bowl in another location. No coach has ever won a Super Bowl for two franchises. None.

But if you want to know why he went for it on fourth down, the answer is simple. He believes his offense is better than his defense. And therefore, he is trying to get the game to 24-20, Dallas, with 10 minutes to go. If Greg Zuerlein hits a field goal and the score is 20-20 with 10 to play and the Rams have the ball, McCarthy believes he has a diminished chance of winning.

OK, you may say. But what about 20-17 Rams if you don’t get the fourth-and-3?

A gambler does not think that way if he believes he is the better player at the table. He knows that over time, he will emerge victorious. Last night, he only was able to play one hand, and I am sure he would prefer the 20-20 tie to what happened. But I also know that we have seen scared or cautious coaching for a decade, and I was definitely ready to try a new path. Hopefully, the fanbase can handle this, as opposed to waxing poetic for the days when they could kick field goals all day and punt from the opponents’ 38-yard line.

Here was my greatest concern from Week 1 besides the injuries and the defense already looking a little unsteady: I think for this offense to be truly great, it cannot just be a yardage machine. It has to put the points up that match it. Especially in games where the opponent is showing great resistance. You have to be able to churn out 400-yard days and you have to get to at least 24 points. I would prefer 27.

There are games where you can’t move the football effectively. That will happen sometimes. But when you roll up 400 yards (380 net), you have to be able to score more than 17 points. That is the key in the Kellen Moore era. Why has this team consistently underperformed its yardage?

They have gained at least 400 yards and scored 24 points or fewer six times since the start of the 2019 season. You will not be shocked to know they are 0-6 in these games, facing Green Bay, Buffalo, Minnesota, Chicago, the New York Jets and now the Rams. During that stretch, Dallas is an 8-9 football team that could easily be 11-6 if they simply split those six games of great production without great point production. When they were on their run in 2019, they could not get the points that their hard work deserved. That is why they made changes, and the new head coach’s primary task is putting them in effect. Figure out how to find points where this team used to underachieve.

This is not because they aren’t good. The Cowboys are rolling up 400 yards in competitive games (mostly) and just can’t get the final points. You cannot be 3-for-12 on third downs and not cash all of your red zone visits. Don’t confuse that with the play-calling or play design of this offense, however. The offense has no problem moving the ball or moving the chains. They have a problem with that play at that moment. There is a real difference.

Why did they lose to the Rams? Possibly, that one moment where Lamb and Prescott could have both been a hair better. That is the margin in the NFL. Did Lamb have a great debut? Sure. Did Prescott look like a very good QB? You bet he did, especially when he dropped back with less than thirty seconds left and fired a long-distance gem right on Gallup that should have pulled that game out of the fire.

But it didn’t happen because Ramsey sold his flail well enough.

This is the margin. This is the expectation.

The Cowboys were in an entertaining punch fest yesterday with a very capable team that has a very difficult scheme. They put Dallas to a real test. The new coach fell short, just like the old one used to. But I wouldn’t contort myself to say it is “all the same.” There is no way that the old coach would push his team into going for the risky and more adventurous outcome in that spot. If fortune favors the bold, fortune is waiting around the bend.

Did it work in Week 1? Of course not. And just like the renovations to a building, if you wanted to walk in the next day and expect to see the finished product, you signed up for the wrong project.

Things in the NFL move very slowly and the work delays have not helped. The McCarthy project will likely take years to develop, and he’s attempting an endeavor that has never been done: winning a Super Bowl with a second franchise. If you expected it would be done in Week 1 of Season 1, well, that might be on you. Make no mistake, however: the renovations are underway. Perhaps in 20 games, or 40, you won’t even recognize the place. But for now, it still looks a lot like the old one.

Let’s see if we can give it a little time.
 

Genghis Khan

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Yes, 4.4 yards per carry is solid. But the average reception on Sunday night led to 10.6 yards, and hopefully we don’t need to spend much time explaining that gaining 10.6 is significantly better than adding 4.4. I do believe in running the ball, and this conceit keeps teams in a balanced defensive posture, but “Feed Zeke” is actually asking for inefficiency.
I HATE this argument.

First, it's disingenuous.

He's comparing average RECEPTION through the air to average ATTEMPT on the ground.

So already it's apples to oranges.

Compare Y/A to YPC. You have to include the possibility of an incompletion on every pass. Dak's YPA was 6.82 last night. That paints a completely different picture regarding how "inefficient" handing off to Zeke was.

THEN, factor in sacks. It's not a pass 'attempt', but it further reduces the efficiency of passing the ball and as with incompletions is not a factor in running the ball. Not to mention the usual loss of yardage is higher from a sack than a tackle for loss in a running play. Plus, TFL yardage is factored in with YPC but the negative sack yardage is not factored in with Y/A or yards per reception.

THEN, factor in the fact that turning the ball over with an interception or strip sack is much more likely than fumbling while running the ball. So the risk factor in throwing is way elevated over running.

Run vs pass is way closer and way more complicated than Sturm is making it out to be here.
 

bbgun

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Jeez, he completely ignored the defense. Maybe that's an upcoming column.
 

Simpleton

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I generally agree that there's no reason to panic. New coaching staff, disjointed offseason, etc., etc., and ultimately we lost a coin flip game to a solid team that should be on the fringes of playoff contention despite not playing especially well.

I said before the season that I don't think we'll hit our stride until about 4-6 games in, and I stand by that, but it definitely has to get better and stay better consistently.
 

Genghis Khan

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if, with 12 minutes to go, you demonstrate that you believe your offense can be a juggernaut and you aren’t ready to trust a defense that has had issues getting off the field all night.

I think the logic here is backwards.

If you don't trust the defense with a tie, you also don't trust your defense down 3. You have to factor in what happens if you don't make the conversion. If you don't trust your defense the risk of going down 2 scores is higher. And going down 2 scores in the middle of (or late depending on how long the rams take to score) the 4th would have been a disaster. At least if you get the tie it means you can trade blows (assuming you don't trust your defense) rather than continuing to play catch up.

I think if you DO trust your defense, going for it makes more sense because the risk of going down 2 scores is lower.

Best case scenario of course is converting and eventually taking the lead with a TD. But that's more trusting your OFFENSE, and putting talent aside for a second I'm not sure they did much in the game and especially in the third and early 4th to justify trusting them.
 

pd

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There should be a new statistic.

Simply saying the offense gained 400 yards is too vague. It's assuming a gain of 20 yards is identical from your own 10-yard line vs the opponent's 20 yard line.

I'd rather have a stat that shows offensive yardage gained after midfield.

Hypothetically, an offense can gain 400 yards offense and never cross midfield into scoring position. Realistically, this has been our curse in recent years due to lack of turnovers, three-n-out defensive stops and shitty punt returns (we're lucky if there's no penalty on the return). Our offense is hindered by poor starting field position.
 

pd

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I HATE this argument.

First, it's disingenuous.

He's comparing average RECEPTION through the air to average ATTEMPT on the ground.

So already it's apples to oranges.

Compare Y/A to YPC. You have to include the possibility of an incompletion on every pass. Dak's YPA was 6.82 last night. That paints a completely different picture regarding how "inefficient" handing off to Zeke was.

THEN, factor in sacks. It's not a pass 'attempt', but it further reduces the efficiency of passing the ball and as with incompletions is not a factor in running the ball. Not to mention the usual loss of yardage is higher from a sack than a tackle for loss in a running play. Plus, TFL yardage is factored in with YPC but the negative sack yardage is not factored in with Y/A or yards per reception.

THEN, factor in the fact that turning the ball over with an interception or strip sack is much more likely than fumbling while running the ball. So the risk factor in throwing is way elevated over running.

Run vs pass is way closer and way more complicated than Sturm is making it out to be here.
ANY/A

(y)
 

Genghis Khan

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If you have played blackjack or poker, hopefully you understand that the outcomes are not the determining factors. You are playing the long game here. You don’t hit on 16 because it always works; you do it because, over the long haul, it is the right play. In other words, this is a matter of trusting your core beliefs. You have a plan and stick to it, even if you lose three hands in a row.
That's actually a much better argument and may have actually swayed me.
 

Simpleton

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I actually liked the 4th down play call itself, it's a for sure first down if not a TD if dumbass Schultz had a brain.

With that said, you kick the FG there with a whole quarter left.
 

boozeman

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Honestly I would put Moore on watch and yank playcalling duties if a trend develops.

We did not attack a flawed defense last night I. A strategic fashion at all.
 

ravidubey

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Honestly I would put Moore on watch and yank playcalling duties if a trend develops.

We did not attack a flawed defense last night I. A strategic fashion at all.
Whereas they attacked our weaknesses defensively all night with quick-hitting plays and misdirection.

Their strategy folds if we generate anything offensively. Ramsey and Donald did just enough to disrupt our offense.

How can we not get something going with the talent we fielded last night? Sure they attacked our RT, so why didn’t we help him??
 

lostxn

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How can we not get something going with the talent we fielded last night? Sure they attacked our RT, so why didn’t we help him??
yup. probably the answer is because you can't help the LG and RT...
 

Simpleton

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Honestly I would put Moore on watch and yank playcalling duties if a trend develops.

We did not attack a flawed defense last night I. A strategic fashion at all.
McCarthy is going to have to take over play-calling if the offense is still this uneven by midseason.
 

ravidubey

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yup. probably the answer is because you can't help the LG and RT...
Williams held his own well enough and was solid as a run blocker. Steele was consistently out of his depth.

Schultz would have been better served blocking full time. He’s not a receiver.

Dak needed to take off a few more times to back the defense out of pinning their ears. And yeah, he needs to hang in there and take some shots (both getting hit and firing downfield) in key situations.

Take control of the game. This is year five never missing a game. It’s time.
 

Shiningstar

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McCarthy is going to have to take over play-calling if the offense is still this uneven by midseason.

if he waits by mid season, he might as well quit because he would have shown that the whole team either fears KM and no one has the guts to fire him, or that KM will be the next Garrett because JJ said so. Either way by mid season we re finished.
 

p1_

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if he waits by mid season, he might as well quit because he would have shown that the whole team either fears KM and no one has the guts to fire him, or that KM will be the next Garrett because JJ said so. Either way by mid season we re finished.
Im thinking 8 games is a too long a rope. MM won't go that long without intervention, should it be needed.
 

Shiningstar

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Im thinking 8 games is a too long a rope. MM won't go that long without intervention, should it be needed.

I hope you are right. I really dont want to take sundays performance as gospel due to the craziness of this season, however, this would have been a great year for Dallas to make great strides at a SB run, and i would hate to see that ended in the first game due to ego, or someones pride, but we ve seen it before.
 

L.T. Fan

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McCarthy is going to have to take over play-calling if the offense is still this uneven by midseason.
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I don’t think it is a play calling issue. It’s more an execution mode. The first half Dallas was executing well. In the second half and especially in the 4th quarter, the rams defense went all out but Dallas couldn’t adjust accordingly. The offensive line just got blown out and the rest of the scheme was left hanging. Pass completion was not handled because the QB was too busy dodging pass rushers. This will improve with adjustments to blocking assignments and quicker reads by the QB.
 

ravidubey

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Parcells lost his first game as Cowboys HC too.

One game doesn’t bother me.

The offense still getting crippled because of one OL spot is what’s getting me mad.

Two hurt OTs is bad news indeed, really what kept Bill Parcells from going anywhere in Dallas.
 
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