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Offseason | 2021

Spagnola: Here Is The Truth Behind 6-10


FRISCO, Texas – So here we go again.

The Cowboys finish 6-10, the team's second losing season since going 6-10 in 2010, which was the first losing season since the 6-10 of 2004 under Bill Parcells.

The Cowboys finish third in the NFC East, losing the division-record tiebreaker to the 6-10 Giants (4-2 to 2-4) for second, their lowest finish in the past five seasons and matching their second-lowest finish since those three dead-lasters from 2000-2002.

No playoffs, the first time in back-to-back seasons since being shut out from 2010 through 2013.

So, of course, no Super Bowl appearance since that third one during the 1995 season in four years, coupled with no NFC Championship Game appearance since that 1995 season, too.

For the love of Roger Staubach.

With regards to Dez Bryant, fix this &$#@ Jerry!

Wonder if he will be praised for taking a gigantic step on Friday. Relieving defensive coordinator Mike Nolan of his duties after just one season, one horrible defensive season, along with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

Wonder if those unadulterated, rhetorical cries out there, as if merely hitting the recall button on your Cowboys remote, yep the same ol' superficial reason for Cowboys failures, will now be adulterated after this swift move?

Good thing ol' Jerry Jones has broad shoulders.

"No. 1, we fell short of what I thought our team would accomplish," said Jones, not trying to hide from this season's disappointment nor burying his head in the sand.

Not only of what the Cowboys thought, but of what you thought this season would be. Of what the educated league-wide predictors thought. Hell, what I thought, too. So check some of this out:

_Dallas Morning News_: Consensus was 11-5, first-place in the NFC East, and that included both columnists.

_ESPN:_ 10-6, first place. 12-4, first place, No. 2 NFC seed, and, oh, one guy, on his own, picked 12-4, first place, No. 1 NFC seed and Mike McCarthy Coach of the Year, citing Mike as "the perfect remedy for what ails this team."

Bleacher Report: 10-6, first place.

CBS Sports: 11-5, first place.

Me: 11-5, first place.


Not so much.

So herein is the inherent flaw of so many out there just pulling out last year's reason for 8-8, or that from the 2017 season's 9-7 or that of 2015 season's 4-12.

Because these so many all thought this Cowboys team was put together for success. Some thinking for great success. Having heralded replacing Jason Garrett with McCarthy, that Jerry finally did the right thing moving on after these previous nine seasons, four of those 8-8, three of those NFC East titles, including tying the franchise-best 13-3 record with a rookie quarterback starting all 16 games and the one losing season, plus going just 2-3 in the playoffs.

But in a crazy, pandemic-laced season, the Cowboys go 6-10, and darn it, Jerry, it's your fault. You need a general manager, as if having a GM is the panacea for success in the NFL, and never mind six of those guys have been fired this season, with owners so desperate to find someone to run their teams they are pulling former players out of the broadcast booths to take over.

Also, few seem to bother digging a little, just a little past Jerry's title as GM. Sure, as owner and president, too, he signs off on everything that takes place. But for the day-to-day operation, COO Stephen Jones and vice president of player personnel Will McClay man the joy stick. Actually heard one person on talk radio spew Jerry should turn over the football operation to those two.

Kinda, sorta, he has with great success for the past five years, and now has given McCarthy great leeway.

Probably can give you 50 reasons for why the Cowboys finished 6-10, and so could everyone else if they cared to scratch deeper than superficial perceptions.

And I'm not even going to go there with COVID-19. Heck, the other 31 teams dealt with this unprecedented pandemic altering the offseason, preseason, regular season and now fixin' to rear its ugly head during the postseason, this all becoming the year of flexibility and adjustability.

Or with this being the absolute wrong season to have a new head coach, though it absolutely was from a continuity standpoint, since two of the five teams with new head coaches – Washington and Cleveland – are in the playoffs, though with three of the new coaches in the NFC East, the odds were good one of the newbies might make it.

Let's start with injuries, and not just any injuries, but who and where. Like losing your starting quarterback in a quarterback-driven league, in the fifth game of the season. Look at the 14 playoff teams. How about this: The starting quarterbacks on 11 of the 14 teams started at least 14 games this year. And two of those other three teams, Chicago and Washington, had problems deciding just who their starting quarterback would be. Then there was Drew Brees with the Saints, starting only 11 games.

But then you had the Cowboys, Dak Prescott starting just five games, finishing four, and the team ending up with four different starters during the season.

OK. Jerry?

Now, here was the other debilitating factor. Three starters on the offensive line, Pro Bowl tackle Tyron Smith, Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin and budding Pro Bowl tackle La'el Collins missing 36 of 48 starts. Worse, the guy the Cowboys signed to become the swing tackle, Cam Erving, missed 10 of 16 games. Center Joe Looney missed four starts and rookie Tyler Biadasz, after having taken over the starting center job, played just one snap at center in the final six games.

An unstable offensive line or a bad one laced with backups and backups to the backup is the quickest way to 6-10. Cowboys quarterbacks were sacked 44 times – last year in 16 games Dak was sacked just 23 times – the 44 the second-highest total since 50 in 2005.

And running the ball? The 1,788 yards rushing were the fewest since 2013, and let's get over all the Ezekiel Elliott bashing. A line makes a difference.

OK. Jerry? Dang his guard days were long over.

Then there were the turnovers. Geesh, 20 of them in the first nine games, the Cowboys going 2-7. Then just six in the final seven games, the Cowboys going 4-3. Go figure.

OK. Jerry?

And if all that is not enough elephants in the room, here comes the biggest and _baddest_:

The defense.

Cowboys gave up a franchise single-season record 473 points. That's 29.5 a game when averaging 24.7 themselves, with 163 of those 395 points scored coming in the first five games (41 percent), so on pace to score 521 over 16 games, which would have been a franchise single-season record. But, no matter. No Dak. No O-Line. No defense.

The run defense ranked 31st, giving up 158.8 a game when finishing 2019 ranked 11th. Look, a defense finishing ninth overall last season ended up 23rd this year.

This, to me, was inexcusable for a defense losing just four starters from last year's team – Robert Quinn, Maliek Collins, Jeff Heath and Byron Jones. Big problem, the guys they added in free agency then flopped – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Dontari Poe and Everson Griffen. Plus, they lost Gerald McCoy for the season during the first padded practice in training camp.

Even so, there was a disconnect from the start, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan trying to vacillate between a 4-3 and 3-4, plus nearly playing a nickel defense exclusively no matter how many or few receivers were on the field. Just didn't work.

Now, here's where Jerry stepped up, saying, "A change of technique and philosophy here. I underestimated the impact that that would have if you didn't have more time with the players."

That right there is taking a fall for the coaching staff, but it only took five days to attempt to rectify that problem by letting Nolan go. To me, this was telling when veteran defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said this when asked about Nolan as a defensive coordinator:

"We went through some tough battles at the beginning of the season. Not me personally with Coach, but I'm just saying, in general, as a defense we went through tough battles. When you're playing with young guys on defense, you have to take into consideration that some things that are easy for me won't be easy for the next person.

"I respect Mike as a man because he looked himself in the mirror and he changed some things to make us play faster and help us play better. I mean, it was later in the season but we started to see improvements, and I think it really shined a light on the type of players we are."

McCarthy has talked for the past couple of days about those exit interviews with players, especially the veterans. Wonder how much those guys coming clean on their feelings about the defense influenced the decision on Nolan? My guess is guys he trusted didn't hold back, not when the season had been completed.

A few scheme adjustments did take place over the final seven games. But still, opponents in four of the final seven games hit the Cowboys for rushing totals of 182, 294, 150 and 151, plus 125 in two other games. Just unacceptable.

Opponents came up just 96 yards short of setting the single-season rushing record against the Cowboys in this their 61st season.

OK. Jerry?

Not sure he was scheming the defense, and if he had tried, he would have been criticized for meddling with his coaching staff. Just know nine of the 14 teams in the playoffs were ranked in the top 11 on defense, including six of the top seven.

Guarantee you Jerry did not have to convince anyone else moving on from Nolan was the right thing to do.

Now, did Jerry sign off on hiring McCarthy? Absolutely, but if you remember that move was being universally applauded a year ago this past Tuesday, Jan. 5. Why, this was going to push the Cowboys over the top after nine years of Garrett.

Still think it was a good hire and will be. But if you need somewhat of a comparison, you know, Hall of Fame head coach Jimmy Johnson, with a defensive-minded background, did not have a winning season with the Cowboys until Norv Turner became his offensive coordinator. Jimmy couldn't fix Dave Shula's offense. Turner sure did.

Coordinators make a difference for a head coach with expertise on just one side of the ball. At least this didn't take two years to figure out. The next decision, just who will be named the new defensive coordinator, will be critical.

Now then, having pointed all this out, in this crazy NFC East, and this certainly is no consolation, the Cowboys came up a win over Washington short of winning the division and heading into this weekend's playoffs as NFC East champs, though as underdogs. Just where so many predicted they would be.

So herein is the root of the Cowboys' 2020 evil 6-10. Facts are facts. Let's not lie to ourselves.

There is enough of that going on these days.

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