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Offseason | 2024

Spagnola: Jerry steadfastly ignores noisy grain


FRISCO, Texas – Strange feeling out here on a Friday after the season ends in a thud.

Not many a creature is stirring and thank goodness not even a mouse.

The shoulders pads were hung with care …

OK, enough, the papal-like smoke referred to in Mick Shots on Wednesday came wafting out of owner Jerry Jones' office a couple of hours later after being posted in the form of a release. One that announced the Cowboys would be going forward with beleaguered Mike McCarthy as head coach at least for the final year of the five-year contract he signed in January 2020.

Hey, give Jerry credit for this: He does it his way. No matter how much he might scrape his fingernails across the grain.

Why, he did not let the fan base's emotional insurrection influence his decision to retain McCarthy after this 12-5 regular season that included his second NFC East title in three years. And the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs as well, which provided a first-round home playoff game that ended abruptly with that highly disappointing 48-32 loss to the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday at AT&T Stadium with the majority of those 93-some-thousand fans pulling their hair out.

He did not allow the very righteous media to influence his decision to pass on firing McCarthy in an emotional fit and hiring the biggest name available, Bill Belichick, on the basis of his long successful reputation could fix the playoff-ailing Cowboys when he couldn't fix his own problems with New England. The Patriots finished with losing records in three of the past four seasons, and the one they didn't, were overwhelming eliminated from the 2021 season playoffs, 47-17, by Buffalo.

Thus ol' Jerry, at 81 years old, is being taken out to the woodshed for a literary whipping, as if all the previous ones in the past 35 seasons of ownership since 1989 have caused him to flinch. Not saying every move he's ever made has been right, and he'll be the first to admit so, but he will tell you at least he made those moves of his own volition.

He did that, too, this week, and has learned an important lesson along the way to take the emotion out of a disappointing loss, a disappointing occurrence, and instead think things through with a still very able mind. And he did so for like three-and-a-half days following Sunday's "most painful loss," as he would describe it, going through a three-hour meeting with McCarthy on Wednesday before issuing his statement to those vocally telling him what he had to do with his own decision.

And sounds as if he didn't patronize McCarthy, either. If you caught this during Mike's 26-plus-minute press conference, the still head coach said he did face some "hard, direct questions" during their three-hour session. He should have, and not just for the fact of losing in the first round for the second time in three seasons – and let's not lump McCarthy's losses into that Cowboys' 4-10 playoff record since winning Super Bowl XXX that 1995 season before he arrived – but mostly for getting beat so bad, allowing even San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan to take a snarky shot at the Cowboys, saying when the score reached 27-0 with 1:50 left in the first half he started preparing for Green Bay, the two playing in the divisional round at 7:15 p.m. Saturday in Santa Clara, Calif.

(By the way, sorry, just me, but the NFL doing the seventh-seeded Packers no favors, maybe the penalty for being the seventh seed or the benefit for San Francisco being the first seed but making them play on a short week and having to travel out to the West Coast to meet the idle Niners coming off the bye.)

Jerry also realizes if he hires a new head coach, and a defensive-minded one at that, likely not only moving on from Dan Quinn, who might move on his own anyway for a head coaching job, then the new coach must hire an offensive coordinator/play caller, doing Dak no favors dealing with a third offensive coordinator/play-caller in three years.

Also means a new coaching staff, even if deciding to go with a neophyte head coach in his first opportunity.

But if reading between the lines of Jerry's statement Wednesday night, the owner left a huge clue for why he's staying the course with McCarthy one more time after three consecutive 12-5 seasons, two of those NFC East championships, though still not getting out of either the first or second round in three years:

"Further, our loss on Sunday is shared by everyone here, not just Coach McCarthy. Our players. Our coaches. Our front office. Myself. There is accountability for our results. I am accountable for our results. The lens we use to view and evaluate Coach McCarthy is holistic."

Here is what better be apparent to the Cowboys as to why they suffered this loss. And not just to the Packers in the playoffs, but why four of the five regular-seasons losses occurred to playoff teams finishing the regular season with at least 11 victories and only two of the 12 wins were over teams heading into the playoffs (Philadelphia and Detroit).

  • The Cowboys inability to consistently run the football, averaging just 4.1 yards a carry, nearly a half-yard less than in 2022, maybe indicating Ezekiel Elliott wouldn't have been all that bad for a reduced salary.
  • The Cowboys inability to stop the run, giving up at least 109 yards to five of the six teams they lost to, with season highs of 266 to Buffalo, 222 to Arizona, 170 to San Francisco and 143 to Green Bay, along with 13 rushing touchdowns in the six losses.
  • Lack of a consistent pass rush down the stretch, finishing with but one quarterback sack in five of the final six games of season and not a one against Green Bay.
  • An insufficient linebacker corps. After Leighton Vander Esch's season-ending injury in Game 5, trying to play with safeties like Markquese Bell and Jayron Kearse alongside leading tackler Damone Clark (115), became a huge problem against the NFL's elite teams wanting to run the ball.

And then this, and maybe most of all in the lopsided playoff loss to the Packers, the defense giving up 41 of a season-high 48 points scored against the Cowboys: After losing Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs just two games into the season, the Cowboys were disguising being one cornerback short all season long after a top three of Stephon Gilmore, DaRon Bland and Jourdan Lewis.

Because when Gilmore suffered the shoulder injury in Game 17 against Washington, he gamely played with a harness holding the shoulder in place against Green Bay. So Quinn decided to move to more zone coverage hoping to lessen the pressure on Gilmore in man coverage vs. playing the next man up, Nahshon Wright, or the little used on defense Noah Igbinoghene. Failed badly. Too many missed assignments allowing Packers quarterback Jordan Love to shred the defense by completing 16 of 21 passes for 272 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, amounting to a 157.2 QB efficiency rating, just one completion shy of a perfect 158.3 rating.

Packers receivers were running wide open – see completions for 46 yards, 39, 38, 26, 22 and 20.

And when Prescott is off and the offensive line allows the quarterback to be sacked four times and hit another nine, this becomes a recipe for being whipped badly.

So the offseason begins out here in near obscurity, Jerry Jones deciding to run it back one more time with McCarthy, though expecting a few coaching staff changes and roster alterations, too, especially with 16 unrestricted free agents, eight of those starters and five more considered significant contributors.

Yet McCarthy, thoroughly disappointed with the playoff loss, is not backing down from the challenge ahead.

"I'm extremely confident in who I am, I can't say that enough" McCarthy said. "And I'm confident in what I've done here and have great confidence in where we're going. … But we've got work to do. The job is not finished yet, and we both know that."

Both, meaning himself and Jerry.

Especially Jerry, remaining steadfast for another go-around with McCarthy, giving no quarter to the outside noise.

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