First year head coach. First year defensive coordinator. No real offseason programs. And, of course, a global pandemic.
The excuses are everywhere for the 2020 Dallas Cowboys.
Yet this season has been a complete disaster, and it feels like someone has to be to blame. Are the coaches in over their heads? Are the players simply not good enough? Are these the wrong players for the new staff's scheme?
All are valid questions to ask, but the elephant in the room is the incredibly poor injury luck this year's Cowboys have had.
They still put up nearly 400 yards of offense on a top-3 defense last night.
I guess I'm wondering why so many believe Mike McCarthy is doing a bad job?
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) December 9, 2020
As Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, the Cowboys have nearly $60 million on injured reserve this season. Namely: Dak Prescott, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and La'el Collins. Four of the team's best 10 players have been out for basically the entire year, and have not played a single snap together.
When ranking the most important positions on a team, quarterback and each member of the offensive line will be towards the top of that list. And the Cowboys have had disastrous injury luck at all six of those spots.
Even more down the roster guys have suffered meaningful injuries. Offensively, the Cowboys are missing who they thought would be their breakout tight end in Blake Jarwin. Defensively, their secondary has been on and off IR all season, including starters Chidobe Awuzie and Trevon Diggs.
This team has been ravaged by injuries in a way that you could've never predicted. Fans don't want to hear it, though.
Plenty of teams are dealing with injuries, but few teams look as lost and defeated as the Cowboys have most weeks this season.
Take their division rivals, the New York Giants, for example. They too are dealing with a brand new coaching staff in this pandemic affected season, and without their star running back and starting quarterback they found a way to win at Seattle last week.
Washington also pulled a major road upset over the previously unbeaten Steelers last Monday, and technically they are down to their third quarterback on the season (though to be fair, he may be their best option).
The 49ers have lost Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, and George Kittle just to name a few. And yet they beat the NFC West leading Rams two weeks ago, and have stayed competitive nearly every week.
So are these injuries an excuse, or just the brutal reality?
For starters, Dak Prescott is much better and clearly more important than the prior quarterbacks mentioned in this piece. The drop off from Prescott to his backups is a hell of a cliff, whereas Colt McCoy and Daniel Jones may not be too far off right now.
But let's stick with the Giants comparison for a minute. Who on this Cowboys defense is better than James Bradberry at cornerback? Which healthy safety is playing better than Jabrill Peppers? Outside of the dominant DeMarcus Lawrence, which defensive lineman is playing better than Leonard Williams? How about out in Washington – do the Cowboys have a Jonathan Allen on the interior of their defense?
This defense needs to improve drastically up the middle: defensive tackle, linebacker, and safety. They could also use a cornerback to start opposite Diggs next season. If they can pull together a few defensive pieces, and keep their offense healthy, this is probably a playoff team in 2021.
I know, it feels a little crazy.
But this division still isn't great. To be honest, if just Dak Prescott was healthy they are likely pulling away from the pack in the NFC East by now.
So while there's plenty to blame in Dallas, we cannot ignore the situation these offensive injuries have put Mike McCarthy in.