In his post-game presser after the Cleveland Browns hung nearly half a 100 on his defense on Sunday, Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy offered this bit of wisdom in trying to account for the 49-38 loss and the team’s third straight reckless, turnover-filled game. “The focus was on Myles Garrett,” he said. “We could have been better on the two big plays he made. Obviously, one of them resulted in a turnover, but if ifs and buts were nuts, it’d be Christmas all the time.”
In the return to his hometown, Browns defensive end Garrett — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft and an Arlington native — definitely made an impression. He mangled Dallas’ makeshift offensive line worse than McCarthy mangled the kitschy catch phrase made famous by former Dallas QB “Dandy” Don Meredith. (“If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.”)
McCarthy’s garbled misspeak does, however, perfectly encapsulate the Cowboys’ season at the quarter mark. Id est: There is some semblance of a plan going in. The plan is executed very, very poorly. The end result is nonsensical, exasperating, and stupid.
In each of the last three games, the Cowboys have turned the ball over three times, suffered costly special teams miscues, allowed at least 38 points, and tried to rely on Dak Prescott and the slim chance for a last-minute miracle for any hope of victory. Not a winning strategy. Only once has that recipe worked in their favor. No question, this team really should be 0-4.
No matter the oddities, three consecutive performances like this is not random. It’s a trend, and I am far from alone in not knowing how to reverse it. Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan certainly doesn’t seem to have any better idea. He currently resides at the helm of a historically terrible defense.
The front, aside from Aldon Smith, can generate no pass rush, and it cannot stop the run, or set an edge, or even tackle. The secondary simply cannot cover. The defensive backs don’t even appear to know their assignments half the time. They cannot create their own turnovers or consistently force punts. The lopsided time of possession leaves them on the field too long and keeps them perpetually gassed, which leads to big plays by the other team’s offense, and on and on. It is a perfect hellstorm of injury, poorly designed scheme, and a dismal lack of talent.
It’s that last bit that is the most galling. There is no talent, and they don’t seem to want to address it. The one true hallmark of the Garrett era was stubbornness. No matter what outside forces invoked their influence, Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett, and his staff refused to adjust. Whether it be a general offensive strategy (“We run the ball, hell or high water”), a complete lack of in-game adjustments (recall Chaz Green v. Adrian Clayborn?), or a short-sighted and high-dollar devotion to average players because “We like our guys” (Tyrone Crawford, anyone?), it’s always been “Stay the course.” The front office has braided the rope, thrown it over the gallows, and pushed their own necks through the noose like slipping on a cheap necktie for decades.
It is this stubbornness, more than anything, that is responsible for the state of this defense. Look no further than the “We like our guys” mentality for this 1-3 start. There are players no doubt better than the guys currently taking the field stuck sitting on their couches. We don’t even need to mention the former All-Pro Seahawk/Raven who’s been campaigning to come here for the last two years. Don’t think Damon “Snacks” Harrison could help clog up opposing running lanes? Or that our old pal Ron Leary couldn’t shore up left guard a bit in place of the infinitely bullrushed Connor Williams? Or that Trumaine Johnson, with his 23 career interceptions, couldn’t bring in a pick or two in place of the perpetually lost-looking Darrell Worley? How could Clay Matthews possibly be any worse than how Jaylon Smith is playing right now?
Mike McCarthy has demonstrated he is not Jason Garrett. When Terrence Steele folded against Myles Garrett, Steele was sat for Brandon Knight. After the wild touchdown pass from Jarvis Landry to Odell Beckham Jr., Donavan Wilson replaced the mightily struggling Darien Thompson at safety — though Wilson admittedly didn’t fare much better against Baker Mayfield and his receivers.
Point being, McCarthy has proven he doesn’t have the same stubbornness that plagued the former administration (and which still hinders the personnel department). He is willing to adjust. And it’s a disservice to him (not to mention the MVP-caliber play of Dak Prescott) that the Joneses are holding pat.
Two years ago, after seven games of the ineffective “wide receiver by committee” experiment resulted in a 2-5 record, Jurrah pulled a rare, un-Jonesian move: giving up a first-round pick for Amari Cooper. That trade saved the season.
Make no mistake, there are no single player silver bullet moves to be made that could turn around this defense, but it’s an indictment on ownership that they aren’t at least kicking the tires on some of these free agents.
Alas, CEO and destined heir to his father’s headstrong mediocrity, Stephen Jones reiterated this week when questioned about seeking outside defensive help, “We like our guys.”
So, good luck, Mike. Should be plenty more ifs and buts to wish were nuts. Or something.