FRISCO, Texas — As Mike McCarthy comes close to finalizing his Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, there will come a time when he will look at what happened to the 2019 team that he inherited.
McCarthy will find a team that did not make much sense.
The Cowboys (8-8) had the second-largest point differential of a team not to have a winning record (plus-113) since the 1989 Cincinnati Bengals (plus-119). They finished with the No. 1 offense in terms of yards and were sixth in points with a first-year offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore, who will remain on McCarthy’s staff. Defensively, the Cowboys were ninth in yards and 11th in points per game.
No wonder Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones used the term “mind-boggling” after the season-ending win against Washington in describing the Cowboys’ 2019 season.
But there are reasons Jones opted to move on from coach Jason Garrett and hire McCarthy that were specific to 2019 and not the sum of a nine-plus-year run as coach.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons:
No tight wins
The best NFL teams win close games. In 2018, the Cowboys went 9-3 in one-score games on their way to a 10-6 finish to win the NFC East. They went 1-6 in one-score games in 2019.
A good portion of the 2019 roster was a part of the 2018 roster, so why did the struggles happen when it mattered most?
“Hard to put a finger on a specific thing,” Garrett said late in the season. “Probably different things happened in different games. We talk to our team all of the time that essentially two-thirds of games in the NFL are within one score of each other. The teams that are able to play at the end of the year in the playoffs are the ones that win those games.”
Of the six NFC playoff teams, the Seahawks had the most wins (10) in one-score games. The Green Bay Packers went 8-1; the New Orleans Saints went 7-1. The San Francisco 49ers earned the first-round bye in part because of a 5-3 record in one-score games. The Eagles went 5-5 and only the Minnesota Vikings had a losing record (2-4) among the playoff teams in close games.
In a league where the margins for error are small, successful teams have to win in the end. The Cowboys did not do enough at winning time.
Stars let the Cowboys down
For the first time in franchise history, the Cowboys had a 4,000-yard passer (Dak Prescott), 1,000-yard rusher (Ezekiel Elliott) and 1,000-yard receiver (Amari Cooper) in the same season. They actually had two 1,000-yard receivers (Michael Gallup). And, yet, they are sitting at home for the playoffs.
All four players likely have moments they want back.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence received the most guaranteed money and highest average pay-per-year deal in team history when he signed his five-year, $105 million deal, but he had five sacks this season after posting 25 total sacks in 2017 and 2018. His complete game was at a Pro Bowl level, but he was paid to sack the quarterback.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith signed an extension before the season that included $35.5 million in guaranteed money. While he led the Cowboys in tackles, he did not impact the game enough and struggled in coverage at times. Cornerback Byron Jones went through his second full season without an interception.
The Cowboys had three Pro Bowl offensive linemen in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin but each had critical moments they would want back. Cooper was held without a catch in the Week 12 road loss against the New England Patriots and was hardly a factor down the stretch.
Given the structure of the Cowboys’ roster, they need their highest-paid players to perform at a top level. That did not happen enough in 2019.
One reason the Cowboys did not fare well in one-score games had to do with how they opened games.
The Cowboys scored touchdowns on their opening possessions three times out of 16. One touchdown came on a 45-yard drive after the defense forced a rare turnover. The other two TDs came in back-to-back games against the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears. Then, the Cowboys’ defense allowed 26 and 24 unanswered points in key defeats late in the season.
In three other losses, the Cowboys trailed the Packers 31-3, the New York Jets 21-3, and the Vikings 14-0.
The Cowboys were unable to play complementary football. When the offense was halted, the defense could not get stops. When the defense could not get stops, the offense could not score.
“Situationally, we weren’t effective,” Frederick said. “That shows up in the way that the games turned out. When you look at the win margin, in games where things were working, they were really working; in the games that they weren’t, we just weren’t able to pull it out. We need to go back to the drawing board and really reflect on what it was that caused that to happen and really attack that.”
No real rookie production
Without a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft because of the Cooper trade, the Cowboys knew their rookie class would lack sizzle. They didn’t expect it to lack substance.
Second-round pick Trysten Hill was inactive for nine games and was known more for falling asleep in a team meeting as Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas was speaking. Third-round pick Connor McGovern did not play a snap because of a partially torn pectoral muscle that he first suffered in the spring and aggravated again before the season started.
Tony Pollard, the Cowboys’ fourth-round running back, showed some flashes as Elliott’s backup. Fifth-rounder Mike Jackson opened the 2019 season on the practice squad before signing with the Detroit Lions. Defensive end Joe Jackson, their other fifth-rounder, was active for five games. Sixth-round safety Donovan Wilson showed some playmaking ability in the preseason but was not given much of an opportunity in the regular season.
For a team that has drafted well over the past five years, the Cowboys will need a ton more production from the 2020 class.
Joe Burrow says Bengals have No. 1 draft pick but he has ‘leverage’
Potential top overall NFL draft pick Joe Burrow suggested Monday that the upcoming draft process could have more layers than simply being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals, the team with the top pick.
“I do have leverage,” the former LSU quarterback said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, during a reception in Fort Worth in which he accepted the Davey O’Brien Award. “[The Bengals] have their process and I have my process. We haven’t even gotten to the [NFL] combine yet. There’s a lot of things that happen leading up to the draft and a lot of information gathered.”
Burrow, who won the award given to the nation’s top college quarterback, did not appear to elaborate on the specifics regarding those comments.
During various interviews throughout the day with local media in Dallas-Fort Worth, Burrow was repeatedly asked about his thoughts on playing for the Bengals, who have the first pick in the draft after finishing with the NFL’s worst record in 2019.
Burrow, who grew up less than three hours east of Cincinnati, was piqued by the idea of playing in Ohio, where his parents still reside.
“It’s an interesting [thought], you know, going back home to Ohio,” Burrow told KTCK-AM. “It would be a lot of fun. It would.”
During the buildup to next week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis, questions regarding Burrow’s willingness to play for the Bengals has been the topic of media speculation. Burrow’s mother, Robin, told the Star-Telegram on Monday that she was unaware of how that narrative originated.
“We have no idea where that comes from,” Robin Burrow told the Texas newspaper. “It’s a story out there that someone has created that doesn’t have any substance — from our perspective at least.”
However, throughout the day, Joe Burrow did not affirm his commitment to playing for Cincinnati, a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991. In 2004, top pick Eli Manning refused to play for the San Diego Chargers and was eventually traded to the New York Giants, where he won two Super Bowls.
Burrow said being the No. 1 draft pick will be a “dream come true,” but demurred when asked if he wants to go to the city that currently holds the top overall pick.
“I’d like to play football,” Burrow said at a news conference. “So whoever takes me — I’m a ballplayer, I’m gonna play.”
The Bengals will have a chance to meet with Burrow during the combine, which starts on Sunday.
D.J. Humphries to re-sign with Cardinals for 3 years, $45 million
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals have stability at left tackle for the next few years.
They re-signed left tackle D.J. Humphries to a three-year deal worth up to $45 million with $29 million guaranteed. The deal, which was first reported by NFL Network, includes $30 million that will be committed during the first two years, a source confirmed to ESPN.
Humphries, who’s coming off the fifth and final season of his rookie deal, was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2015, going 24th overall.
He didn’t play a snap his rookie season, battling a perception by former coach Bruce Arians, who drafted Humphries, that he was immature an lazy. Humphries has battled injuries throughout his career.
This past season was his first playing all 16 games. He had played double-digit games in just one other — 2016.
Humphries made $9.63 million last year in his option season.
Redskins TE Jordan Reed still in concussion protocol, almost 6 months after hit
Rivera told The Athletic about Reed’s status at a yard sale in Charlotte, North Carolina, to benefit the Humane Society of Charlotte on Saturday. It’s long been expected that Washington would eventually cut Reed, saving $8.5 million on the salary cap. He would count $10.3 million against the cap if he remained. Reed has two years left on his contract.
Reed, 29, missed all of last season because of the concussion, his seventh documented one since he started playing college football. But his career has been marked by multiple injuries; Reed has never played more than 14 games in a season.
Reed had struggled for two seasons because of ligament damage to his big toes, but he looked good in training camp this past summer. But in the third preseason game, Reed suffered a concussion after Atlanta safety Keanu Neal delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit. Reed nearly returned in Week 2, after getting cleared by the team. But after symptoms returned, an independent neurologist did not clear him. Reed did not practice after Sept. 12 and was put on injured reserve on Oct. 14.
The Redskins made Reed the focal point of their passing attack under former coach Jay Gruden. He responded with a big season in 2015 when he played a career-high 14 games. That season, Reed caught 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns — all personal bests.
After that season, the Redskins signed Reed to a five-year extension worth up to $46.75 million and he made his lone Pro Bowl after the 2016 season. But from 2016 to 2018, thanks to injuries, he averaged only 49 catches per season with a combined 10 touchdowns. He has 329 career receptions with 24 touchdowns.
Washington selected Reed in the third round out of Florida in the 2013 draft. He caught 45 passes in nine games as a rookie before injuries ended his season. Reed proved to be a mismatch for linebackers or safeties in particular, especially when aligned in the slot. The Redskins loved his ability to quickly win vs. a defender, making him an ideal target.
The Redskins have a definite need at tight end, with Reed likely out and Vernon Davis having retired. They visited recently with Greg Olsen.
The Redskins already have released two former starters: corner Josh Norman and receiver Paul Richardson. After those moves, the Redskins have approximately $54 million in salary-cap space.
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