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5 Qs and 5 As with Blogging the Boys: On Mike McCarthy, Let Dak Cook, and more

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Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The last time the Seattle Seahawks played the Dallas Cowboys, the Cowboys knocked Seattle out of the playoffs in a game that essentially spawned the “Let Russ Cook” movement among Seahawks Twitter These two teams meet again this weekend, this time behind closed doors at CenturyLink Field in Week 3 of the 2020 NFL season. The Seahawks are 2-0 and letting Russ cook, while the Cowboys are 1-1 after an incredible comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons.

To help preview this matchup, we’re doing the traditional “5 Questions and 5 Answers” segment with Blogging the Boys Managing Editor Dave Halprin. Want to learn more about the Cowboys defense, their banged up offensive line, and even the idea of letting Dak Prescott cook? Here you go!

Q1.) Much like the Seahawks, the Cowboys defense has been a bit underwhelming through two games and they’ve also been heavily affected by injuries, especially at the linebacker position. The injuries aside, what have been the main problems on the defensive side of the ball to start the season?

There is an overall theme that is running through the defense and that is a new scheme brought in by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. The Cowboys ran a very simple scheme for years under Rod Marinelli, and for a couple of years with help from your old friend Kris Richard, and there was absolutely nothing complicated about that scheme. Players lined up in the same place play after play, game after game, there was very little disguise and they played only a few coverages on the back end.

Nolan’s scheme is much more complicated and so far it’s leading to breakdowns in both the pass rush and in the secondary. The pass rush hasn’t been strong and head coach Mike McCarthy has talked about lane discipline and gap integrity. The defensive ends have been asked to spend time in two-point stances in faux 3-4 looks, and DeMarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen haven’t mastered the technique yet. Griffen just spoke about spending more time in the three-point stance to get his power back. In the secondary, there have been quite a few blown coverages that have led to easy touchdowns, and they have been giving up the underneath, quick passing game far too easily. It just feels like the players have not settled into the new defensive scheme yet.

Q2.) Mike McCarthy has been very aggressive with his decision making.He went for it on 4th and short against the Rams when a field goal would’ve tied the game, he dialed up two fake punts against theFalcons, and went for 2 down by 9 vs. Atlanta instead of having the 2PC be tried later. Not one of these plays proved successful, but doyou support the general idea of McCarthy’s approach?

After years of Jason Garrett making conservative decision after conservative decision, having a coach that isn’t afraid of bucking the conventional wisdom and doing some out-of-the-box thinking feels somewhat freeing.

I don’t necessarily agree with every one of the decisions that McCarthy has made so far, but the fact that he is trying to be aggressive needs to be applauded. At some point, he’ll find a happy medium where trying a fake punt run on a 4th-and-5 is not the way to go. If you’re going to go for it on 4th-and-5 in your own territory after already doing one fake punt, you might just want to leave your offense on the field. I do think that NFL teams punt way too often on fourth down, but I would prefer in almost all cases to go for it with the offense instead of a fake punt.

As for the other decisions, I don’t hate that they made those decisions, but I wasn’t a fan of some of the play-calling they used once they decided to be aggressive. Overall though, I would rather have a coach that is too aggressive than too conservative.

Q3.) The Cowboys offensive line is usually one of the strongest units on the team, but with Travis Frederick retired and both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins struggling to stay healthy, it’s a much different looking group for at least the early part of this season. Has this makeshift line performed below, at, or above expectations?

Let’s thread the needle and say that they have performed above expectations given all the issues you laid out with the injuries/retirement. but they still are not performing anywhere near their previous levels and the line is not one of the best in the league at this point.

The Cowboys had to start two UDFA offensive tackles last week against the Falcons (and it could be the case again this week), but the results were not as bad as expected. Dak Prescott was only sacked once and hit four times, although he did face a generous amount of pressure at times and had to unload the ball quickly on occasion. Still, as the game wore on, the two tackles got better and better, and by the end of the game they were doing a serviceable job. The Cowboys line is no longer among the best in the league until a healthy Tyron Smith and La’el Collins are back on the field together, but it’s holding its own and providing enough stability that the Cowboys can still be competitive in games.

Q4.) Dak Prescott was phenomenal against the Falcons and won NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after his 450-yard, 4 touchdown (3 rush) display. We have been clamoring for “Let Russ Cook” to materialize and so far that’s what has happened. Is there a sense that under McCarthy there will be that push to “Let Dak Cook” and make it undoubtedly clear that he should be the focal point of the offense and not Ezekiel Elliott?

This is a complicated situation and one that has many different views from the Cowboys media and fanbase. One issue that clouds the answer is the fact that Kellen Moore is calling the offensive plays and no one knows the inner-workings of his game plan sessions or game day relationship with McCarthy. In other words, how much is the play-calling solely on Moore, or how much is it a collaboration with McCarthy. So figuring out how much things will change with McCarthy here is tough to do. In my own personal opinion, the Cowboys should absolutely let Dak cook and quit trying to establish a run game and run the ball so much on first downs before they are forced to play catch up.

When the Cowboys run an uptempo offense and put the ball in Dak’s hands, they are so much better as an offense. Why they don’t do that regularly is still a mystery to me. This team is still trying to figure out its identity, and not having a regular offseason to incorporate all of McCarthy’s input is adding to the identity problem.I guess we’ll have to wait until six games in or so to get a real feel for which direction they are going.

Q5.) The NFC East looks like it’ll be another wreck of a division.Philadelphia is dead last in DVOA and this year they may finally run out of miracles. Washington has a terrifying defensive front but a very mediocre offense. The Giants are terrible and I’m almost certain their head coach is just Greg Schiano 2.0. Would it be considered a massive failure if this Dallas team fails to win the NFC East this year?

You would think it would be considered a massive failure, but given how uneven the Cowboys have been recently, I don’t think anyone is confident enough to just pencil Dallas in as NFC East champs.

The Cowboys have so much talent on the team, but for whatever reason (or maybe it will be proven it was Jason Garrett) the sum is definitely less than the parts. The Cowboys have not earned the respect of being considered a lock for the division, or even overwhelming favorites.When you look at it rationally, given how you laid it out, it would make all the sense in the world to think the Cowboys totally failed if they didn’t win the division. But watching this team for the last decode or so, nothing can be taken for granted or expected. They have the ability to underperform at any moment.

Be sure to check out Alistair Corp’s answers to Dave’s questions over at Blogging the Boys when that post is up. Thanks again to Dave for his answers!