McCarthy little by little recovers his boys and now it is a matter of synchronizing and oiling the machine, just in December, a key moment
FRISCO, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys needed a break.
After playing their third game in 12 days last Thursday, they were excited after a 27-17 win against the New Orleans Saints. They were a team without their head coach due to COVID-19. Five other coaches, including offensive line coach Joe Philbin and assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko, and two players (Terence Steele and Nahshon Wright) also missed the game. They had lost the first two games down the stretch and their legitimacy in the NFC was questioned after a 6-1 start.
The win against the Saints may not fully answer all questions, but over the next five weeks the Cowboys (8-4) will have a chance to write their own finale for the 2021 season.
But first they will rest.
“I definitely see it as a little break,” quarterback Dak Prescott said of the 10 days before playing the Washington Football Team (6-6) on Sunday (1 pm ET, Fox). “Yes, we need some players to get completely healthy again and get the reps and practice they need before the next game. It’s great to have a win and push this last leg of games in the right way. “
The Cowboys will play four games in the NFC East in the past five weeks. The other matchup is against the NFC-leading Arizona Cardinals (10-2) at AT&T Stadium. If they clinch a win against Washington on Sunday, then they will have almost clinched a division title with a 9-4 record and an undefeated (3-0) record in the East.
There are bigger goals.
“The Super Bowl, the playoffs. We only have five games left. There’s more to do in those five games, “said rookie linebacker Micah Parsons. “It is not time for me to sit on the couch smiling and eating Cheetos. We’re trying to do something much bigger than everyone else thought we could do this year, so that’s what I’m focused on. “
The Cowboys are also close to having their full potential.
The break will give Ezekiel Elliott some time to rest his right knee. Lots of other players dealing with some kind of injury, so time off will do the trick.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence played 37 plays against the Saints in his first game since the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to a broken foot. Wide receiver Amari Cooper returned after an absence due to COVID-19.
Defensive end Randy Gregory (calf) and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore (elbow) are expected to return to face Washington after missing four and 12 games, respectively. Terence Steele, who was in 10 of 12 tackle games, should return from the reserve / COVID-19 list.
“You have to go out there and do a lot of reps. When they come back, you still have to have the reps because it’s a coordinated game,” warned owner and general manager Jerry Jones. “We are all coordinated with each other. We saw that we had a couple of guys who helped us along the way. [vs. Nueva Orleans]. We will receive Gregory next week. We will receive Gallimore next week. But that alone won’t do it. They have to go out and work and work together. That’s why teams work to be good enough to make the playoffs. We will have that. We have games ahead of us for these guys who are important to us. “
Wide receivers Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup have played just three games together this season. The Cowboys’ first scoring drive against New Orleans showed just how important their team presence is. Cooper racked up 41 yards on seven Prescott passes. A play later, Lamb gained 33 yards, followed by a 1-yard touchdown pass to Gallup.
“I have to do a better job of getting them involved,” Prescott said. “When those three get involved like that, that’s what happens.”
Time spent on homework is not something all three of them have had. They have started and finished the same game just twice this year after Gallup suffered a calf strain in Game 1. Cooper missed two due to COVID-19, and Lamb missed a game and a half during the same period due to a concussion.
It’s kind of an issue throughout the squad and coaching staff.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn served as head coach against New Orleans with McCarthy out. Tight ends coach Lunda Wells worked the offensive line with Philbin and Blasko out. Offensive assistant Chase Haslett worked with the tight ends. Consultant Ben McAdoo and VP of Player Personnel Will McClay took on roles on the field against the Saints.
McCarthy hopes to be back in his office earlier this week.
The offensive line has been mixed due to COVID-19 (Steele), suspension (La’el Collins), injury (Tyron Smith) and penalty (Connor Williams). That has played a role in the downfall in the running game for the past six weeks, as has Elliott’s knee injury.
The defensive line has also had to combine due to injuries (Lawrence, Gregory) and suspension (Trysten Hill).
“I’m really focused on the transition of getting these guys back and connecting it all, and because there are certain parts of our game right now that we are not in sync the way we would like to be,” agreed McCarthy. “And that could be a good thing because it shows you how much growth we still have ahead of us. So it’s great to get all these guys back. This needs everyone, it has always been like this. It is what we have preached since April ”.
It’s December. Five games left. The Cowboys have rest. Now it becomes real.
“It comes down to what you can do in December because obviously that’s the launch pad that I think you have to come off of to be a playoff team and excel in the playoffs,” McCarthy reflected. “I love all moments of adversity. Not only does it tell you a lot about your gear, it gives you experiences that you really can’t create in practice and training environments. So it happens every year. It’s not like you can help it. So the fact that you accept it and get over it is exactly what our team did and has done. I think it definitely gives us a chance to get stronger and more experienced as we move into December. “