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June 26, 2023

10 reasons the Cowboys will be a dumpster fire this season

From antiquated coaching to a serious lack of depth and questions about Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have the ingredients for disaster in 2023.

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030323MikeMcCarthy Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

We don't want to score a lot of points, can't you understand that? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!

This week, all week long, we're taking a negative look at each of the teams in the NFC East, in detail. Batting leadoff, as always, will be the Dallas Cowboys.

To note, we will not be talking about the positives of any of the Eagles' NFC East rivals, because, well, that's no fun. This will be 100 percent vitriolic. And yes, we'll get to the Eagles as well at the end of the series.

1) The Cowboys have become a loser organization 👎

The Cowboys haven't been to the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season. More accurately, it has been 10,025 days (h/t Mike Leslie) since their last appearance. Here's the rest of the "10,000-Day Conference Championship Drought Club."

Team Days without a Conference Championship appearance 
Browns 12,216 
Lions, Commanders 11,488 
Dolphins 11,117 
Cowboys 10,025 

Here's how many times each team has made a Conference Championship Game appearance since the Cowboys were last there:

Team Conference Championship Game appearances 
Patriots 14 
Eagles, 49ers, Steelers 
Broncos, Chiefs 
Rams, Vikings, Panthers, Falcons, Ravens, Colts 
Saints, Seahawks, Giants, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Jets, Titans 
Cardinals, Bears, Raiders, Bengals 
Chargers, Bills 
Cowboys, Commanders, Lions, Browns, Dolphins, Texans 0 

Unlike the Commanders, Lions, Browns, Dolphins, and Texans, the Cowboys have had a lot of chances to get there, but they have seven consecutive losses in the divisional round of the playoffs. They have also lost five times in the wildcard round during their NFCCG drought. In terms of entertainment value, those playoff losses rarely disappoint. 

In the NFC Divisional Round this past season, in what was shaping up to be just a normal, respectable loss, Mike McCarthy was like, "Nope, Ima make this memorable."

I wonder how much time they wasted in practice repping that play.

That game now makes my official "Cowboys playoff ending power rankings" (from the last 25 years):

1) The Tony Romo fumbled snap: Iconic. The 🐐 of Cowboys playoff failures.

2) Dez didn't catch it: In 2023 this is a catch. By rule, it pretty clearly was not a catch in 2014.

3) The Cowboys run out of time: McCarthy called an asinine play that required the Cowboys and the officiating crew to work together to spot and snap the ball with time ticking down. The Cowboys spotted the ball themselves three yards past where Dak Prescott began his slide, the umpire actually did them a favor by only moving it back a foot or so, and the clock expired before Dallas got the snap off. Mike McCarthy then blamed the officials for not spotting it fast enough, and even said the play call "was the right decision," lol.

4) 1 seed one-and-done: The Cowboys got a first-round bye in 2016 and appeared primed for a potential Super Bowl run, but late in the game against the Packers, Aaron Rodgers hit Jared Cook for a chunk play that put the Packers in field goal range, and Mason Crosby took over from there. I always marvel at how this kick initially looks like it's going to go wide left, but miraculously corrects itself and finds its way through the uprights. You can actually see the very short-lived glimmer of hope in the fans' faces in the background when they think for a split second that this kick was going to miss.

5) Zeke plays center, gets wrecked: As shown above.

Honestly, "Cowboys Playoff Loss Day" should be a national holiday. Their playoff games should always be scheduled on Sunday, and if they lose nobody has to go to work the next day.

2) Mike McCarthy is still the head coach 🤥

When McCarthy was originally hired as the Cowboys' head coach, much was made of his season away from the NFL and the work he put in to analyze the latest NFL and college trends. 

Jerry Jones bought in to the work McCarthy claimed to have put in during his interview process, and he was hired. McCarthy later admitted that he had lied during his interviews with Jones about the extent to which he had analyzed the Cowboys, lol.

Over the last three seasons, McCarthy has looked nothing like some sort of analytics guru, and yet, he was somehow able to convince Jones that former offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was the problem, and not himself. Moore got canned (he almost immediately found another coordinator job), and McCarthy will call plays in 2023. He intends on calling games differently than Moore, via Jori Epstein of Yahoo


“I’ve been where Kellen has been,” McCarthy said. “Kellen wants to light the scoreboard up. But I want to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense. Think when you're a coordinator, you know but you’re in charge of the offense. Being a head coach and being a play-caller, you’re a little more in tune.

“I don't desire to be the No. 1 offense in the league. I want to be the No. 1 team in the league with the number of wins and the championship. And if we gotta give up some production and take care of the ball better to get that, then that’s what we’ll do...

“It's fun as hell to call [pass-heavy] plays, but that's not the best thing for your team,” McCarthy said. “Time of possession goes to hell, risk for turnover goes up.

“So we’ve got to get the ball security. We got to secure it better. We need to be a top-five team and that's a skill.”

As Mina Kimes pointed out, the Cowboys' offense stayed on the field more effectively when they passed on first down last season than when they ran.

But also, the idea that the defense will get more rest if the offense runs the ball is illogical. Let's say McCarthy's offense goes three-and-out with three runs while using up the entirety of the play clock. He'll burn around two minutes off the game clock before punting it away, and his defense will get two minutes of rest, plus commercial breaks. If he goes three-and-out on three consecutive incomplete passes while still using up the entirety of the play clock, the defense will get... again... two minutes of rest, plus commercial breaks. 

The only difference is that he'll burn 20-25 seconds of game clock with three incomplete passes vs. two minutes with three ineffective runs. Which... who cares? The defense will get the same amount of rest in real-time. How is it possible for an NFL head coach — much less an analytical wizard such as McCarthy — to seemingly not understand that?

3) They hired Brian Schottenheimer to be the OC, lol 🤣

I've seen some Cowboys observers wonder if McCarthy actually believed what he said about wanting "to run the damn ball," and, uh, I'd say that his hiring of Schottenheimer, the posterchild for antiquated offenses, is a pretty good indication that he meant it.

In 12 seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator, Schottenheimer's offenses finished in the top half of the league in passing attempts just once, way back in 2008 with the Jets (they finished 13th). A look at Schottenheimer's coaching history since he initially landed the Jets' OC job.

Jets offensive coordinator (2006-2011): The Jets had some really good teams during this span, mostly on defense, but the offense always held them back from something bigger.

Rams offensive coordinator (2012-2014): The Rams never had a winning season during Schottenheimer's tenure in St. Louis, and his offenses never cracked the top 20 in yards or points.

University of Georgia offensive coordinator (2015): Georgia's points per game the last 10 seasons (Schottenheimer season bolded in red):

Season Georgia points per game 
2022 41.6 
2021 37.4 
2020 32.3 
2019 28.3 
2018 37.3 
2017 35.8 
2016 24.4 
2015 24.5 
2014 40.2 
2013 36.0 

Colts quarterbacks coach (2016-2017): The Colts went 8-8 with Andrew Luck still at QB in 2016, and 4-12 under Jacoby Brissett in 2017.

Seahawks offensive coordinator (2018-2020): The Seahawks had productive offenses under a prime Russell Wilson, but they only won one playoff game during this span and Schottenheimer was fired after Seattle sputtered offensively down the stretch in 2020.

Jaguars passing game coordinator (2021): The Jags finished 30th in passing DVOA.

Cowboys coaching analyst (2022): The Cowboys were 15th in offensive DVOA in 2022, down from 6th in 2021.

Could the Cowboys have possibly made a less inspired hire?

4) Who exactly is getting the workload for this promised run-heavy offense? 👷

Tony Pollard has been a better player than Ezekiel Elliott for years, and will finally get a chance to be the lead back in Dallas. However, he has never had a truly heavy workload in his college or NFL careers:

Tony Pollard Touches Touches per game 
2016 (Memphis) 60 4.6 
2017 (Memphis) 66 5.1 
2018 (Memphis) 117 8.4 
2019 (Dallas) 101 6.7 
2020 (Dallas) 129 8.1 
2021 (Dallas) 175 10.9 
2022 (Dallas) 258 14.3 

In Pollard's heaviest workload season in 2022, he broke his leg.

The Cowboys' backup running backs? Malik Davis, Deuce Vaughn, Ronald Jones, and Rico Dowdle. 😬

5) Are we sure Dak Prescott is good? 👴

To begin, Dak Prescott seems like a good guy, and OH HEY(!), it's his 30th birthday this week! 🥳🎉🎈🪅


Unfortunately, Prescott tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with 15 in 2022 despite missing five games. He added two more in Dallas' playoff loss to the 49ers. Wanna see all 17 INTs? Of course you do! (Just click to watch on YouTube because the NFL's online media policy is still dumb.)

Look at any NFL quarterback ranking and Prescott is unanimously in the top 10. Some have him as the best quarterback in the NFC, lol.

It's not hard to see why Prescott had a down year in 2022. For almost the entirety of his six-year career heading into 2022, he always had stacked offenses, with one of the best offensive lines in the league, great receivers, and up until a few years ago a great running back. In his seventh year, his offensive line and his receivers weren't as good, and the Cowboys' success (or lack thereof) on offense was more on Prescott's shoulders than ever before. He faltered.

At the age of 30, while Prescott may very well have better seasons going forward than he did with this past one (I mean, he better), skill-wise we're past the point where there's some untapped Dak ceiling. 

Realistically, Prescott's skills have already begun to fade. For example, he is no longer much of a threat as a runner. Since 2020, Prescott has just 421 rushing yards and 5 rushing TDs. For the sake of comparison, there was a six-game span in 2022 (Weeks 10-15) in which Jalen Hurts had 421 rushing yards and 7 TDs. Justin Fields had a four-game span (Weeks 8-11) during which he had 470 rushing yards and 5 TDs. In fact, there are 24 (!) quarterbacks who have more rushing yards per game (minimum 10 games played) than Prescott since 2020:

  1. Lamar Jackson: 65.0
  2. Justin Fields: 57.9
  3. Jalen Hurts: 42.2
  4. Kyler Murray: 40.5
  5. Josh Allen: 39.7
  6. Cam Newton: 35.7
  7. Daniel Jones: 34.9
  8. Tyler Huntley: 30.3
  9. Taysom Hill: 29.7
  10. Deshaun Watson: 28.1
  11. Marcus Mariota: 25.5
  12. Russell Wilson: 21.6
  13. Patrick Mahomes: 21.4
  14. Tyrod Taylor: 20.7
  15. Geno Smith: 18.5
  16. Trevor Lawrence: 18.4
  17. Kenny Pickett: 18.2
  18. Sam Darnold: 18.2
  19. Taylor Heinicke: 16.6
  20. Carson Wentz: 15.6
  21. Ryan Fitzpatrick: 15.3
  22. Ryan Tannehill: 14.1
  23. Justin Herbert: 13.9
  24. Zach Wilson: 13.0
  25. Dak Prescott: 12.8

If your rebuttal is, "Well, he was coming off a serious leg injury in 2021, which skews the numbers," it should be noted that in 2022 — two years removed from his injury — Prescott only averaged 15.2 rushing yards per game, which still makes him less of a running threat than guys like Sam Darnold, Taylor Heinicke, and Ryan Fitzpatrick's old ass just before he retired.

So, you know, he led the NFL in interceptions and he doesn't run anymore. Remind me again why exactly is he unanimously considered a top-10 quarterback?

6) The offensive line is a huge concern 😬

The Cowboys' offensive line has some potential to be a disaster in 2023, and it's a difficult puzzle to piece together. Let's first lay out the starting five:

Tyron Smith Tyler Smith Tyler Biadasz Zack Martin Terence Steele 

On paper, that group looks fine. However, there's just no way to count on that starting five staying healthy. We'll come back to that momentarily, but first let's look at their OL depth, which is extremely inexperienced.

Player Career offensive snaps 
Chuma Edoga 810 
Matt Farniok 213 
Josh Ball 41 
Matt Waletzko 
Brock Hoffman 
Asim Richards (fifth-round rookie) 
Handful of UDFAs, past and present 

The Bucs and Bengals had their way with Farniok in his two starts early in the season last year, and Ball didn't look ready when he filled in for Terence Steele against the Texans. Edoga is a career backup on his third team in three seasons. The other guys have no experience in real games.

Getting back to the starters, on the interior, the Cowboys have C Tyler Biadasz, who is just a guy, and Zack Martin, a long-time star player at RG who was less dominant in 2022 than he has been over the rest of his career. At LG, it's second-year player Tyler Smith, for now, until his almost certain move out to OT at some point.

At OT, the Cowboys are relying on two players with major injury concerns. At RT there's Steele, who suffered a pretty devastating injury in December, and "might not be ready for the start of training camp."

If you tear three ligaments in your knee, you're going to have stability issues. Spoiler: That dude ain't gonna be lining up at RT to start camp seven months after suffering that injury. It's also probably a pretty safe assumption he won't be out there Week 1.

At LT, there's Tyron Smith, who is a near-lock to miss some number of games every year at this point in his career. Through his first five seasons, Smith only missed one game. Over his last seven seasons, Smith has missed 45 games. He missed 13 games in 2022, six games in 2021, 14 games in 2020, and three games every season from 2016-2019. Let's go ahead and update his seven-year injury history (as we did a year ago, in case this looks familiar), via

Date Injury Time missed 
9/23/16 Back Vertebral Disc Bulge Hurt in practice, Smith missed 2 games. 
12/26/16 Knee MCL Sprain Grade 2 Smith missed Week 17 but returned for the Divisional Round on January 15. 
11/5/17 Inguinal Groin Strain Grade 2 Smith missed the final 6 snaps of Week 9 -- plus the next 2 games. 
12/17/17 Knee Patella Sprain Smith sprained his knee and missed 1 quarter. 
12/24/17 Knee Patella Sprain Smith re-injured his right knee and was placed on IR. 
10/4/18 Back Lower Lumbar Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1 Smith's injury was described as back "tightness." He battled through back pain going forward but never missed a game because of it. 
11/18/18 Cervical Neck Smith missed 2 games with a neck injury. 
9/29/19 Ankle Sprain Smith sprained his ankle against the Saints, and missed the next two games. 
9/18/20 Cervical Neck Smith suffered a neck injury during individual drills ahead of Week 2 game against the Falcons. He was inactive for two games 
10/8/20 Cervical Neck Fracture Smith suffered a setback with his neck injury ahead of Week 5 game. He was placed on IR ending his 2020 season. 
8/2/21 Arm Elbow Infection Smith was limited at practice in training camp due to elbow tendinitis. 
10/17/21 Pedal Ankle Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1 Smith suffered an ankle injury during Week 6's game against the Patriots. He managed to finish the game. 
10/31/21 Pedal Ankle Sprain Grade 2 Smith suffered an ankle bone spur during Week 8's game against the Vikings. He missed three games.
12/12/21 Pedal Ankle Sprain Grade 2 Smith aggravated an ankle injury in Week 14's game against Washington. He missed two games.
8/24/22 Knee - Avulsion fracture Smith suffered an avulsion fracture in his knee during a training camp practice. He missed 13 games. 

So to recap, that's his back, neck, elbow, knee, groin, ankle, and God only knows what else never got reported. 


If Steele isn't ready for the start of the regular season — or if his injury isn't allowing him to move laterally like he will need to on the edge — then Tyron Smith will probably be the first choice to move over to RT, with Tyler Smith moving to LT. It should be noted that when Tyron Smith played some RT in 2022, he struggled. Meanwhile, Tyler Smith was a hold machine at LT as a rookie in 2022, leading the NFL with 10 of them, and he should have had way more but there were games in which blatant holding was just legal for him, apparently.

And of course, if when one of the OTs go down and Tyler Smith kicks out to LT, the resulting hole at LG will have to be filled by one of the tomato can reserves noted above. If two guys go down (which again, super likely)... well, you get the idea.

7) Kicker! 🙅‍♂️

Brett Maher had a great 2022 regular season for the Cowboys, and then he just completely lost the ability to make PATs at the end of the season, which provided some crazy theater during the playoffs.

It began in the Cowboys' Week 18 game against the Commanders, when Maher missed his lone PAT attempt. The following week in the wildcard round in Tampa, Maher then missed four straight PATs. He made his fifth PAT in that game, and then missed his lone PAT attempt in the divisional round against the 49ers. Wanna watch all those misses? Sure you do!

I can remember feeling bad for the guy while he was going through all that, knowing full well he was going to lose his job as a result, which he ultimately did. The only kicker currently on the Cowboys' roster is Tristan Vizcaino. I searched him on Wikipedia to see the history of the teams he has been on, and holy crap!

• Cincinnati Bengals (2019)*
• Dallas Cowboys (2020)*
• Cincinnati Bengals (2020)*
• Minnesota Vikings (2020)*
• San Francisco 49ers (2020)
• Buffalo Bills (2020)*
• Los Angeles Chargers (2021)
• New England Patriots (2022)*
• Arizona Cardinals (2022)
• New England Patriots (2022)*
• Dallas Cowboys (2022–present)*
* Offseason and/or practice squad member only

Vizcaino is 11 of 12 in his small sample size in the NFL, and 15 of 20 on PATs. In college at Washington, he was 12 of 20 on field goals, and 49 of 52 on PATs.

There are still some old veterans available, like Robbie Gould (41 in December), Mason Crosby (39 in September), and Ryan Succop (37 in September), none of whom are long-distance guys at this stage of their respective careers. Mike McCarthy has also said that they'll look at USFL and XFL kickers.

In a league where most teams have kickers that are nearly automatic, you don't want to be one of the two or three teams that doesn't. Ask Chargers fans what that's like. The Cowboys are decent candidates to be that team in 2023. 

8) The backup QB 

One of the amazing things that happened during the 2022 season was when the Cowboys won four straight games with Cooper Rush at quarterback after Prescott fractured his thumb Week 1. Rush didn't exactly look good during that stretch, but he didn't turn the ball over, the Cowboys' defense played its ass off, and they won four games.

Actually, I shouldn't really say that he didn't turn the ball over. He did, twice, against the Commanders.

Those interceptions on legitimately bad decisions/throws just didn't count because of Commanders penalties that had nothing to do with the bad throws. In the next game against the Rams, Rush and the Cowboys' offense had 76 net passing yards.

If you actually watched those games and were honest about what you saw, it was pretty easy to identify that Rush didn't exactly look all that good. Still, predictably, troglodytes lined up to opine that Rush should be the starting quarterback instead of Prescott whenever Prescott was healthy enough to return from his injury.

And then Week 6 happened against the Eagles.




Because of his 4-1 record in 2022, Rush is now thought of by most Cowboys fans as a good backup.

I mean, this is a guy the Cowboys didn't even think enough of to have on their 53-man roster when Prescott got hurt. He was a freaking practice squad call-up in Week 1. And this offseason, despite that 4-1 record, he signed a two-year deal worth $5 million, which is like Brian Hoyer territory. Rush is not a good No. 2, and if the last three seasons are any indication (Prescott has missed 16 games during that span), the Cowboys are going to have to play him at some point.

9) Check those expectations for rookie DT Mazi Smith 

The Cowboys' interior defensive line big boys stunk last season, and it was a clear need heading into the draft. As a result, they probably reached a bit for Smith in the first round, but whatever, he's 6'3, 323 pounds, and he has some obvious speed and power traits. He could very well develop into a really good interior lineman in the NFL.

It feels a lot like there's a notion that the Cowboys can plug him right in, brush their hands, and go, "Fixed!" But that's probably not how it will go. When we think of positions that take a while for young players to become impact players, we think quarterback, or maybe offensive tackle, but one that flies under the radar in that regard is iDL.

In the last 10 drafts (not including 2023), there have been 23 interior defensive tackles selected in the first round. Here were their tackle and sack numbers in their rookie seasons:

Player Tackles Sacks 
 Jordan Davis18 
Devonte Wyatt 15 1.5 
Derrick Brown 34 
Javon Kinlaw 33 1.5 
Quinnen Williams 28 2.5 
Ed Oliver 43 
Christian Wilkins 56 
Dexter Lawrence 38 2.5 
Jeffery Simmons 32 
Jerry Tillery 17 
Taven Bryan 20 
Sheldon Rankins 20 
Kenny Clark 21 
Robert Nkemdiche 
Vernon Butler 13 1.5 
Danny Shelton 36 
Malcom Brown 48 
Aaron Donald 48 
Dominique Easley 10 
Sheldon Richardson 78 3.5 
Star Lotulelei 42 
Sharrif Floyd 19 2.5 
Sylvester Williams19

A small handful of examples aside, there's not a lot of impressive production there.

The Cowboys no doubt felt like they had to draft Smith to help slow down the Eagles' and 49ers' rushing attacks, which I can understand, but it's probably going to take a year or two for him to get his NFL sea legs.

10) Same team, new season 🔁

The Cowboys always have some star players. 15 years ago their stars were Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, and DeMarcus Ware. Eight or so seasons ago they were Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, and DeMarco Murray. These days you could go with Micah Parsons, CeeDee Lamb, and Zack Martin. It's never hard to look at the Cowboys' roster and find a handful of great players, and it's why year after year they're hyped up as some sort of Super Bowl contender.

But the same issue plagues them every single season. They never have good depth. This year is no different:

• We already mentioned the lack of depth at quarterback, running back, and the offensive line in detail above.

• The tight ends (starters or otherwise) are a potential weak spot.

• The starting linebackers have serious injury histories, and the backups have little experience.

• The starting trio of corners is good, but all the guys behind them are on the roster bubble. There isn't a lock among them.

The Cowboys haven't failed to reach the Conference Championship Game in 12 consecutive playoff appearances because of "lol choke jobs." OK, maybe a little bit, but the real reason is because they're never built for the postseason. Playoff teams are able to attack weaknesses, and the Cowboys always have their share of them in January, whether it's because of injuries or positional neglect. They never learn.

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