The Dallas Cowboys were almost a surefire NFL futures bet prior to the 2020 NFL Season. In fact, almost every analyst out there believed the Cowboys were going to take the NFC East and run into the playoffs.
Maybe not as a top seed, but definitely as the division winner in a division where the only legit threat to win it all looked like the Philadelphia Eagles. But here we are, wondering what went wrong with the Cowboys.
In short, we should have seen the fall of the Cowboys coming given four factors I will describe below. Each factor will tell you about the fatal flaws in Dallas and the homework you can do to prevent further heartbreak.
Or at least to help prevent such heartbreak.
New Coaches (Almost) Always Mean Growing Pains
Rarely will a new coach take his team to higher levels within their first couple of seasons. You get the outliers. Mike Tomlin won the Super Bowl in just his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Jim Caldwell earned a Super Bowl appearance in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts.
The common denominator?
The Steelers and Colts were already Super Bowl contenders. The two coaches came in and changed nothing.
Ditto for Barry Switzer, who took over as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 1994. Switzer took a team Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones built, went to the NFC Championship in 1994 and won the franchise’s third Super Bowl in four seasons in 1995.
Went in and changed nothing.
Best coach ever, right?
Often, you see new coaches swoop in and change the team’s entire outlook. Something Mike Tomlin, a 4-3 base defense guy, didn’t do when he took over the Steelers, who historically runs a 3-4 defense. Because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
And the Cowboys weren’t broken. Poor special teams play cost former head coach Jason Garrett his job as an otherwise good football team stumbled to 8-8.
What should we have seen with new coach Mike McCarthy and his new staff?
It’s their way or the highway.
No wonder the team is 3-8 at the time of this writing.
And that’s the common coaching philosophy for most NFL head coaches. It’s why Matt Patricia didn’t last in Detroit. It’s probably why Anthony Lynn and Adam Gase will be out at the end of the season.
But Harbaugh tailored the playbook, and philosophy to fit their skill sets. It’s why Flacco won in Baltimore. It’s why Jackson was the league MVP in 2019.
And it’s why the Cowboys can’t win a game.
Before You Gamble: Study the Coaching Philosophy
If McCarthy was more of a Mike Tomlin or John Harbaugh, the Cowboys are the safest bet in the league to win the NFC East.
If you bet on the Cowboys and are kicking yourself at the moment, you probably looked at the man’s credentials. 13 seasons in Green Bay, a Super Bowl Championship, countless division titles, coached two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. McCarthy may be a fringe Hall of Fame worthy coach with those numbers.
So why did McCarthy succeed in Green Bay and not Dallas?
Or at least not at the moment in Dallas?
Think back to when the Packers hired McCarthy. Brett Favre was coming off his worst season as a pro. The Packers were uncharacteristically in the NFL’s doldrums. They were one of the worst teams in football and weren’t even Super Bowl contenders.
If they made the playoffs, they weren’t serious Super Bowl contenders. Since 2001, the team advanced to the divisional playoffs just twice. With one of those victories being a Pick 6 in overtime.
Okay, so the Cowboys haven’t advanced past the divisional playoffs since 1995. But this team was in a much better position than the 2006 Packers. They had the best total offense in football and a top ten defense.
If Jones kept Garrett and fixed the special teams unit, which handled at least three losses in 2019 and ultimately kept the Cowboys out of the playoffs, we’re not even talking about this right now.
Instead, McCarthy and his staff came in and evoked their own philosophy. He kept starting quarterback Dak Prescott happy by keeping Kellen Moore, his offensive coordinator and allowing him to call the plays. But other than that, McCarthy sought an overhaul when he should have left things alone.
Look at the Cleveland Browns and Kevin Stefanski, who has played to quarterback Baker Mayfield’s strengths by opening up passing lanes with the run. The Browns lean heavily on the run, their team’s strength.
Their 9-3. Yeah, 2020 has been a strange year all around. Even the Browns are 9-3. But that’s beside the point. The point is, Stefanski came in and knew what made the Browns thrive. McCarthy came in and forced his team to bend to his rules.
And if we studied the coaching philosophies, we could have avoided making NFL sports betting mistakes.
One-Dimensional Teams are Risky Sports Bets
And it’s what the Cowboys became when they put new faces on defense and kept an up-tempo offense. Before Prescott’s injury, anyway.
But one-dimensional teams, or teams who lean on a specific unit, are just too risky of bets.
The solid defense that stacked up well with opponents in 2019 has vanished. And if you look at how the Cowboys tried to fill the holes, it was like trying to fix potholes by putting boards over them and calling them fixed.
On paper, the Cowboys became one-dimensional; a team that looked like they needed to rely on offense to get them anywhere. And as mentioned, this almost always leads to risky sports bets because the team’s strength must carry the load and do so well. If not, it only takes a few injuries to get what the Cowboys have become.
Which leads to the last point.
Study the Next Men Up
Always study who the next man is in the lineup. Obviously, you will see a drop off from Dak Prescott to Andy Dalton. And when Dalton went down with a concussion slash COVID, Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert tried and predictably failed to accomplish the rescue mission.
Other teams, the next man up, will keep them on the winning path. The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost two starters to torn ACLs in Devin Bush and Bud Dupree. Bush’s replacement, Robert Spillane, has been solid but unspectacular. But good enough to avoid a drop off at the position.
The same will probably go for Dupree’s replacement.
But even if you look at the 2019 team in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down and Mason Rudolph played most of the games, the Steelers never fell out of contention and rumbled to an 8-5 start before losing momentum.
Sure, Rudolph’s presence and the subsequent presence of Duck Hodges probably cost the team the playoffs, the division, and even the over/under. But, the Steelers at least found themselves in position.
The Cowboys haven’t done that because of the intense drop off in talent and production from Prescott to Dalton, as well as the offensive line which has seen its fair share of injuries.
Injuries will hurt a team without a doubt. They will never perform to the same standard. But one reason teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots can get around these injuries is because their next men up can at least fit the system. They’ve had reps in similar systems.
It’s why New England is 6-6 as I write this, coming off a 45-0 thrashing of the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s why Pittsburgh could contend last season. The Philadelphia Eagles found themselves hit by the injury bug in 2019. They won the NFC East.
So look at the next men up for your NFL betting system. If they can play or if they fit the system, injuries won’t be catastrophic.
The Dallas Cowboys have taught that the best football teams could falter if they hire the wrong coach or if they play in the wrong system. However, it goes far beyond just coaching philosophy. See if the team looks as if they are heading toward a one-dimensional outlook. And always check the team’s depth chart.
There is never a surefire betting strategy, but the Cowboys showed us that just because a team looks good on paper never means they will give you a solid return on your bet.
What are your thoughts about the 2020 Dallas Cowboys? Did you bet on them? Why or why not?