Trust the process. There aren't three words you can string together that would make fans of the Dallas Cowboys cringe with such a visible suffering. Heading into Mike McCarthy's inaugural season as head coach in Dallas, all signs pointed to a quick level-up from the team's 8-8 finish and lack of postseason production under Jason Garrett, who departed North Texas with a 2-3 playoff record and zero appearances in the NFC Championship Game. To be fair, though, Garrett had an entire decade to finally deliver on his "process," but never could, and he also never faced the sheer magnitude of issues beating down McCarthy's version of the Cowboys through only seven games in 2020.
Still, there's something about being sermoned on a "process" that rightfully feels uncomfortable in Dallas, especially as they sit at 2-5 on the year and just six weeks removed fromAnd when there's a clear lack of effort on the field at times and players lack the solidarity required to retaliate and defend their quarterback after taking an illegal and outright dirty blow to the head, well, even McCarthy knows nothing changes until attitudes do -- having noted Sunday following the hit on Dalton.
"Well, we need [improvement in both attitude and execution]," he told media on Monday, following a second consecutive embarrassing loss. "As far as which is the priority, I think attitude and style of play is the primary focus because when your style of play is correct, your execution will benefit most from that as opposed to execution without the proper style of play. So I would say attitude and style of play is our primary focus."
With the season nearly halfway done, the team being three games below .500 and currently trying to also repair a fractured locker room, toss in an obliteration of the roster due to injury, and it's not challenging to understand why the energy in Dallas has changed from seeing anything short of a Super Bowl win this season as a failure to "just give us some time to figure this all out."
There's truly no other way to label what many view as a throwaway season due to COVID-19 and all that stemmed from it -- i.e., no April 6 start date for offseason conditioning, no rookie or veteran minicamp, no preseason and a truncated training camp -- which includes the rash of aforementioned injuries headlined by Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith, La'El Collins, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, etc. etc.
So how on earth is McCarthy going to repair this in short order? And especially with the defense continuing to perform at a historically abysmal level since the outset of the season? And with the offense now joining them in that regard, averaging just 6.5 points per game over the last two outings since losing Prescott and? And with anonymous players bashing the coaches?
And and and??
For his part, McCarthy feels it's all about continued evaluation this season, which hints at the Cowboys slowly (if not rapidly) turning their eyes toward a 2021 season that will presumably grant them a traditional offseason to attempt a mulligan at McCarthy's first drive off the tee.
"I think you have to have an evaluation filter in place, which I do," McCarthy said. "The fact you go through your evaluation process -- it starts on the plane ride home last night and throughout the morning and you take it to the players. But as you go through that, as we're getting ready for Philadelphia, we're bringing the things we know we need to work on. Is there something in Wednesday's practice schedule we need to change? Thursday? Meetings today, what's accomplished?
"At the end of the day we have to keep emphasizing the way we need to play, the things we need to do better. No one feels worse than this football team. We understand the disappointment outside of the building. We're clearly worthy of the criticism. Frankly, we've got to make sure we stay on point, stay on target and not react and try to change up a bunch of things just to change.
"That's not my nature. I'm a big believer in the process and that's going to be the approach."
It's quite the tone change from when, when asked this offseason if it was Super Bowl or bust for the Cowboys in 2020.
"We're a work in progress," said McCarthy. "The state of our football team is where we are. We're not where we want to be, clearly, but we'll continue to work. We've had a number of challenges, particularly with different lineup changes.
"Those are the things we're focused on."
If you are, for whatever reason, holding your breath and waiting for the front office to disagree, you're going to die of suffocation.
Team owner Jerry Jones hammered home on Tuesday that the Cowboys "got their man" in McCarthy, and while that doesn't mean there won't be changes beneath him in the coaching staff going forward [read: defensive coaching staff], both Jerry Jones and team exec Stephen Jones agree that the most the Cowboys can likely do in 2020 is push through and glean whatever they can from this scrap heap of a season.
"Coach McCarthy has been through this before," Stephen Jones told 105.3FM the Fan on Monday. "When he stepped in at Green Bay, I think he started 1-4 and got it up to 4-8 and finished strong. They went on and made the playoffs 11 out of 12 times. This is going to be a work in progress."
By now, you're catching what they're throwing at you, even if it does feel like smashed, wet mushrooms.
"Certainly no excuse, but you take injuries that have come especially on the offensive side of the ball," Jones continued. "And we were aggressive in trying to change things up on the defensive side, and the players are still trying to get their hands around on what we're trying to get accomplished on the defensive side in terms of changing a system in times where you didn't get the full offseason. At the end of the day, we've got to go to work.
"There's still a lot of football left this season. I do believe that we've got the right kind of guys, the right type of players on this football team that are continuing to go to work every day. ...I think Coach McCarthy and his staff -- it's going to take time for them to implement what they do and the way they play,"
, as is what Jones said next.
"I think we're going in the right direction."
Maybe (and likely) in the long run, but most certainly not in gut-wrenching 2020.