Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys find themselves at a critical juncture.
Rather than dance around the topic, instead of groping for the ideal euphemism or polite prose that provides cover for a declarative statement, let’s put it out there.
McCarthy’s initial season with the franchise will be defined by what happens in the next two weeks. The head coach’s credibility and the team’s competitive viability are at stake.
Win back-to-back division games on the road and the panic abates. Beat Washington and Philadelphia and the mudslide stops. Order is restored to the NFC East.
Split those games and confidence, already low, spins in place. Long-range prospects are murky.
Lose both and flashbacks to 2015 are unavoidable. Nothing will stand between the Cowboys and their descent to 4-12 or 5-11.
Anonymous quotes will continue to seep out of the locker room by players questioning the coaching staff’s competence to diffuse criticism of their own culpability.
"When you hit a part of your season or any challenge where there is negativity out there, and where it comes from and who it comes from, that’s something I’ve never chased,'' McCarthy said Tuesday evening in response to a specific question about a report by NFL Network. "But I think you do have to recognize it.
"I just really go back to my first meeting with the football team. I’ve always stated this to every team I’ve coached. I think it’s important to handle things as men. I mean, if you do have something to say publicly, I think it’s important to say to the individual, particularly in a group dynamic setting, especially in the game of football, especially the Dallas Cowboys.
"That’s all part of the development of our program, of the system we’re installing here.''
Make no mistake. All parties, players and coaches, are responsible for this current mess. The security blanket that is the division, the idea that Dallas is fortunate to be the best of a bad lot, will disappear if the team doesn’t right itself in these next two games.
"It’s hard to feel fortunate as a football team when the fortune is in winning and we’re not doing that,'' receiver Amari Cooper said.
Yes, the Cowboys lead the division at 2-4. The next two teams they face are a combined 2-9-1.
But sitting atop this division is like being acknowledged as having the best Nordic combined program in North Texas.
"The beauty of the thing is, our division isn’t doing that well this year,'' said Ezekiel Elliott, who needs to concentrate more on ball security than the standings. "We still got a shot at it. But we gotta figure it out.''
The current record is confined to the first six weeks of the season. The issues extend back further.
Dallas has lost 12 of 19 games since it opened last season with three consecutive victories. The team has won back-to-back games just once in the last 13 months.
This group was in decline before McCarthy and his staff took over for Jason Garrett. The start has been an extension of last season, not the revival the Jones family hoped.
Blame for the team’s current plight isn’t restricted to injuries. Flawed performances and poor coaching play a role. But for the moment let’s focus on a defense that has allowed more points (218) through six games than any other group in 59 years.
Specifically run defense.
Arizona’s Kenyan Drake rushed for 164 yards in Monday night’s 38-10 thrashing. That was nearly double his previous high for the season. A back who didn’t have a run of more than 16 yards all season broke off one for 69 yards against Dallas.
Remember how Cleveland’s D’Ernest Johnson carried the ball 13 times for 95 yards in the Browns' victory? Johnson has 12 carries for 33 yards in the two games since.
Malcolm Brown ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns in the LA Rams' victory over Dallas to open the season. He hasn’t rushed for 50 yards in a game or found the end zone since that night.
The Cowboys allowed an average of 36.5 points in the first four games when Mike Nolan called coverages from the booth. It has allowed an average of 36 points in the last two games since the defensive coordinator moved to the field.
Maybe Nolan should call Sunday’s game against Washington from the locker room or the parking lot. It couldn’t hurt.
This team is hurting as it heads into Washington and Philadelphia. If the Cowboys don’t improve immediately, what it does in the second half might not matter.
"It’s a very important part of the season, no question about it,'' McCarthy said.
"On a number of fronts.''
Catch David Moore and Robert Wilonsky as they co-host Intentional Grounding on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) every Wednesday night from 7-8 p.m. through the Super Bowl.
The Cowboys have allowed 218 points this season, which ties for the fourth-most all-time through six weeks:
|235||1950 Baltimore Colts||0-6||1-11|
|228||1961 Oakland Raiders*||1-5||2-12|
|218||1948 NY Giants||2-4||4-8|
|218||2020 Dallas Cowboys||2-4||N/A|