FRISCO, Texas -- Coach Mike McCarthy would never admit it, but would you blame him if he hoped the 2-6 Dallas Cowboys did not have another eight games left in the 2020 season?
McCarthy’s first year has been nothing short of a disaster and not all of it has been his fault, like the news Tuesday that quarterback Andy Dalton will not play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) because he is going on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Dalton was expected to return to the starting spot after missing last week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles after clearing concussion protocol. McCarthy said Monday that Dalton was feeling much better over the weekend, but he was not sure the quarterback would be available this week.
Now he can add Dalton to the list of key players missing games, a list that includes quarterback Dak Prescott, who is out for the year with a broken right ankle, left tackle Tyron Smith, who had season-ending neck surgery, right tackle La’el Collins, who did not play a snap this season before having hip surgery, and tight end Blake Jarwin, who tore the ACL in his right knee in the season opener.
Two weeks ago, the Cowboys had more than $61 million in salary-cap figures on the sidelines. Guard Zack Martin ($7 million), linebacker Sean Lee ($4.5 million) and center Joe Looney ($1.187 million) returned last week. Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie ($1.362 million) could be back this week.
It’s hard to win games when star players are on the bench.
It’s harder to win games when the quarterback against the Steelers, the NFL’s lone undefeated team, was preparing a year ago at this time to play the University of New Hampshire. Ben DiNucci, a seventh-round pick out of James Madison, completed 21 of 40 passes for 180 yards in the 23-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He was sacked four times and lost two fumbles. He did not complete a pass that was more than 10 yards down the field.
The Cowboys could go with Garrett Gilbert, who has been with the team for three weeks, or Cooper Rush, who was added to the practice squad late last week. While technically more veteran than DiNucci, neither has started a game in the NFL.
Beyond the injuries, McCarthy was unable to implement his full program during the offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic. He had no organized team activities, no minicamp, no preseason games and a shortened training camp.
The defense has been woeful, allowing a league-high 33.3 points per game. Thankfully, they have faced inept offenses in the Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Football Team or things could have been worse.
Certainly not worse than what has happened to the offense the last three weeks.
With Prescott, the Cowboys had one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. Without Prescott, the Cowboys are averaging 7.3 points per game.
It’s a far cry from the last time McCarthy played the Steelers at AT&T Stadium in Super Bowl XLV. He left that night with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the highlight of his coaching career.
Sunday could be a far different feeling.