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Cowboys culture under Mike McCarthy brings an unexpected playoff push


#Jori #Epstein

| USA TODAY

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The message was consistent, relayed repeatedly throughout a trying #Cowboys season. #Fittingly, come #December, it morphed into a winter simile.

“Momentum is like a snowball,” tight end #Dalton #Schultz said. “You just got to roll it in the right direction, and you’ll see that thing pick up some steam.”

The #Cowboys began coach #Mike #McCarthy’s tenure an unceremonious 3-9. They now enter their regular-season finale riding three straight wins, with only four league teams claiming a longer active streak. #In a weak NFC #East, the recent improvement has positioned the #Cowboys to capture the  division title on #Sunday if #Washington (6-9) loses to the #Eagles (4-10-1) and the #Cowboys (6-9) topple the #Giants (5-10).

#Reasons for #Dallas’ glimpse of a turnaround vary, from a softer schedule to a vastly improved turnover ratio. #Regardless of how or why, #McCarthy embraces what a late-season streak means to the culture he instills at the #Star.

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“I definitely do believe that success at the end of the season catapults you into your offseason program,” #McCarthy said, “and can very well factor into next year.”

#McCarthy’s vision

#McCarthy speaks from personal experience. A rough start, then a late push in an inaugural season? #He need look no further than his arrival in #Green #Bay in 2006, when the #Packers rebounded from 4-8 to win their final four games. The following season, they lost the NFC #Championship #Game in overtime.

“Those last four wins (were) foundation blocks for my time in #Green #Bay,” #McCarthy said, “because it was something that we built on, talked about and emphasized throughout the whole offseason.”

#Will #Blackmon, a #Packers defensive back from 2006 to 2010, remembers #McCarthy establishing his principles. #McCarthy preached that conflict is good and communication is key to surmounting challenges. #He motivated players to practice hard, empowering leaders to take ownership. #And #McCarthy did not temper winning expectations. #Most memorably, during the 2010 offseason that preceded the #Packers’ #Super #Bowl campaign, he altered their meeting room décor. #Framed rosters of past #Super #Bowl champions already lined walls. #McCarthy installed an adjacent new board with the word “CHAMPIONS” emblazoned across the top. #But its frame was empty.

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“He’s basically telling us: ‘Let’s fill it up this year,’ ” #Blackmon told USA TODAY #Sports. “So he does have a plan, he does have a vision, he does have a goal.  #He knows what it looks like.”

#Cowboys players, despite tumult, are realizing the same. They had no #Oxnard, #California, training camp getaway to ingratiate themselves with #McCarthy, and vice versa. #Most did not meet their coach in person until seven months after he was hired. #But #McCarthy illustrates on a projector the trend lines he values, from the importance of turnover ratio to how significantly a double-double – his term for scoring touchdowns going into and coming out of halftime – can impact games. #He delivers some messages humorously, like saying he would treat players to #Whataburger after their #Week 16 double-double. #Twice, he orchestrated players smashing watermelons the night before a game. #He, too, took his turn with the sledgehammer.

“Obviously he’s the head coach, but he’s a guy that you can go up to and just mess around with, talk about whatever,” #Schultz said. “He’s very approachable and I think he’s got a good demeanor. #Having a guy that’s been out a year, I think he’s kind of hungry to get back in that locker room. #And you can tell because every day he steps in there, he’s upbeat, he’s cracking jokes. #You can tell he’s enjoying himself.”

#Catching fire

#McCarthy’s #Dallas debut season will undoubtedly be remembered for the instability of COVID-19 and multiple injuries, including quarterback #Dak #Prescott’s #Week 5 season-ending ankle injury. #It may also be remembered for historically bad defense (most points and touchdowns allowed in franchise history); an inexplicably turnover-prone offense (11 straight games with at least one); and the death of strength and conditioning coordinator #Markus #Paul, who collapsed in his office two days before #Thanksgiving and was pronounced dead the following evening.

#But amid adversity, #McCarthy and his players identify lessons they hope to channel into future success together.

#On the field, #McCarthy encourages a more aggressive offensive attack and gives special teams leeway for chicanery. #He has attempted 30 fourth-down  conversions, compared with an average of 10.4 per season the previous nine years under #Jason #Garrett. The #Cowboys’ record and health bill underwhelm, but unexpected depth has arrived at positions like offensive line – at which eight players landed on injured reserve.

“You have to have a process of making sure they are developing,” #McCarthy said. “It definitely helps us for next year. #That is how these years go.”

#Off the field, #McCarthy communicates a standard of hard work and winning, players say, while also considering their emotional needs. #When imploring players to avail themselves of mental health resources, #McCarthy told them about seeking counseling himself in 1995 after his divorce. #He canceled practice on #Christmas and after #Paul collapsed so players could share highs and lows with loved ones.

“Mike’s a great parent,” defensive coordinator #Mike #Nolan said. “And he shows that to his football team.”

#Owner and general manager #Jerry #Jones has accepted blame for roster weaknesses (think: run defenders) and supported #McCarthy unwaveringly. #Even when the #Cowboys sat at 4-9 without visible sustained improvement, #Jones called talk of a one-and-done #McCarthy “ridiculous.”

The organization hopes to host a playoff game in #January. #While that requires #Washington to lose #Sunday, the #Cowboys control just enough of their fate to energize the fan base.

“If you gave up five, six weeks ago … we don’t even want you on our side,” running back #Ezekiel #Elliott said. “We are a team of competitors; we weren’t out of it.

“Coach #McCarthy said his plan was for us to trend up through the season. #And right now, I think we are catching fire at the right time.”

#Follow USA TODAY #Sports’ #Jori #Epstein on #Twitter @JoriEpstein.





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https://eu.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/cowboys/2020/12/31/cowboys-mike-mccarthy-jerry-jones-nfc-east/4084319001/

##Cowboys #culture ##Mike ##McCarthy #brings #unexpected #playoff #push

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