‘The defense is the thermostat’: Cowboys’ McCarthy wants more consistency from Zimmer’s unit

‘The defense is the thermostat’: Cowboys’ McCarthy wants more consistency from Zimmer’s unit

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has no doubt that his team is capable of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. And this week at the league meeting in Orlando, he laid out exactly what it will take to make that happen.

“When we win the championship,” McCarthy told a gathering of reporters, “it’ll be because of our complementary football. That’s what wins championships.”

Now entering his second season as the offensive play-caller in Dallas, McCarthy is clearly confident that his own unit is up to the task. After all, they led the league in points in 2023. The tacit implication, of course, is that Dan Quinn’s defense is what cost the Cowboys too many times in 2023… and certainly when it mattered most.

The way McCarthy sees it, it’ll be up to new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to raise the bar in 2024.

“The defense is the thermostat of your football team,” McCarthy explained. “And the offense and the defense need to complement one another, because the defense always should have the ability to keep you in the game. The offense needs to go win the game.”

Dak Prescott & Co. generally did last season, putting 30 or more points on the board 10 times out of 17 (though many of those points admittedly came from defensive scores). The Cowboys’ high-powered offense also led in first downs and finished top-three in offensive plays run and top-five in yards amassed.

But there were simply too many instances when the defense under Quinn dug too big a hole for the offense to climb their way out of.

In four of the team’s five regular-season losses, Dallas found themselves trailing by double digits at some point. And the team’s three lowest point outputs of the year (Buffalo, San Francisco, Arizona) came in contests where they were behind by 12 or more points in the second quarter.

When the defense was cold, the offense couldn’t get the pilot light fired.

“Yeah, you always want to score in the 30s,” McCarthy noted. “But when you get in those games, one has to pick up for the other. And if you look at our last game, that clearly wasn’t evident.”

The first-round playoff flop versus Green Bay was perhaps the most embarrassing example of the defense going into hibernation, with the Cowboys staring up at a 27-0 deficit before halftime.

With over two months of hindsight, though, McCarthy is at least able to reflect on the positive strides the team made in what ultimately proved to be a disappointing year.

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“A big focal point for us going into ’23 was we needed to take care of the football better, and we needed to win the time of possession and get the snaps down [in terms] of how long our defense is on the field. And we accomplished that at a high level,” the coach said.

“Those are the things that, to me, outside of winning the game, are most important because that breeds the consistency of putting yourself in position to win.”

But now actually capitalizing on that position- and doing so in the playoffs- will fall largely on how the defense responds to Zimmer, his new staff, and the new scheme he implements across the ball from McCarthy in Dallas.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire