Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (13488843by) Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy signals from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, in Arlington, Texas Lions Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 23 Oct 2022
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy makes his return to Green Bay this Sunday for the first time since being fired by the Packers after the 2019 season.
And while memories will flood back as he rolls up outside Lambeau Field on Saturday for the team’s walk-through, the Cowboys coach is staying focused on the task at hand.
“You have to get ready to go win, and that is really where my mind is as far as the game,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, I have great memories about Green Bay – I spent a lot of time there. But I’m four years removed from working there, and I am really looking forward to taking our team up there. … But most importantly, we are going up there to win the game.”
That said, it will be an emotional day for the Cowboys’ head coach and 10 of his current assistants that were on staff with him in Green Bay, as plenty of family and friends are set to be in the stands.
“We had some great times, some great moments,” McCarthy said.
Not something lost on his players either.
“We want to get this one for our head coach, being that he was there for some years and won a championship there,” Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said. “Going out there and taking care of business with him, that is enough motivation for us to do some tremendous things.”
McCarthy cut his teeth as a head coach in the NFL with the Packers, going 125-77-2 during the regular season and 19-9 in the playoffs during his 13 seasons on the job.
He helped the team transition from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another when they moved on from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, had 10 winning seasons in his 13 on the sidelines in Green Bay, and he won the 2010 Super Bowl.
But a 4-7-1 record through 12 games in 2018, on the heels of a 7-9 record in 2017, was enough to get McCarthy fired.
After a year away, McCarthy returned to the sidelines with Dallas in 2020 and has posted a 24-17 record – including a stretch of 18-7 since the start of 2021, the best of any head coach in the NFL.
“I really want to win the game. Is that enough?” McCarthy said when pressed about Sunday.
“There are definitely a lot of emotions tied up in it for (McCarthy),” Cowboys rookie offensive tackle Tyler Smith added. “But it is a big game for us as an organization and as a team. I feel like you just have to take it week by week, day by day, but this one, it is definitely going to be more involved.”
Kickoff is set for 3:25 p.m.
Packers hold slight all-time edge vs. Dallas
As two of the oldest franchises in the NFL, the Cowboys and Packers have competed against each other in some of the most memorable games in the history of the league.
Since the first meeting in 1960, the Packers lead the all-time series 20-17.
The most memorable game in the series happens to be one of the most referenced games in NFL history – the Ice Bowl, a 21-17 win for Green Bay in the 1967 NFL Championship game.
“The Ice Bowl, it’s the first thing I learned about (the rivalry),” McCarthy said.
The biggest play just may be the one that involved McCarthy’s Packers and a controversial call on a catch by then Cowboys’ wide receiver Dez Bryant in the 2014 NFC Divisional round of the playoffs. The catch was overturned on replay, and the Packers went on to win the game and the Super Bowl.
When asked about a memorable moment, it was one of the first that came to mind for McCarthy.
“The ‘No’ catch,” he said with a laugh. “Or no, I mean, the catch that was ruled an incompletion.”
The Packers won the first six meetings in the series, but the Cowboys own the longest win streak – an eight-game stretch that lasted from 1991 to 1996, where the teams met five times in the regular season and three more in the playoffs.
Since 2000, the Cowboys have won just three of 12 meetings, the last coming as a 30-16 win in October of 2016.
The Packers won the last meeting, a 34-24 road win.
Maher brings stability to special teams
Coming into the season, the Cowboys place kicking game was a mess.
After cutting both training camp kickers, Dallas settled on a familiar name in Brett Maher, and he has delivered his best season to date.
The Cowboys picked up Maher in 2019 and watched him connect on just over 80 percent of his field goal attempts. However, he declined from there, making just 20 of 30 field goals in 13 games during the 2020 season before getting cut.
After a year in New Orleans, the Cowboys resigned Maher just before the opening of this season, and he has been close to perfect, hitting on 15 of 16 realistic field goal attempts.
Maher has also been unreturnable on his kickoffs, another important part of the kicking game.
So far, he has touchbacks on over 95% of his kickoffs, which is 11% better than Washington, the next-best team in the NFL.
Maher’s play has brought a bit of stability to a position of concern, but there are still nine games to play.
Cowboys running game starting to dominate
Halfway through the season, the Cowboys running game has started to take over as the most important part of the offense.
Since the start of the 2021 season, teams that rush for 150 yards or more in a game are 115-60-2, or close to 65% of the time. The Cowboys are 8-0 during that stretch.
After getting off to a slow start over the first four weeks of this season, the running game has finally taken off. The Cowboys have averaged 159 yards rushing as a team while going 3-1 in their games against the Rams (163 yards), Eagles (134 yards), Lions (139 yards), and Bears (200 yards) over that 4-game stretch.
With Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard getting all the carries designed for the running backs during the first four games, the duo averaged 4.04 yards per carry, while the team averaged 3.98 yards per tote.
Over the last five games, even with Malik Davis subbing for Elliott in Week 8, the Cowboys running backs have averaged 5.72 yards per carry, while the team has averaged 5.30 yards.
Favorable schedule ahead
With a playoff berth in their sights, the Cowboys head into, what turns out to be, a very favorable portion of the schedule over the next six games.
First, the Cowboys finish off their run through the NFC Central with games against Green Bay, who sit at 3-6 and in a world of trouble on offense, and a 7-1 Minnesota, one of two teams with a better record than Dallas so far this season.
Then they get the NFC East rival Giants at home on Thanksgiving Day before a run through the AFC South and games against the Colts (3-5-1), Texans (1-6-1), and Jaguars (3-6).
That is six winnable games that could push the Cowboys into being the favorite to come out of the NFC. A 5-1 record, which looks like the only acceptable outcome from this stretch, would leave the Cowboys at 11-3 with games against Philadelphia (8-0), Tennessee (5-3), and Washington (4-5) left to finish off the regular season.