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McCarthy stays strong, leads Cowboys back to playoff contention

Dallas coach wouldn't comment on where team stood on Von Miller trade talks. Run defense and the return of Dak Prescott have been keys to Dallas' turnaround.
Credit: AP
Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys throws to Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys during play against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on September 10, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Sure, Vic Fangio has taken on some heat as the Broncos’ head coach this year.

Mike McCarthy understands. He coached through a blazing furnace in his final two years with the Green Bay Packers in 2017-18 and his first season of 2020 with the Dallas Cowboys. The game had passed him by, it was said. He didn’t have the energy for the job anymore.

And all that criticism for a coach who won a Super Bowl for Green Bay in 2010 and went 15-1 in 2011. Yet, McCarthy remained unbowed and after his Cowboys went 6-10 last season, he has led them to a 6-1 mark this season with his star quarterback Dak Prescott returning from a calf injury for their next game Sunday against Fangio and the visiting Denver Broncos.

“I just thank my mother Mrs. McCarthy for the big shoulders,’’ McCarthy said in a conference call Wednesday with the Denver media. “You stick to what you know, what you believe in. Vic’s done this for a long time. He’s an outstanding football coach. I think when you turn on the tape, particularly when you compete against coaches over a long period of time, I think when a coach’s teams play the right way, regardless of what team you’re coaching, it speaks volumes about that particular coach.

“One thing about Vic Fangio teams, particularly his defenses, have always played the right way. This isn’t just coach talk -- this is going to be a big challenge for us Sunday.’’

McCarthy was asked if his Cowboys engaged in discussions with Broncos over the weekend as star pass rusher Von Miller went on the trading block. Miller, who grew up in the Dallas area, wound up traded to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a second- and third-round draft pick.

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“I’m glad he’s lining up with the Rams this week, that’s for sure,’’ McCarthy said. “I was happy to see that. But no, I’m not really interested in talking about those kinds of conversations and so forth. We have great respect for Von and he’s had a great career up there in Denver.’’

There have been two primary reasons for the Cowboys’ improvement this season. One, Prescott is back after missing most of last season with a harrowing compound fractured ankle. And two, the Cowboys’ run defense has gone from anemic to stout – 31st last year with 158.8 yards per game to 6th this year with 88.3 yards per game.

A 70-yard run-stopping improvement will help the offense get two or three more possessions a game.

And the Cowboys rank No. 1 in total offense with an incredible 454.9 yards per game and No. 3 in scoring with a 32.1 point average.

“Going back to my first year here, it was the biggest transition I knew I was going to have to go through is we had a defense that was here for probably 10 years systematically and philosophically,’’ McCarthy said. “That was going to be the biggest change and really Dan and his staff and the players deserve a ton of credit because they’ve completed the change. It’s a whole different direction schematically. We’ve gone to different body types in the defensive front. You look at the number of players that are new on defense, I think our roster overall is 40-plus percent change and a lot of it is on defense. So to pull it all together in year one and the proper play style, understanding our mental errors, knock on wood, have been extremely low throughout the season and it’s a real credit to the coaches and players under the leadership of Dan Quinn.”

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