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Who will the Cowboys choose as acting coach versus the Saints?

With COVID hitting the Dallas Cowboys again, they will be without head coach Mike McCarthy for their Thursday night contest against the New Orleans Saints.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn watches team warmups before the first half an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys have had more COVID positive tests than Thanksgiving penalty flags.

Add coach Mike McCarthy to the list of players and coaches in the COVID protocol. Right tackle Terence Steele was placed in the protocol Sunday, and the Cowboys currently have six assistant coaches in the protocol.

WFFA's Mike Leslie reported that the expectation is that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will step in as acting coach when the Cowboys face the New Orleans Saints Thursday night at the Caesars Superdome.

It makes sense. Of everyone currently available on the staff, Quinn was recently a coach when he led the Atlanta Falcons from 2015-20. He would also lead the Cowboys into a venue he is most familiar with having faced the Saints as NFC South rivals. Quinn posted a 2-3 record in one of the noisiest stadiums in the league.

However, going with Quinn isn't exactly a sure thing. Other options are in play such as offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, special teams coach John Fassel, and assistant head coach Rob Davis, who was never on a coaching staff until McCarthy hired him in 2020.

Teams that have gone with acting coaches on a one-game basis tend to involve the special teams coordinator. In Week 8, Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy tested positive and special teams coach Chris Tabor took the acting tag. The Arizona Cardinals had a two-man approach to coach when Kliff Kingsbury missed Week 6 with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers splitting the duties.

Ahead of the Cleveland Browns' wildcard matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive and was nixed for the game. Special teams coach Mike Priefer took over, and it was actually the second time that he filled in as acting coach in his career. On Dec. 1, 2016, Priefer was the special teams coach for the Minnesota Vikings and had to take over for Mike Zimmer, who had emergency eye surgery the day before the Thursday Night Football encounter with the Dallas Cowboys.

Why the Cowboys would avoid going with Quinn or Moore as outright acting coaches is because it could affect their play-calling. Giving the acting tag to Fassel would be in line with what NFL teams have done when faced with one-game situations.

If Dallas were to involve Davis, they may look to have Fassel split some of the duties. However, Dallas will need to be deliberate in their delegation as they are also missing assistants Scott Tolzein and Ben McAdoo along with offensive line coach Joe Philbin and assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko.

The Cowboys at least have more time to address the impact to the staff, as opposed to the preseason when Quinn tested positive for COVID during pregame against the Houston Texans on Aug. 21. The Cowboys turned over defensive play-calling duties in that game to secondary coach Joe Whitt, who impressed McCarthy and Quinn.

The Saints won't have any sympathy for Dallas, though. New Orleans operated in Week 2 at the Carolina Panthers without seven of their assistant coaches

Who do you think should be in charge on the sideline for the Cowboys on Thursday? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.