Dallas Cowboys must rediscover Marinelli Magic


If someone said Rod Marinelli graduated from Hogwarts then I wouldn’t argue with them. He’s proven himself to be some kind of wizard since taking over as the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator.

In 2014, the Cowboys defense were supposed to be the worst in the league. Much respected sports journalist Peter King wasn’t alone in his preseason thoughts.

"“I cannot see any way new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can make a strong defense out of what he has left in Dallas…the Cowboys’ only real chance for the playoffs seems to rest on just how high-scoring the offense can be. The defense will be one of the worst in the league.” -€ Peter King, SI.com"

Under Marinelli’s spell thirty five different defensive players guided the team into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. A Week 1 loss against the San Francisco 49ers could be blamed on a lack of practice for Tony Romo. His first game since back surgery was error laden. In Week 8 the Cowboys lost Romo to injury nevertheless against a poor Redskins team they ought to have seen out the victory. With Weeden deputizing for number 9 the following week against the Cardinals a loss was really no surprise. Unable to get going on either the offense or defense it was a lackluster display.

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The two games the Cowboys faced against the Eagles last season were at either end of the chart. The loss was a horror show on offense and defense, the victory a display of just what this team can do on its day.

It was really just the final loss of the season against the Green Bay Packers that saw Marinelli’s defense truly disappoint, and few would argue that the loss was on them (along with that contentious decision). With Aaron Rodgers playing on just one leg, any kind of pass rush ought to have run riot.

What’s become apparent, is that rotating players is imperative to Marinelli’s game plan. When the full quota of defensive players return we won’t see them play every down of every game.

In 2014, on the defensive line Jeremy Mincey played the most, being on the field for 68% of the snaps. Another 13 players contributed over the year on the defensive line along with Mincey; from Tyrone Crawford on the field for 60% of snaps to Kenneth Boatright on the field for one game and just under 2% of snaps.

By comparison, the Seattle Seahawks as the number one ranked defense had just four players play over 40% of snaps on their defensive line? What does that mean? It means the Seahawks players stay on the field.

Michael Bennett featured in nearly 85% of the defensive snaps in Seattle. A resounding difference in the length of time the two teams number one defensive linemen spent on the field.

Marinelli likes his defense to rotate. So what I hear you say. Well, it explains for one just why the Cowboys slipped to defeat against the Atlanta Falcons last night. With the likes of Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain, Orlando Scandrick, Randy Gregory and Jeremy Mincey all out through suspension or injury the numbers were limited already.

Throughout the game Sean Lee, Barry Church and Nick Hayden all required treatment. By the time the final quarter came around the defense were gassed. While DeMarcus Lawrence has disappointed after a much hyped offseason, relying on Ryan Russell to get you sacks is a story state of affairs. But while many fans sling mud at Brandon Weeden, Rod Marinelli stepped forward ready to take the blame.

"“It’s on me…I thought we were ready. We weren’t. When you don’t have any takeaways, you can’t stop the run, we didn’t get a rush…that comes back to coaching. We just didn’t execute.” – Rod Marinelli"

Under Marinelli the team have usually managed to turn the ball over successfully. Bruce Carter finished joint third in the league for interceptions last season with 5. Sterling Moore who was considered as no more than a bit part player ranked joint 8th in the league for passes defended. While it was expected the defensive unit would rank in the bottom 5 they finished a credible 15th.

The Falcons game wasn’t one where individuals can be blamed. This was a unified effort. Wide receivers went missing, linemen didn’t carry out tasks, play calling lacked ambition and the quarterback zero playmaking ability. As Nick Eatman eloquently said on DallasCowboys.com:

"“If you’re going to point fingers, you can’€™t leave out the coaching staff, which was really out-schemed over the final two quarters”"

This is a team that could do with a little magic over the next few games. Anyone for Quidditch?

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