Should the Dallas Cowboys re-evaluate their defensive scheme?

Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /

After passing on a safety in order to draft a defensive tackle, it seems fair to question whether or not the Dallas Cowboys should change their scheme.

With the 58th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys chose Trysten Hill, a defensive tackle out of Central Florida. They passed on a playmaking safety with a history of creating turnovers to draft a disruptive force in the middle of their defensive line. Was the right move? Time will tell.

Why that move was made, however, is much more important to analyze than the actual move itself. Simply put, the Cowboys’ front office leans heavily on the input of their coaches. Rod Marinelli’s title indicates he is the defensive coordinator, although he publicly acquiesces to Kris Richard.

Still, the main reason for the move to draft Hill over Juan Thornhill was because the three technique defensive tackle is the most important piece of Marinelli’s defensive puzzle. My question is this: Should the Dallas Cowboys re-evaluate their defensive scheme?

Taking a look at past Marinelli defenses, he values stopping the run over all else. While that is a very important part to a successful defense, it may not be the most important part. This is especially true give that the game is evolving into one that puts the onus on players in space and passing offense.

During Marinelli’s first five years as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator, they finished in the top ten against the run every year. In that first three years of that five year stretch, the were never better than middle of the pack in interceptions or causing turnovers.

As such, Tampa went 24-24 with just one playoff appearance. From 1999-2002, however, the Buccaneers became a dominant team creating turnovers and getting interceptions. In that four year time span, they went 42-22, making the playoffs every year and winning the Super Bowl.

As soon as the focus fell off interceptions and turnovers, the success dissipated as well. In the final three years, the Buccaneers went 23-25, made the playoffs just once and lost that lone postseason game.

Fast forward to his tenure in Dallas as the defensive coordinator. In four of the five years here, the Dallas Cowboys have finished 25th or worse in total interceptions. In just one of those years, did they finish above 16th in total turnovers. Consequently, that year was 2014, when a bad call robbed this team of a NFC Championship appearance.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, have had three straight seasons with a top ten rushing defense. My question is, why is stopping the run still so vital when you’re already good at it but creating turnovers isn’t, when it’s clearly something you’re not good at.

This goes beyond the Dallas Cowboys defensive philosophy as well. There is league-wide evidence that creating turnovers and getting interceptions is an outlier of highly-successful teams. Six of the last nine Super Bowl winners finished in the top ten in creating turnovers. Five also finished in the top ten in interceptions, including the previous two.

Last year’s Super Bowl featured two teams who tied for third in total interceptions. Both were in the top five in total takeaways. It stands to reason that the Cowboys would want to re-create this philosophy.

When the Bucs were dominant, they had Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice along the line, with Derrick Brooks in the middle and the Ronde Barber/John Lynch duo on the back end.

The Dallas Cowboys already have established pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn. They have youth, talent, speed and smarts at the linebacking spot with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.

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The missing piece of the puzzle is an elite field general on the back end. Unfortunately, it may be the scheme that plays the scapegoat for the reason of continual neglect to this desperate need.