Dallas Cowboys: One winner, one loser from Mike Nolan’s new scheme

Dallas Cowboys, Jaylon Smith, Mike Nolan, Mandatory Credit: James D. Smith via USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys, Jaylon Smith, Mike Nolan, Mandatory Credit: James D. Smith via USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys hired Mike Nolan, and these players changed because of it

The Dallas Cowboys had a busy offseason, which included addressing the defense by hiring a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan. With him came a new defensive scheme. Some players had a difficult time adjusting, while others have flourished.

Of course, you can look at the team stats and say no one has benefited from Nolan. That’s what I thought too. That was until someone caught my eye.

First, you must understand this. The Cowboys moved away from a conservative and reactive defense that focused on securing the tackle. Now, they are a more aggressive defense that tries to show different looks. They attack the ball and force offenses to make a play.

Someone that never got many opportunities, that suddenly every Cowboys fan should know his name, is safety Donovan Wilson. The only way you won’t recognize his name is if you missed the past couple of games.

He was a 2019 sixth-round pick by the Cowboys who played only 16 snaps on defense last season. His first snap on defense this season came in Week 4. That’s when Dallas gave up on safety Darian Thompson. Since then, Wilson has played very well.

In that Week 4 matchup, he racked up ten tackles and 1.0 sack. That’s not too bad for a first-game impression. In the following five games, he would secure 22 tackles, 1.0 sack, and one forced fumble, which he also recovered.

The Week 11 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings is when he made his name known. He made nine total tackles, with one of them making running back Dalvin Cook looked like a high school player again. That hit forced a fumble.

He would later get a half-sack, with the ball popping out of quarterback Kirk Cousins’ hands. Wilson ended up being the player recovering the ball.

In that game, he showed his physicality and aggressiveness. That style of play is what Nolan has been trying to preach to the entire defense, and now you see how things can go when a player gets it right.

Dallas Cowboys: One player rose, while the other fell

Think of one player on the Dallas Cowboys that has disappointed you so far this season. You’re thinking about linebacker Jaylon Smith, aren’t you? I knew it.

Statistically speaking, Smith is playing very well. He is on pace to finish the season with a career-high in tackles and tackles for a loss of yards. He is also holding quarterbacks to a 73.2 percent completion percentage while missing only 6.5 percent of his tackles. Both are career lows.

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It’s more than his basic statistics that tell the story, though. When watching the games, you will see Jaylon has a difficult time adapting to being aggressive and attacking. He will get caught up in linemen, make a wrong read, or will leave a gap that allows the running back too much space. Situations like that do not show up in basic stats.

Jaylon Smith is better off as a conservative linebacker that reacts to the plays. Someone that can be patient, make the read, and then go to make a play. In Mike Nolan’s defense, he is not allowed to go and make those reads.

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The Notre Dame product is a great linebacker that does not fit in the defensive scheme. As a result of that, he is not playing well. Until he finds a way to adjust to Nolan or vise versa, Smith will not be the same player we once saw.

Both players started the season with entirely different expectations. Now, both players have switched. Everyone is applauding Wilson while begging for Smith to find himself again.