The Dallas Cowboys made some coaching changes, but are they the right ones?
Defending was a weakness for the Dallas Cowboys during the 2020 season. Let me take that a step further. Defending was not a thought for the Dallas Cowboys during the 2020 season.
The Cowboys gave up the most points in franchise history, and that forced out defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. It was a change that many saw coming. What may have come as a surprise is who replaced them.
The Dallas Cowboys’ big acquisition
The biggest name of them all is new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. He was most recently the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. He held that position from the start of the 2015 season until he was let go after starting the 2020 season with five losses.
With the Falcons, Quinn ran one of the top offenses in the NFL. The issue with that is it is not the defensive coordinator’s job to run the offense.
The Falcons’ defense under Quinn was brutal except for 2017. That year they were above average. Despite that, owner Jerry Jones felt Quinn was the man for the job.
If you look at his record before being hired by the Falcons, you see a completely different picture. He ran the best defense in the NFL in 2013 and 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks. In this time, they appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one of them.
That also sparked the rise of the Legion of Boom. The defense combined five first-team All-Pro selections and seven Pro Bowl selections in those two seasons.
The missing pieces to the puzzle
Another defensive coaching hire by the Cowboys is Joe Whitt Jr. He worked with head coach Mike McCarthy in Green Bay for 11 seasons, headlined by being the teams’ defensive pass game coordinator in 2018.
In this time, the Packers led the NFL in interceptions, ranked ninth in passer rating, and won a Super Bowl. Whitt would join Quinn in Atlanta for five games in 2020, but we know how that went. The Falcons finished the year 27th in passing yards.
There was one more defensive coach brought into the building, and that was Aden Durde. He will be the team’s defensive line coach. It will be his first time in that role at the NFL level.
Before arriving in Dallas, he was a defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach in Atlanta. He is another coach that served under Quinn.
Before his time with the Falcons, Durde was the head of football development at NFLUK. He also spent time with the Cowboys and Falcons for the NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship program.
What’s different from 2020?
The coaches that the Cowboys brought in are known for their conservative style of defense. It will be similar to that which former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli ran from 2014 to 2019.
After only one season of trying to switch the defense to be more aggressive, Jerry Jones and Mike McCarthy decided to return to what worked before 2020. The roster fits a conservative scheme. It could not be any clearer.
Two prime examples are linebacker Jaylon Smith and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Smith played arguably his worst season (despite making 154 tackles). Lawrence had to drop what the coaches tried to change in his game midseason.
While the new coaches brought in did not have a good track record as of late, their scheme fits the roster in Dallas. It’s also important to note that Quinn and Whitt had success before their time in Atlanta. Durde, on the other hand, is a fresh mind that will give the team a new perspective.
I think McCarthy and Jones made the right decision to return to a conservative defense. It will allow the roster to play to their strengths rather than trying to change them. We will see a smooth transition to Quinn’s defensive scheme, which we didn’t see happen with Mike Nolan.