Addressing the Dan Quinn elephant in the Dallas Cowboys room

Dallas Cowboys Dan Quinn Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys Dan Quinn Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

The closer we get to training camp the more answers the Dallas Cowboys, specifically the defense will get closer to answering. Sure, there are a few spots on the offense that have some question marks but the biggest concern among the Cowboys faithful has to surround the defense.

There will be eyes on Dak Prescott’s ankle and Amari Cooper’s foot but new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has to answer questions some think he left in Atlanta.

The elephant in the room has to be how a defensive coordinator turned head coach armed with an elite offense was able to blow so many leads that ultimately led to his head coaching demise.

Super Bowl LI has to be the day that lives in Dan Quinn’s head daily but there are five games that a Dan Quinn unit led by 10 or more points and lost. Those results led to his dismissal but I believe there should be more hope heading into the season.

The first has to be what kind of defense the Dallas Cowboys fielded before the hiring of Mike Nolan. The Dallas Cowboys defense ranked seventh in 2018 and ninth in 2019 before the arrival of Nolan.

I don’t mean to bash the guy but it isn’t a secret that Nolan’s tenure here in Dallas was a complete failure.

Dan Quinn took a team to the Super Bowl and because of the magnitude of the collapse, we automatically dismiss his efforts.

What if I told everyone that the defensive collapse was partly due to an ineffective offense? I’m sure you would have questions so let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

There are percentages that show how hard it is to blow a double-digit lead when leading at halftime and the odds increase when leading by ten points or more after the third quarter. In the past five seasons, the Atlanta Falcons are the only team to have a loss in both of those categories.

In week seven in 2016, the Dan Quinn Atlanta Falcons led the San Diego Chargers 30-20. After further review, the offense only managed three possessions after taking the lead and those three drives resulted in an interception, missed field goal, and then ended on downs.

The Atlanta Falcons lost that game 33-30 thus creating the beginning of a Dan Quinn theme.

The second blown lead came in Super Bowl LI where the team took that infamous 28-3 lead before the impossible happened. Atlanta could only muster four possessions after taking that lead and the results of those possessions went punt, fumble, punt, punt.

The Atlanta Falcons lost that game 34-28 to the New England Patriots.

In week six of 2017, the Falcons were beating the Miami Dolphins 17-0 before the team went punt, fumble, punt, interception. The team lost that game 20-17.

Week two of 2020 against the Dallas Cowboys is remembered as the “Snail Mary” or “watermelon kick” game. After the Falcons took a 39-20 lead on our beloved Cowboys with just under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons only had one more drive after that.

The Falcons punted, then gave up an onside recovery before losing to the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 40-39.

The following week, Dan Quinn was fired after his team was up 26-10 against the Chicago Bears but their last six drives went punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, and ended on a Matt Ryan interception.

Dan Quinn does have some soul searching to do as poor tackling and penalties added to his team giving up so many leads but what really stands out is how bad his offense got when the team had a lead.

Quinn’s defense in Atlanta does leave questions about his decision-making while maintaining a lead but in the five games where Atlanta blew a double-digit lead, the offense produced zero points in 18 drives and turned the ball over six times.

It is pretty tough to place the entire blame on Quinn’s defense.

What gives me hope is Quinn has an updated yet simple scheme that should allow these defenders to be in a position to make a play. It is up to the players themselves to execute but Quinn no longer has any control over what the offense does so expecting this high-powered offense to not produce any points when and if they take a lead should not be as big of a concern as some might think.

I took a look at the Atlanta offense on those blown leads and it is clear that they took more of a conservative approach whenever they did take a double-digit lead. When the coaching staff realized they could be in trouble, the offense found it difficult to turn on whatever they had going to gain that lead and it led to an offense that pressed too much and didn’t execute the way they usually did.

Pressing led to turnovers which placed the defense in some really bad position. If this sounds familiar then you probably lived through the early years of the Jason Garrett era where ball control to shorten the game and minimize possessions was apparently not an option.

The classic knee-jerk reaction resulted in the Dallas Cowboys playing ball-control offense in an attempt to reduce the snaps played by a shaky Dallas defense. This mentality is probably why running back Ezekiel Elliott was the selection back in the 2016 NFL Draft.

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The first time the Dallas Cowboys have a big lead the attention will undoubtedly turn to Dan Quinn and how his defense handles playing with a lead. No doubt his defense will have to perform but do not forget about the offense and special teams if and when this happens because they have just as much of a role to play in avoiding a late-game collapse.