Cowboys insiders reveal why Mike Zimmer will be an upgrade over Dan Quinn

Mike Zimmer is going to get so much more out of the Cowboys' defense than Dan Quinn.
Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

Dallas Cowboys training camp is right around the corner and there's no shortage of position battles that will catch the eye. Tight end might offer the most widespread competition, but wide receiver, running back and linebacker each could produce unexpected winners.

On a wider scale, though, all eyes will be on Mike Zimmer and how the defense acclimates to his system. After the 2023 playoff loss to Green Bay and agreeing to become the head coach of one of the Cowboys' rivals, Dan Quinn didn't leave Dallas on great terms.

In Quinn's defense, Dallas was a turnstile defensively when he was hired in 2020. In less than two years on the job, it became one of the NFL's most formidable units as far as takeaways, sacks and points allowed.

For whatever reason, Quinn's defense struggled to put together complete performances against upper-echelon teams. Much to the chagrin of Cowboys fans, they also were routinely bullied against run-oriented offenses.

It will be interesting to see how Zimmer's defense deviates from Quinn's. That will manifest itself during training camp, but Cowboys insiders Jon Machota and Saad Yousuf of The Athletic have already noticed some stark differences.

Cowboys insiders explain exciting difference between Mike Zimmer and Dan Quinn

"... Whether you talk to other coaches on the staff or players in the locker room, you get the idea that Zimmer has a way he likes things to be done," writes Yousuf. "He’s known for his fierce, hard-nosed style of coaching, and that’s different from Quinn as well, but schematically, I expect to see some notable differences, too."

Quinn is a brilliant defensive mind, but a big part of what makes him an elite coach is his ability to connect with players. That certainly helps getting players to buy into a scheme. While there's something to be said about being beloved by players, Zimmer's demand for accountability could be just what the doctor ordered for this defense, which often pointed fingers and laid down amid adversity under Quinn.

The changes Zimmer makes to the defense are No. 1 on Machota's list of things to be excited about in training camp.

"I’m wondering if what we end up seeing is a defense that doesn’t take the ball away as much but might be more fundamentally sound, particularly against the run," writes Machota.

Takeaways are the name of the game. Since 2021, the Cowboys have forced the most turnovers (93) of any team in the NFL. That's a notable feat, but we can't help but wonder if Cowboys fans would have traded that turnover rate for more consistency, fewer penalties and a stronger resistance against the run.

The bloated turnover and sack numbers prompted many analysts and Cowboys talking heads to believe Quinn's defenses were overrated. The eye test on game day was all the evidence needed to support that notion. The playoff loss to the Packers alone was enough proof.

Zimmer's defenses historically have played with an edge that Dallas has lacked. They've been resilient and buttoned-up vs the run. Zimmer's reputation as a no-nonsense coach will be a welcome sight, but his emphasis on stopping the run, scheme versatility and obsession with winning the X's and O's chess match will all be upgrades over Quinn.

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