Mike McCarthy knew the Dallas defense needed all the help it could get after allowing 29.8 points per game last season. His new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has energized the unit. Even after three games this season, his impact on the defensive unit is quite apparent.
After getting fired as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Quinn conducted a self-assessment of his defensive principles from his time as the defensive coordinator for Pete Carroll in Seattle to update his ideas for the ever-evolving offenses in the NFL. Quinn became the head coach for the Falcons after serving as the Seahawks defensive coordinator for two seasons culminating with their Super Bowl victory in 2014. His reputation as a defensive mastermind only strengthened with the steady improvement of the Atlanta defense in their Super run in the 2016-17 season, which ended in their epic fourth-quarter collapse to New England. Disappointing play from his defenses since that year and three straight losing seasons eventually led to owner Arthur Blank letting Quinn go in the off-season. McCarthy quickly scooped him up to replace his defensive coordinator last year, Mike Nolan.
Quinn has played less cover-3 defense with the Cowboys with more single-high safety or two-zone safety looks. He is adapting to the talent he inherited, and he is simplifying schemes, so his players play fast. One of the problems that Dallas had last year was the system change to a 3-4 under new coordinator Mike Nolan. The COVID pandemic made that transition more challenging, and Nolan did not adjust well to teaching his concepts from zoom meetings. The Cowboys signed six new defensive players in free agency and drafted eight rookies to contribute to the defense, including their top-six picks. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones hit a home run in the drafting of linebacker Micah Parsons out of Penn State. After the injury to DeMarcus Lawrence, Quinn moved Parsons to defensive end, a position he had not played since high school. Parsons has thrived in that role.
Quinn’s defense is making big plays. They have forced eight turnovers in their first three games, with three of them in the red zone. Dallas may be allowing over 400 yards per game, but they have played against two strong offenses in the Buccaneers and Chargers. They held those two offenses to 24.5 points per game. They only allowed 14 offensive points to Philadelphia on Monday, with the Eagles’ third touchdown being from a Dak Prescott fumble that they recovered in the end zone.
The Cowboys were second-to-last in the NFL last season by allowing 159 rushing yards per game. Four opponents gashed them for over 200 yards on the ground. This year, they have not given up 100 or more rushing yards in a game while holding their three opponents to 70 rushing yards per game.
The Cowboys lead the NFL with ten different players all moving at a speed of at least 19 miles per hour. Quinn deserves the credit. His schemes are helping his players play faster, with less thinking and more instinctual reacting.
Good luck - TDG.