Changes in coaching naturally brings changes in philosophy. The magnitude of these changes will be demonstrated beginning in the next few weeks. Stalwart players such as Byron Jones, Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins are set to test the free agent market. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has vowed to bring a diverse, flexible scheme that adjusts to the strength of his players. Free Agency and the upcoming preparations for the NFL Draft will be a crystal ball of what to expect in 2020.
2019 Report Card:
While the defense graded out fairly well in terms of cumulative stats, including 9th in yards per game allowed, 11th in scoring, and 2nd in third down defense, the unit lacked a bit of flare. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Cowboys defense struggled with forcing turnovers in 2019. For the year, the team recorded just 7 interceptions, tied for dead last in the league. Under Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard, the defensive focus was on keeping things simple, in order to play with speed. However, the unit succumbed to quarterbacks exposing the unit in critical losses. Correcting the mental lapses in critical moments will aid a revamped scheme in
Quarterbacks such as Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Josh Allen, and Mitchell Trubisky were able to move the ball and spring upset wins against Dallas, which ended up crippling the teams’ playoff hopes. Darnold commented on the simplicity of the scheme, following the Jets’ week six victory against Dallas:
“They do it every single week. They just play one-high [safety], occasionally two-high, and they like to stop the run. I knew that I had to throw the ball today to have success, and we did that.”
Mike Nolan’s Defensive Outlook:
Mike Nolan has talent on his side, as the defense has several players locked up long-term. Demarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith will all be in tow for the foreseeable future. Their 2019 performances, whether due to injury, luck or decreased skill, leave some questions to be answered. Could a diverse scheme help free up these players to make the plays they get paid top-tier salaries to do? Fans will need to wait until August to get their first look at potential scheme changes in game action. However, the impending free agency of Byron Jones and Robert Quinn will provide a glimpse into the defensive mentality going forward. The Cowboys will need to let their on-field performance speak for themselves if the team hopes to become a playoff contender in 2020.
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