The last time the Dallas Cowboys finished top-10 in interceptions was 2014. It was also the last time they finished top-10 in takeaways as a team.
They’ve ended the year inside the top-10 in fumble recoveries seven of the last eight seasons. Yet, in a defensive scheme that’s made to take the ball away, they’ve consistently been one of the worst units in the league at it.
Enters newly-hired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Since 2009, Nolan has served as the defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos (2009), Miami Dolphins (2010-2011) and Atlanta Falcons (2012-2014).
He spent a year with the Chargers as their Linebackers coach in 2015 before assuming the same role with the New Orleans Saints from 2017 until this past season.
The Cowboys will need to improve on an underachieving unit that finished 11th in points allowed (20.1 per game) and against the run (103.5 yards per game) and 19th in sacks (39).
No club recorded fewer interceptions (7) than Dallas, who also tied for 10th in forced fumbles (14). Game-changing plays were few and far in-between despite star power at each level.
For the second consecutive season safety, Xavier Woods tied for the team lead in interceptions (2). But with the Cowboys ranking 30th in offensive average starting field position it was hardly enough to make an impact.
In Nolan’s past three stints as defensive coordinator, the 2012 Atlanta Falcons were the only unit to finish inside the top-10 of interception leaders. The team forced 20 interceptions with safety Thomas DeCoud recording the team-high of six. Asante Samuel grabbed five and Williams Moore stole four.
“Me, personally, I dropped four [potential interceptions]. … We missed tackles. That Chicago game was terrible. You can’t blame that on Coach,” safety Xavier Woods recently said on FS1’s Undisputed, exonerating since-fired head coach Jason Garrett. “That’s on the players.”
Denver finished 13th in INTs in 2009 (17), Miami finished 28th in 2010 (11) and 16th in 2011 (16), while the Falcons finished 29th in 2013 (10) and 12th in 2014 (16).
“It all starts with players,” Nolan said. “There are typically players who have a knack for getting to the ball. A coach’s job is to work on that. You can improve [those players] skills. As a defense that’s what we’ll strive to do.”
He also emphasized his style of cornerback doesn’t lie in their physical appearance, rather in their ability to “steal the ball.”
“The really good quarterbacks recognize there really is no fear in throwing the ball if it’s going to be incomplete and go to the ground,” Nolan said. “But when that guy that’s covering him can take it the other way that’s a difference-maker.”
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