Dallas Defensive Changes In Full Swing With Upcoming Draft

  • 2020 NFL Draft
  • Byron Jones
  • change
  • Cowboys
  • Dallas
  • dallas cowboys
  • Defense
  • defensive coordinator
  • Dontari Poe
  • Gerald McCoy
  • Jason Garrett
  • Kyle Van Noy
  • Mike McCarthy
  • Mike Nolan
  • NFl Draft
  • overhaul
  • pass rush
  • Patriots
  • Robert Quinn
  • Rod Marinelli
  • Sam Darnold
  • scheme
  • Stephen Jones
  • takeaways
  • versatile
By Nate Sanchez April 23, 2020 0 Comment
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After losing star players Byron Jones and Robert Quinn in free agency, there is plenty of change coming to the Cowboys defense.

The defensive overhaul that the Cowboys are going through will continue into the draft. Losing an 11.5-sack guy and a high-end cornerback in the same offseason wasn’t ideal for Dallas. The McCarthy regime has already brought lots of change that is primarily angled at the shortcomings of Jason Garrett and Co.

With what appears to be a complete philosophical overhaul on the defensive side, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has already departed from the Rod Marinelli philosophy. Dallas is now a believer in the large, space-eating one-technique, as evidenced by the Dontari Poe signing. Gerald McCoy was available last offseason, but he was avoided. Now he is a Cowboy.

Stephen Jones himself has voiced the plans to move towards a more versatile defensive scheme, namely regarding a new Patriots-style SAM linebacker/designated pass rusher role in the defense. This would be a player that obviously can rush the passer with plenty of juice, but is also versatile in coverage. Kyle Van Noy was used like this in the Patriots system and he will be used similarly in the Dolphins system.

These are all small pieces to the puzzle of the Dallas defense that is looking to be much more diverse in its coverages in 2019. The scheme grew stale and predictable. This quote from Sam Darnold following the Cowboys’ embarrassing loss to the Jets is a microcosm of the old Dallas defense:

What does this defensive overhaul mean for the draft?

When a complete 180-degree shift occurs, it affects all levels of the team. Everything from the personnel, strategy, draft planning, is all affected. Instead of searching for players that fit the Cowboys’ scheme, they are looking for skilled, heady, and versatile players. The new possibility of a SAM/DPR slot is a great example of this new versatility.

Dallas played Cover-1 or Cover-3 on a whopping 75% of its defensive snaps in 2019, per PFF. They consistently played with a single-high safety three out of every four plays. That is too simplistic and was a large contributing factor to Dallas being allergic to takeaways for so long. The defense was far too conservative, and now Nolan will be diversifying the scheme to create these elusive takeaways.

With the always-moving conveyor belt of talent in the NFL, the Cowboys are a bit behind after lackluster 2017 and 2019 drafts. It is hard to overstate the importance of cheap, young talent in a league that is so draft-driven. That principle applies even more to the Cowboys. Dallas is a team with significant financial investments already made and more to come soon.

Mike Nolan himself has been public about his intentions about the defense.

Nolan explained his philosophy back in a January interview:

“The back end is critical to winning football games. I believe you have to have a mix. If you peg yourself in one hole and just do one thing, that’s easy for the best quarterbacks to dissect and take advantage of,” Nolan said. “So I do believe you have to have a good mix between man and zone, there are different types of mans and different types of zones.”

“You don’t want to create so much volume that you don’t have an identity, but that is the process of getting to know your players, to know what you play more and what you play less of. When you play the best quarterbacks you need to give that quarterback looks and you need to do different things, so you have to have some sort of variety to be successful.”

This type of defensive philosophy hints at what the Cowboys are looking for from their 2020 draft class. As the Cowboys look for their next crop of talent, this weekend is crucial to contending in 2020. It’s time to get the most out of an incredibly talented roster.

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