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A Deep Dive from Dan Quinn, Part III: The problems with the Cowboys defense could be a lack of talent

Jan 23, 2024 #Dallas cowboy

Has Dan Quinn’s experiment run its course or do better days lie ahead?48 points. That’s the number of points the Green Bay Packers put up on the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card game.

It was the most points scored against the Cowboys last season and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.The defensive collapse has led many people to wonder if Dan Quinn is still the right person to lead this defense.

In part one of this in-depth series, we looked at Quinn’s impressive resume as a reminder of why he was so touted.

Yesterday we took a closer look at her time in Dallas, where she started to heat up, but her heat slowly died out. Today we’ll wrap up the discussion by looking at how the Cowboys used players last season and whether that in itself is a problem.

The strength of the Cowboys defense lies in their pass rush. We’ve talked about it a lot and it’s not news to anyone.

The change in success brought about by the team’s ability to rush is remarkable. Look at the progress they’ve made in this area since Quinn’s arrival.

• 2023: 59% (1st)

• 2022: 52% (2nd)

• 2021: 42% (12th)

• 2020: 37% (28th, Mike Nolan)

While impressive overall, the Cowboys’ pass rush has started to fade along the way. Towards the end of the regular season, they played five games, allowing only one sack in each game.

They never came close to upsetting Jordan Love in the Wild Card game. Many people will point to the endless calls against Micah Parsons as one of the reasons the Cowboys’ pass rush is declining. Some other factors include great offensive play by the opponents.

The defense has some good players in the trenches, but they need to get stronger, especially on the inside.


The linebacker group is the Cowboys’ most alarming defensive unit. The team lost two of its best linebackers in third-round pick Leighton Vander Esch and rookie DeMarvion Overshown, forcing them to rely on fifth-round pick Damone Clark and UDFA Markquese Bell, both in their first full season starting on this defense .

Although they played occasionally, this is an underpowered group. It’s unreasonable to expect these guys to regularly throw 300-pound offensive linemen. The Cowboys also used several strong safeties in the box to help against the running game. Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson are hitters who have made excellent plays near the line of scrimmage, but neither is a standout athlete.

When asked to handle more coverage duties in the secondary, they struggled, and that clearly showed against Green Bay.

Even in DaRon Bland’s season of Jekyll and Hyde, some have to wonder how good he is. His league-leading interceptions combined with record-setting touchdown returns earned him All-Pro status, but that same All-Pro has been toasted at times this season.

Nine players have logged more than 60% of the defensive snaps for the Cowboys this season. Seven of them were defenders. Does this seem like a strong defense to you?

• 94% Stephon Gilmore – seasoned veteran corner

• 90% DaRon Bland – overachieving 5th-round corner

• 81% Micah Parsons – all-pro edge rusher

• 77% Malik Hooker – solid veteran safety

• 77% Jayron Kearse – UDFA/low cost outside FA

• 73% Damone Clark – 5th-round linebacker

• 68% Jourdan Lewis – veteran backup slot corner

• 68% Donovan Wilson – 6th-round strong safety

• 61% Markquese Bell – UDFA safety converted linebacker

Now don’t get us wrong. These are the people who brought Dan Quinn and the coaches to the dance. If they’re not up to the task, it wasn’t a good plan in the first place. But at the same time, the fact that this group of mediocrely talented players performed so well is still a testament to what the coaching staff can bring to the defense.They had a terrible plan against the Packers.

It was a bad idea to be so persistent with nickel packages against a loaded Green Bay staff. It was also not good to rely on unsportsmanlike, run-stopping safeties to handle coverage duties. And Micah Parsons is hiding in the news again? No.

The plan against Green Bay was terrible. The changes made were minimal. And the overall performance of the players was terrible. There were coaching errors in the game, but it also seems like the Cowboys don’t have enough tools to be effective, especially when it comes to stopping the best offenses in the league.

The Cowboys may be able to fix their defensive problems by recognizing that their pieces may not be strong enough and that more talent is needed. The team also brought in a lot of new rookie defensemen last year who made little to no contributions.

This is atypical for this team. A more developed group of sophomores or a better draft class in this upcoming draft should help improve the talent on defense.

It’s fair to wonder if Quinn has lost a step after what we’ve seen lately. You also have to wonder if, like in Atlanta, his defenders aren’t talented enough to pull it off. Time should reveal the answer, and it won’t surprise us if Quinn’s defense team returns to the force we’ve come to love. This is if it stays.

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