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Rod Marinelli On Cowboys Defense: "It Takes Hard Men To Play This System."

Cowboys defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli talks about his defense, what it takes for it to succedd, how he measures success, and where the defense needs to improve.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In public, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is a soft-spoken guy, but that belies his fiery intensity, as Jerry Jones recently told KRLD/105.3 FM.

"He’s so intense," owner Jerry Jones said of Marinelli. "I was watching him in the coaches’ meeting. He’s soft-spoken, but yet he’s not soft-spoken when he wants to really make a difference and make his point."

"He’s a wiry Vietnam veteran. You see it. You see it in his determination and his eyes, and boy, do those players see it. I know that a couple of his former players like [Henry] Melton when they joined the Cowboys, they did so motivated, because he was going to be here, because they knew what he did as a coach with them as a player."

"It’s intensity. It is creating a complete understanding that the harder you go, the better chance we have and the better chance you have to be what you want to be individually. He’s a great technician. He really can help a player get where he wants to go just by technique. You do all of that, but boy, the main thing is he’s about the motor or the engine or how passionate the player is about getting to the ball."


This week, Marinelli made a guest appearance on's Special Edition to talk about the 'Marinelli Magic'. Go watch the video, it'll be worth your time; here's a partial transcript of the episode.

On whether there was 'magic' involved in turning last year’s defense into this year’s unit.

Marinelli: I don’t know. I just know we’re working really hard on all the basic things. And that’s probably the most toughest thing to do in our system: The week-in and week-out effort, pursuit, toughness. It’s hard.

That’s why it takes hard men to play this system.


A little back and forth with moderator Steve Dennis:

Dennis: Marinelli likes to call his system Marinelli Madness, but when pressed, this is how he defines it:

Marinelli: Guys that really play hard. Down in and down out. Guys who will hustle and max out every snap, and play within the system.

Dennis: I get this feeling that with your defense, you don’t even care who the players are.

Marinelli: No.

Dennis: You don’t care who the body is.

Marinelli: No ... As long as he’s going hard and fast, playing low and playing physical.

Dennis: Do they even have names to you?

Marinelli [smiling]: Numbers. No, I love all these guys.


On the physical nature of the defense.

Marinelli: I think most of them [love football]. I think there’s some really nice energy, and you can tell it by how we practice – the pace – you can tell it when you turn on our film hopefully now as we get going. How guys are hustling to the ball and really hitting.

That’s something we talk about, "Outhit the opponent." That’s something that’s stressed, it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet; you just feel it. And it’s something we aim for.


On using the Aikman Efficiency Ratings to measure the defensive performance:

Marinelli: It’s points allowed, it’s red zone, it’s third downs, it’s all those things. It’s kind of like a quarterback rating, just about [the defense]. So you see situationally how you’re playing. Because total yard at times can be misleading.

We took a detailed look at the Aikman Efficiency Ratings two weeks ago here on BTB. Through four weeks, the defense ranks 11th overall. Here's how the Cowboys currently rank against each of the seven metrics that go into the Aikman Rating:

Cowboys Performance vs. Aikman Efficiency Ratings
Metric Rank
Turnovers T 5th
The Cowboys have generated eight tunovers; five interceptions and three fumble recoveries. That 2.0 per game average is tied for fifth best in the league.
Red Zone Efficiency 7th The Cowboys opponents have had 11 red zone possessions. At seven points per possession, opponents could have scored 77 points, but only scored 48 for an efficiency percentage of 62%, the seventh best value in the league.
Adjusted Points 8th Of the 86 points the Cowboys have allowed over four games, seven points came from a pick six and another seven came from a fumble returned for a TD. The 72 remaining points translate to 18.0 points allowed per game, 8th overall in the NFL
First Down Achievement 11th The Cowboys have allowed 19.5 first downs per game.
19th The Cowboys have a middling 46.7% third down conversion rate allowed.
Yards Per Play 22nd The Cowboys are allowing 7.7 yards per attempt through the air.
28th The Cowboys are allowing 5.0 yards per attempt on the ground.


Marinelli on the low number of sacks for his defense:

Marinelli: I’ve seen the improvement. It’s getting a little bit better, but it’s not where it should be. But when that thing starts to come together up front, the pressure, then I think it’s got a chance to really click.

We’re rounding. You can feel it. They’re coming hard. In terms of effort and want-to, and their feet, and they keep coming hard; we’re doing a pretty solid job. We just need more.

And eventually, something bad is going to happen to the offense. We’re going to get a takeaway, a strip, they’ll get a penalty, we’ll get a tackle for loss – if we just keep playing.

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