In 2014 the Dallas Cowboys defensive unit generated 31 turnovers. That translates into 31 times that they took away an opponent's opportunity to put points on the board and 31 additional opportunities for Tony Romo and the Dallas offense to put additional tallies on the scoreboard. It does not take a genius to figure out how a defensive performance like that can help a football team to finish the regular season with a 12-4 record.
2015 was a dramatically different season as evidenced by the 4-12 record that the squad turned in. A defense that was pushing nearly two takeaways per game the year before only managed to create 11 additional opportunities during the most recent campaign. It was the worst performance, turnover-wise, of Rod Marinelli's career as a defensive coordinator.
"Not good enough. It’s everything. I think the hustle, the effort, the hitting, all those things were good. We didn’t finish games like we should have, but the takeaways are the No. 1 thing in football." - Rod Marinelli
I doubt that you could find a defensive coordinator at any level of the game that would dispute Marinelli's words. Winning football begins and ends with stopping the other team and the easiest way to stop an offense from scoring is to take away the one thing that every team needs to score, the football.
"The ball matters." - Jason Garrett
It certainly mattered to the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers. In contrast to the 11 turnovers that the Dallas Cowboys generated, Ron Rivera's charges took the ball away 39 times during their journey to the Super Bowl. It mattered to Josh Norman and his counterparts on the back side of the Panthers D. Their 24 picks this season was more than double the entire production of Marinelli's unit. Their 15 fumble recoveries also outpaced the 'Boys entire defensive effort. The difference, and the result, is clear. One team is playing February football while the other is watching it.
This will be the area of focus for the defense during the off-season. Marinelli's defenses have always had the take-away mentality, this edition simply failed to execute the gameplan. That will not change.
"Just have to keep redoing it over and over. I’ve always had success with it. We did it (in 2014). Last year I didn’t. You just got to keep doing it." - Rod Marinelli
They will regroup, reassess, and fix what went wrong. There is no reason to panic over the defense. The are focused on getting back to doing what they do better than most. It may not be Doomsday, but Marinelli's defense will be back to form. The coach will see to that. He will be joined in that effort by his field general, Sean Lee, who also realized the burden the defense must assume going forward.
"We’re all defensively going to this offseason looking at how we can cause more turnovers, how can we find a way to get to the quarterback to where we can have game-changing plays through the game and then in the fourth quarter down the stretch. That was the theme. You don’t have to watch too much film to know we didn’t cause turnovers and make plays in the fourth quarter." - Sean Lee
The defense fell short in 2015. An offense depleted by injuries needed as much help as it could get and as many additional scoring opportunities as the defense could provide. That defense might have failed this season, but with Marinelli and Lee leading the rebound efforts during the off-season there is justifiable hope that 2016 will not feature a rehash of what we saw last season.
Everyone knows that it all begins with the ball, and taking it from the other side. Only when that is taken care of can the other half of the team do thinks with it.