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Cowboys news: Ten plays that shaped the Cowboys’ 2020 season

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New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

10 plays that shaped the Cowboys’ season: From Dak Prescott’s injury to instant highlight reels - Jean-Jacques Taylor, Dallas Morning News

Take a trip down memory lane for a rocky 2020 season.

3. The Watermelon Kick Score: Atlanta 39, Dallas 37 (Week 2) Situation: Kickoff from the Dallas 35 with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter. Play: C.J. Goodwin recovers the watermelon kick. Taylor’s Take: This was the most bizarre play I’ve seen in 25 years of covering the Cowboys. That’s because it was the first onside kick I’d ever seen attempted that wasn’t on a tee. Several Falcons appeared hypnotized by the spinning ball as they watched Goodwin pounce on it. The Cowboys had already rallied from a 20-0, first-quarter deficit and being down 39-24 with 7:57 left. Greg Zuerlein’s 46-yard field goal as time expired helped Dallas avoid an 0-2 start, the kiss of death for teams trying to make the playoffs.

4. The Fumble Score: Dallas 0, Arizona 0 (Week 6) Situation: 2nd & 9 from the Arizona 49 2:44 left in the first quarter Play: Ezekiel Elliott loses a fumble after a catch for no gain. Taylor’s Take: This was the first of two Elliott fumbles on consecutive touches that Arizona recovered — his third and fourth fumbles of the season — turning a scoreless game into a quick 14-0 hole on national TV. He fumbled once every 91 touches in his first four NFL seasons, but he dropped the ball once every 26 touches in the first six games of 2020. Those turnovers played a direct role in losses to Cleveland and Arizona, and set the tone for the worst season of his career.

Film room: Why Cowboys’ defense under Dan Quinn will look different than ones coached by Kris Richard - John Owning, Dallas Morning News

Dan Quinn’s defense may have a similar scheme, but things will look different.

While the Cowboys’ defensive fronts under Quinn will probably be much different than they were under Richard/Nolan, the coverages behind them will likely be similar — primarily MOFC coverages (Cover 1 and 3). The idea behind playing relatively simple coverages is that while the offense may have an idea about what you’re going to do, the defense also knows how the offense is likely going to attack.

Therefore, the defense can spend most of its time practicing how to defend the common coverage-beaters teams use to attack those specific alignments. In addition, the simplicity of the coverages enable defenders to play fast and think less, which — in theory — should lead to fewer coverage busts and miscommunications than Dallas had in 2020 under Nolan.

Having said that, Quinn has incorporated more frequent two-high, MOFO defenses after hiring Sutton as a defensive analyst and once Raheem Morris was made defensive coordinator in 2019, so don’t be surprised if Quinn has a little more variability in his called coverages with Dallas, though Cover 3 will always be the base.

Why Jerry Jones won't pull a John Elway and step down as Cowboys' GM - Dallas Cowboys- Todd Archer, ESPN

The boss man isn’t going anywhere.

I have been covering the Cowboys since 2003. I have covered Dallas coaches Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett and Mike McCarthy. None of them have said a bad word about how Jones operates the team. Why would they? He paid them a lot of money, but has Parcells held his tongue when it has come to his bosses? Check out his departure from the New England Patriots. Google his relationship with New York Giants general manager George Young. The perception from outside Dallas headquarters is the Cowboys are something of a circus, with Jones serving as the ringmaster.

"No, I don't agree with that opinion at all," McCarthy said last week on 105.3 The Fan. "I really enjoy Jerry and Stephen [Jones]. Their outlook on the NFL, what has been built here with the Dallas Cowboys is unique, strong, powerful. And it's a tremendous responsibility that I take very seriously. But no, things are very clear on how we want to approach things. The communication is good. They are very respectful to the vision of the football program that I've implemented here. I really like the structure ... and just the way we operate.

"They are all about winning, but they have a family-first approach and mindset, and that's something I truly believe in. That's the way I've always coached and installed a football program as a head coach. ... The only disappointment I have is that we were 6-10."

Dallas Cowboys: 3 items on Dan Quinn’s defensive to-do list - Steven Mullenax, FanSided’s The Landry Hat

The new defensive coordinator has some big items on his to-do list.

Find a stabilizing force at defensive tackle...The Cowboys swung and missed big on their two top free agent signings at defensive tackle last year. Gerald McCoy would suffer a quad injury before the start of the regular season that resulted in him being released. Dontari Poe would also be released, but after seven games and due to poor play.

2019 second-round defensive tackle Trysten Hill seemed to take some strides in his second year prior to suffering a season-ending ACL injury. But Quinn will need to find a more stabilizing force in the middle of his defensive line if he’s going to improve on the team’s run defense that allowed 158.8 rushing yards per game, which ranked 31st in the NFL.

Find a safety to pair with Donovan Wilson...With Xavier Woods scheduled to hit free agency in March, Quinn and the Cowboys will need to find a new starter to pair with 2020 breakout star Donovan Wilson at safety this offseason. Dallas attempted to do so via free agency last year, signing former first-rounder and Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-DIx. Unfortunately, Clinton-DIx couldn’t make it past final cuts in Dallas and ultimately led to the team starting Wilson five games into the regular season. Perhaps Quinn’s influence will finally nudge the Cowboys into spending a high-draft selection on a safety.

Draft Show: Curveball From The New Coordinator? - Kyle Youmans, Dallascowboys.com

A quick recap of this week's The Draft Show.

Cowboys Angle: Dan Quinn will develop the young pieces on defense...In order for a decorated coach like Dan Quinn to accept a coaching role with a defense that requires as much overhaul as this one does, there had to be a selling point. After finishing 28th in scoring defense and in the bottom five in yards allowed, the intriguing parts of the defense revolve around the youth moment and potential to fix the front seven. Bucky Brooks discussed how, in the past, Quinn's 'Plan D' program focused on providing extra reps, one-on-one coaching and quicker development for young players under his staff's wing. This, along with the potential position changes for Jaylon Smith and Randy Gregory, showed just a couple of the ways Quinn could overhaul the Dallas defense in a short period of time.

Greatest Debate: Does Quinn's hiring allude to a Dak Prescott signing?....Brooks brought up an interesting point about how the hiring of Dan Quinn on the defensive side of the football could be sending a message for the offensive side as well. His thought process was the Quinn addition should raise the caliber of play from a historically bad defense, to at least a middle-of-the-pack one, putting a large amount of pressure on the offensive side of the ball. If the offense were to be healthy again in 2021, they would be one of the best in the NFL as long as Dak Prescott were behind center.

Will Hiring Dan Quinn Drastically Change The 2021 Cowboys Defense? - Kevin Brady, Inside The Star

It’s a new face, but will there be an elevated level of play from the defense?

Quinn will also just be the defensive coordinator this time around, unlike in Atlanta. He doesn’t have to focus on the head coaching duties, and can pour all of his time into the defensive side of the ball. That will help a lot. What exactly will be changing with this defense, though?

Well, for starters, they are likely getting back to simplicity. Quinn is famous for his cover 1 and cover 3 schemes, stacking the box to allow his front seven to one-gap while his cornerbacks and safeties have clear responsibilities on the backend. Dallas will be in a single high safety look most of the time, meaning they will have numbers in the run game upfront, and are tasked at stopping the big pass play in the secondary. Because of the new emphasis on passing in the NFL, two high safety defenses have become the preferred choice of NFL Twitter. And the analytics community has even said that, basically, run defense doesn’t matter.

Run defense, or lack thereof, mattered a lot for the Cowboys in 2020 though. Jaylon Smith became the constant target of criticism as he was out of position, or unable to fit the right gaps in Nolan’s scheme. Quinn will make it as simple as can be for him and Leighton Vander Esch when defending the run, and this will help take the load off their shoulders a bit.

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