Every defensive coordinator has certain types of players that they need to make their defenses work. Those coordinators, whenever they go to a new team, look over the roster and have to decide whether what they have is enough or if they will need to work the free agency and draft angles to get what they need. With Dan Quinn coming to Dallas, he’s doing that as we speak and there are a few things that we can easily see are missing that he will need to get through free agency and the draft.
We know that Quinn will look to employ a 4-3 defensive scheme, the scheme that won him a Super Bowl with Seattle. He’s in luck that the Cowboys are only one year removed from a scheme similar to what he ran in Seattle when Kris Richard was calling the plays. He still has a few problems that he will need to fix to get this defense closer to what he wants it to be. Those problems being personnel currently missing on this roster.
Let’s take a look at three pieces that Quinn will need to fix before he can feel comfortable with his defense.
Run stuffing defensive tackles
During his time with the Seahawks, Quinn had three defensive tackles all over 300 pounds with the ability to stop the run. Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniels, and Kevin Williams were able to dominate the line of scrimmage for the Seahawks during their championship run. Quinn has always seemed to put a focus on having big guys up front that have the ability to take on two blockers and eat up space in the middle, allowing others to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It gave his defensive ends an easier time sacking the quarterback since they were being flushed out of the pocket.
The other reason was to stop the run and force teams to throw against his talented secondary “The Legion of Boom”. They ranked third in rushing yards allowed giving up 1,304 yards and second in yards per attempt with 3.4 yards per carry and gave up just eight rushing touchdowns. Compare that to the Cowboys this season who ranked 31st in yards allowed, 2,541 yards on the season, and allowing teams to rush for five yards per attempt.
Clearly, Quinn is going to be looking to fix that immediately, and to do that he needs a different style of defensive tackle the Cowboys have used in the past.
A leader in the secondary
When Quinn left the Seahawks, he left them with a secondary that had a reputation as the best secondary in the NFL thanks in large part to the leadership of Kam Chancellor. While Richard Sherman was locking down receivers and talking trash, and Earl Thomas was quietly shoring up the middle of the field, it was Chancellor who held them together. His play was more lead by example; need someone to cover tight ends no problem, play deep and layout anyone trying to catch the football no problem, stop the run or rush the passer no problem. Chancellor did it all.
Now take a look at the Cowboys secondary right now, who on this team do you see as that player who can direct the secondary, be physical, and still hold up in coverage? Donovan Williams maybe, but it’s not a guarantee. Quinn needs someone back there that can get his secondary in the right position making sure there aren’t any blown coverages and still be able to make plays on the field.
They will need to take a hard look at their roster because some will not be back next season and they will need to find some players and one needs to be their Chancellor.
A dominant middle linebacker
The Cowboys have two linebackers that are very good at certain things but Leighton Vander Esch has now had continuing issues with injuries and we’ve seen this story before during Sean Lee’s tenure with the team. Then you have Jaylon Smith who has been inconsistent in his play as well as having mental mistakes that led to ill-advised penalties.
Quinn needs a linebacker that can make the calls for the defense, defend the pass, stop the run, and rush the passer. Bobby Wagner was that guy for him and while Smith could be that guy, he has to get better and stop having these mental lapses in games, though some of that had to do with the change of scheme for Smith. If he can’t, then Quinn and the Cowboys are going to need to look in free agency or in the draft to find a player that can.
This offseason is going to be an important first step for Quinn and he’s going to have to fight for the guys he wants or it’s going to be another long season for this defense.