Film room: Strengths and weaknesses of Cowboys DC Dan Quinn’s base defense - John Owning, Dallas Morning News
Taking a look into what Dan Quinn’s base defense will look like.
Modular.....You probably noticed I haven’t used labels like linebackers, cornerbacks or safeties to describe any of the positions in Quinn’s base scheme. That’s not by mistake.The “hook,” “buzz” and “deep-third” roles can be largely interchangeable if taught correctly, allowing creative defensive coordinators to dress up a simple coverage in ways that are complex for the offense but simple for the defense. In my opinion, unless you have the overwhelming talent Quinn did during his stint as defensive coordinator for the Seahawks with the Legion of Boom, this is the No. 1 key for this type of defense to be successful in today’s NFL.
If a defense is going to align in static spot-drop Cover 3, it’s going to get picked apart by even slightly above-average quarterbacks. But if you’re able to change the picture for the passer by mixing up which defenders play which roles, it gives the defense a much better opportunity to be successful despite playing largely the same coverage. This was a big problem when Richard was running Dallas’ secondary, which didn’t employ enough changeups and tendency breakers within the base defenses to keep quarterbacks guessing. Luckily for the Cowboys, Quinn has displayed more of a willingness to take advantage of the modular capabilities of vision-and-break Cover 3.
3 special teams issues the Cowboys must fix this offseason, including who will be Dallas’ punter - Michael Gehlken, Dallas Morning News
The Cowboys still have some work to do with their special teams unit.
Will the Cowboys stick with L.P. Ladouceur? Another year. Another 16 games of proof that L.P. Ladouceur still has it. The longtime Cowboys long snapper remained a constant in 2020, part of a field goal operation that introduced a new kicker and, because of injury, made a midseason change at holder. Ladouceur has not missed a game since his debut on Oct. 2, 2005. His 253 games are two shy of tight end Jason Witten’s franchise record. Dallas must decide whether to re-sign Ladouceur or pursue a younger option. Ladouceur, who turns 40 on March 13, seems intent on a 17th season. “My whole goal is to be healthy,” he said Dec. 17. “If I feel like I can still do it, then I’ll do it. And if I feel like in January or February, ‘You know what, this might be it,’ then that’s it. But right now, I feel pretty good.
“I don’t feel like I’ve lost a step. Obviously, I’ve become a little bit more cerebral with time. [Other players] stay the same age, but I get older. That’s kind of my focus is one game at a time, one week at a time.” In 2020, John Fassel became the sixth Cowboys special teams coordinator to coach the Canada native. Fassel’s background is of note when reviewing the looming decision.
Fassel coached the now-Los Angeles Rams from 2011 to 2019. Jake McQuaide was his long snapper for every game in those nine years. McQuaide, 33, and Ladouceur are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents March 17. McQuaide could be signed. Or the Cowboys could choose not to fix what isn’t broken.
In a down year, the performance of the rookie class was one positive.
The rookies. The Cowboys might have four long-term starters in their first four 2020 NFL draft picks in wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, cornerback Trevon Diggs, defensive tackle Neville Gallimore and center Tyler Biadasz. Lamb had the most catches by a rookie in team history (74). Diggs led the Cowboys with three interceptions. Gallimore showed flashes with four tackles for loss and should benefit from Quinn's scheme change. Biadasz was on his way to cementing the starting role before suffering a hamstring injury.
Donovan Wilson. The safety never really got a chance as a rookie in 2019 but started 10 games and had 68 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four pass deflections in 2020. He has a knack for finding the ball. He needs to work on his coverage responsibilities and deep-safety work. His positive play doesn't mean the Cowboys can ignore the position in the upcoming draft, but they know they have someone to pair with a draft pick or free-agent pickup.
Just how much will the change of combine procedures affect the draft?
In light of the news that the NFL is changing the procedures for the NFL Scouting Combine, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Cowboys as they prepare for this draft? — DAN S. / WICHITA, KS
Rob: Same challenge facing every team: limitations in the scouting process, not just going forward but really the past few months. It can't be helped, and drastically changing the combine structure makes sense given the logistical and safety challenges still posed by the pandemic. But, while the organization had a successful draft last year despite working virtually, I do think it's easier to make evaluations – whether it's workouts, interviews or medical checks – when there's an in-person element to them. Same with any job interview you've ever had.
David: I'm starting to get really nervous about just how hamstrung the 32 scouting departments in this league are going to be. These guys didn't even have a normal year to evaluate prospects, when you consider the various ways that COVID limited the 2020 college football season. Now, they're going to have to get creative in meeting and evaluating all these guys without the structure of the combine. We said this last year, and I think it'll be even more true in 2021: the varying degree in evaluations this year is going to be off the charts from team to team.
What do you believe is the biggest offseason decision for the Cowboys?
Which Defensive Players Will Be Re-Signed? Given the porous defense last season, there aren't a whole lot of free agents that fans will lose too much sleep over losing in 2021. However, they still have to put 11 players on the field next season, and that means someone from their batch of free agents is likely coming back.
They won't be able to afford to bring all of them back, but defensive end Aldon Smith, cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie, as well as safety Xavier Woods, are all set to hit the market. The Vikings should be a cautionary tale about letting several defensive backs walk. They watched Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander all leave last offseason. Even though they struggled in 2019, the result was a defense that ranked 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt.
The Cowboys' secondary was at least better than that this season, but allowing a mass exodus of established talent won't result in a better unit next season. Instead, they'll need to decide which one of those players might experience a better season in new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's system.
A full projection of the Cowboys compensatory picks.
Yesterday, Over The Cap released their full projections for 2021 compensatory picks. These are based on a formula which compares a team’s free agent departures against its acquisitions the previous season. In 2020 the Dallas Cowboys saw some of their talent sign lucrative deals with new teams such as CB Byron Jones and DE Robert Quinn. By not being big spenders themselves, the Cowboys now stand to get an impressive allotment of compensatory picks.
3rd-round pick (CB Byron Jones)
4th-round pick (DE Robert Quinn)
5th-round pick (WR Randall Cobb)
6th-round pick (S Jeff Heath)
These projections look at the contracts that these players signed and compares them to the contracts signed by new players the Cowboys brought in. For Jones, Quinn, and Cobb, none of the free agents added by Dallas last year had contracts which matched against these. Some losses and additions cancel each other out. For example, Dallas signed DT Gerald McCoy for close to the same money that Maliek Collins got from the Raiders. The same happened with Jason Witten’s Oakland deal and the contract that Dallas gave Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
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