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How the past is the key to the Cowboys’ future in the secondary

When you compare Mike Nolan’s vision and to Dan Quinn’s, it’s like night and day.

NFL: NOV 01 Cowboys at Eagles Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last season the Cowboys brought in a defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, whose defensive vision was to cause confusion to fool opposing quarterbacks with heavily disguised coverages in the secondary. Sadly, it had the opposite effect and confused the Cowboys secondary, and opposing quarterbacks were able to average 6.7 yards per attempt and throw for 34 touchdowns against an often out of position Cowboys secondary. It didn’t matter if they were a seasoned veteran or a rookie coming into the league, it was abundantly clear that what Nolan was doing wasn’t working.

The problem for Nolan was that it looked like he was trying to install too much in a COVID offseason, and the players weren’t able to retain all of that information which is what led to blown coverages time after time for the secondary. Now that the Cowboys have brought in Dan Quinn to try and fix this defense, there is a tinge of hope around this unit thanks in part to how simple it is for the players to digest and retain the information given to them. For the secondary in particular, it’s much less about hiding what you are doing. Instead, they are making sure nothing gets behind them and players are where they need to be. A far cry from Nolan’s more complex approach.

If you take a look at Quinn’s scheme in the secondary you’ll find that there’s nothing really complex about a Cover 3 for a secondary. It’s a fairly simple concept with three defenders back deep to take away the deep shots downfield and a mix of defenders (secondary and linebackers) patrolling shorter routes underneath.

So how does this equal success for the Cowboys secondary defenders? Well, for one, there are players on this roster that have had success playing in a similar scheme. Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis had their moments in a similar scheme under Rod Marinelli/Kris Richard and they will be able to use this familiarity to teach the younger players what needs to be done. If that wasn’t enough, the Cowboys brought in two players who have been with Quinn and started for him in the past in Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal.

So for all of the potential questions surrounding the Cowboys secondary and how they will perform this season, there is the positive news that the Cowboys have players who are familiar with the coverages they will run, and have had some success with them. Quinn will run a Cover 3-heavy scheme with occasional Cover 1 looks mixed in; those two coverages will constitute the majority of the secondary play-calls. They will be straightforward and simple enough as to not confuse their rookies and in turn, give them more confidence on the field. The confidence they will need for Quinn to manage a turnaround for this defense in 2021.