When the Dallas Cowboys brought in Mike Nolan last season to lead their defense into the future, there was a hope that his change in philosophy and teaching could give the Cowboys an edge. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Nolan’s impact on the team was the exact opposite, his complicated formations and coverage schemes left defenders out of position and blaming each other for mistakes made on the field. This is an example of one person who completely changed the outlook for the Cowboys in less than a year.
The Cowboys went from a bend-but-don’t-break defense ranked 11th in total defense to a defense that just wasn’t able to stop anyone, including backup quarterbacks, and ended the season ranked 28th in total defense. That’s a significant drop in terms of Nolan’s defense allowing an average of 29.6 points per game. With that stat it’s no wonder why that was Nolan’s first and last season with the team. This left the Cowboys searching for a defensive coordinator that has a proven record but also brings something else to the table, and that person would turn out to be Dan Quinn.
Quinn’s swagger, and get-in and mix it up with the player's approach to coaching is far different from Nolan’s detail-oriented straightforward teaching approach. Quinn’s ability to work one-on-one with players gives him the opportunity to develop better relationships with his players. That open relationship and building of trust opens Quinn up to keeping his players motivated and involved in his game plans, something that Nolan seemingly lost early in the season. This is very important for a new coach coming in since gaining the player's trust and buy-in leads to quick success.
But this is a win-now league, and while practice does make perfect, Quinn will need to show that he’s righted the ship for this Cowboys defense on the field. So far early reports are optimistic; last season players like defensive ends Bradlee Anae and Dorance Armstrong were seen as players who weren’t able to produce for Nolan. With Quinn, though, those players are starting to stand out in practice but are now also showing up on the field in live-action. He’s also got players who didn’t even suit up last season playing hard and seemingly coming out of now where like cornerback Maurice Canady.
By simplifying the defensive scheme for the players and actually putting players in positions to succeed, Quinn has allowed players once thought of as nothing more than part-time players or special teamers to show out on the field. If he’s able to do that with players of that caliber, then imagining what he’s doing with players like Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence and Trevon Diggs is intriguing. Their boost in confidence has to be through the roof and their production should rise from last season considerably.
Quinn’s attitude around this team has become infectious and it’s proving beneficial for the Cowboys overall. If Quinn is able to keep their energy high and they stay focused, this defense has the ability to come in and immediately be better than what Nolan put on the field last season. That turnaround also effects to offense in a positive way; stops lead to more chances for quarterback Dak Prescott and his high-powered offense to use the clock and put more points on the board. Last year any time the offense started to click the defense was unable to get stops at critical moments thus stopping the offense’s momentum, and taking the energy out of AT&T Stadium when they were at home.
Dan Quinn has quietly pieced the defense back together and that hard work is what gives this Cowboys team the opportunity to create plenty of “Mojo Moments” and propel this team to the playoffs.