Dan Quinn first became a major commodity in the league when he served as play-caller for Seattle’s Legion of Boom defense during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Both seasons saw the Seahawks lead the league in defense and head to the Super Bowl, where they won the franchise’s first title in 2013 against Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.
While Seattle’s defense was already among the very best in the league in 2012, Quinn received a great deal of credit for the two-year run of dominance and was soon named as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, where he would serve six seasons. Quinn’s legacy in Atlanta, as well as the legacy of his quarterback Matt Ryan, was dealt a severe blow, however, when the Falcons infamously blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI, going on to lose 34-28 in OT.
While Quinn and Atlanta will take 28-3 to their graves, Quinn’s impact on the Falcons franchise cannot be overlooked. His regular-season record might have been just a smidge over .500 at 43-37 but prior to his arrival, Atlanta had amassed just ten wins over the previous two seasons.
Atlanta was a bottom five defense prior to Quinn’s arrival and then leaped to the middle of the pack in his first season at the helm. Interestingly, in Atlanta’s Super Bowl run, the Falcons were once more a bottom five defense, ranking 27th in points scored. In that way, they would have been a serious anomaly seeing as 87% of Super Bowl winners have featured top 10 defenses.
So what can Dallas expect from Quinn as a defensive coordinator? The 2020 Cowboys defense was the worst in franchise history, yielding more than 29 points per game. The result was an overhaul in the secondary and a defensive-heavy draft that brought in players like Micah Parsons, Jabril Cox, Kelvin Joseph, and more.
While Seattle was already a dominant defense prior to Quinn’s stint as defensive coordinator, he did help them reach new heights over his two seasons, delivering one title and, were it not for the decision to throw the ball from the one-yard line despite having Marshawn Lynch, a second-consecutive championship. Atlanta, meanwhile, saw substantial growth on their way to what should have been their first Super Bowl title before the wheels fell off in the fourth quarter against the Patriots.
In Dallas, Quinn is most likely a short-term solution as he rebuilds his reputation following the stain of 28-3 and back-to-back 7-9 seasons that closed out his tenure in Atlanta. To that end, Dallas was a perfect fit for him. With a loaded offense that was averaging more than 32.6 points per game prior to Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury, the defense won’t be asked to do much of the heavy lifting in 2021. Even a marginal improvement from the 29.6 points per contest the defense surrendered could result in a drastically-improved record for Dallas—assuming Prescott remains healthy.
But while the bar may not appear to be terribly high for Quinn to claim significant improvement in Dallas, the on-field product indicates a pretty significant change may already underway for the Dallas defense.
Despite an 0-3 preseason record, the defense has been more active, swarming to the ball and tackling well. Busted coverages, which last season were so commonplace you could expect to see them multiple times per game most weeks, look to be a thing of the past. There’s also the transformation of defensive personnel, seen most notably in the secondary. Quinn’s affinity for long, athletic cornerbacks in Seattle helped create arguably the most dominant secondary of the past decade. In Dallas, he’s targeting a similar prototype, as seen with the drafting of cornerbacks Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright.
Joseph and Wright have both performed well throughout camp and show promise for a future “no-fly zone” in the Cowboy secondary. Until then, the flashes, along with the physical tools they possess, should help make plays prior Dallas secondaries were incapable of. The biggest impact players likely to elevate the defense in 2021, however, are Parsons and Cox.
Having a hybrid at linebacker in Parsons is huge for Quinn’s unit. The linebacker position may have had its issues thanks to Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith’s history of injuries and limitations but Parsons’ versatility, as well as his closing speed, make him a potential game-wrecker Quinn can employ from multiple positions. Cox, meanwhile, has shown significant growth against the run, a previously perceived weakness in his game. With that deficiency potentially fortified, he looks to be even more of a steal for the Cowboys in the fourth round.
Quinn has a proven track record of not only improving defenses but getting the most out of them. With the unparalleled spotlight the Cowboys enjoy on the national stage, Quinn is in an optimal position to elevate his stock again, even if the improvement is modest and merely brings the Cowboys back toward the middle-of-the-pack. Best of all, the team actually seems to be responding to his direction and coaching, giving hope it may reach higher yet in the coming years, whether or not Quinn himself is still there to see it.