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Dan Quinn’s army of soldiers have the Cowboys poised for a special year

Things are a lot different in Dallas and we love it!

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The year was 2020. The Dallas Cowboys only won six games. Many will point to the loss of Dak Prescott as the season-killer, but we also can’t lose sight that the defense was allowing opposing teams to roll all over them in a historic fashion. The Cowboys got smoked quite frequently and allowed the most points they had ever given up in their 60-year storied franchise.

But things are much different now, and we have Dan Quinn to thank for that. After the Mike Nolan experiment was laid to rest, the team hired Quinn to be their new defensive coordinator. It was a gig Quinn held before in Seattle in 2012 and 2013 when his defense finished no. 1 in fewest points during both of his seasons in the Pacific Northwest. Quinn impressed so much that he was given the head coaching job in Atlanta the following season. The Falcons went from a six-win team to a Super Bowl appearance in just two years but then struggled to where Quinn was fired midseason in 2020. He joined the Cowboys squad the following year, and once again the Quinn effect was clearly noticeable.

  • 2020 (Nolan) = 473 points allowed (franchise-worse record)
  • 2021 (Quinn) = 358 points allowed (7th fewest)
  • 2022 (Quinn) = 342 points allowed (5th fewest)

The drastic improvement in the Cowboys' defense not only comes from a change in philosophy but from almost an entirely new cast of characters. If you look at the Cowboys' current depth chart, 19 of the 26 players on the roster (73%) weren’t on the team until after Quinn arrived a couple of years ago.

That is quite the turnover. This team has remodeled a significant part of the defense in record time. The biggest influx of players has come through the draft. After once being considered a team that was heavily invested in offense, the Cowboys have spun the helm in the other direction. During the last three drafts, the team has had a total of 11 draft picks in the first three rounds. Eight of them (72%) have been defensive players. That’s a lot of premium resources aimed at fixing the defense.

The Cowboys have also made some great additions via trade/free agency.

  • Stephon Gilmore (trade)
  • Johnathan Hankins (trade)
  • Dante Fowler (free agency)
  • Jayron Kearse (free agency)
  • Malik Hooker (free agency)
  • Noah Igbinoghene (trade)

Combine all of that with some great later-round/undrafted free agent finds (DaRon Bland, Damone Clark, Dorance Armstrong, Markquese Bell, and Juanyeh Thomas), and the team suddenly is stacked with talent up and down the roster.

But it’s not just the quantity of new guys that has this defense excelling. It’s that this group consists of so many unique players who have appealing skill sets for players their size. Starting with the “lion backer,” Parsons was an amazingly fast off-ball linebacker who has transformed into one of the best speed/power pass rushers in the league.

Quinn has a “type” for what he wants on this defense. Length was a common theme during his first draft with the Cowboys as several new editions came with long wingspans. None of them is more evident than the team’s 3-tech defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa. He’s almost like an amalgamation of Michael Bennett and Grady Jarrett, both of whom played for Quinn at Seattle and Atlanta respectively. He has improved with each new season and looked like an absolute beast on Sunday night against the New York Giants. He used his length to shed blocks, throw blockers aside, and reach out and wrap up ball carriers trying to escape. It was quite impressive.

Up and down the roster, you’ll see players who are not the typical size for that said position. Jayron Kearse is viewed as a hybrid safety/linebacker. Markquese Bell is another safety converted to linebacker who is stepping into his own and looks to be a key contributor this season. And then there are players like Chauncey Golston and Junior Fehoko who we’re not even sure what to call them as they at tweeners between interior defenders and edge rushers.

The Cowboys have a very diverse group of defenders. They are strong, they are fast, and they come with more length than the standard defense. It’s a recipe that has resulted in back-to-back seasons of leading the league in takeaways. And after three turnovers on Sunday night, they are up to their old tricks again.

It should be clear that this defense is different. We’re talking about elite performers who can really wreck some stuff this year. Quinn’s army of soldiers has this unit primed to cause all kinds of destruction this season and it could be what finally puts them over the top.

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