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A deep dive into Dan Quinn, Part II: This once unsinkable Cowboys defense is starting to take on water

The coach we all adored is suddenly sitting in the hot seat in Dallas.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

To keep or not to keep, that is the question...that many fans have raised regarding Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. While the Cowboys have already made their decision, Cowboys Nation is not so sure. Yesterday, we started to unpack the history of Quinn and how he became the team’s defensive leader. Today, we’ll run through the next chapter as we examine his time here in Dallas.

It wasn’t that long ago when we were all excited about Quinn arriving in Dallas. Being fired in Atlanta didn’t worry us in the slightest. With the Falcons, they didn’t have the groceries to give him much of a chance, but the Cowboys front office has been much better at acquiring talent. They would give him what he needed, it’s just his job to make it work. And to the surprise of no one, it didn’t take long for us to see the transformation in all of its glory.

The turnaround in Dallas was fast. The defense allowed a franchise-worst 473 points in Mike McCarthy’s first season where he had Mike Nolan as the defensive coordinator, but they have finished in the top seven in points allowed in each of Quinn’s seasons with Dallas, including top five in each of the last two years. The Cowboys' defense also finished first in takeaways in Quinn’s first two seasons with the team.

Quinn’s impact on the Cowboys has been rather significant. This is a very experienced coach who has a strong understanding of defensive principles. The things he brings to the Cowboys' defense are considerable. He is masterful at disguising coverages and using false keys. He uses simulated pressures with pass rushers coming from anywhere on the defense. The defensive line attacks in so many different ways with twists, stunts, and from all directions using a multitude of players in different spots at the line of scrimmage. He plays fast as his defense is built on team speed and emphasizes versatility so his players can be effective all over the football field.

He’s not married to any one philosophy. He’ll go heavy Cover 1 at times and then throw a heavy dose of quarters coverage another time. He’s a complex coordinator who is very good at challenging the decisions of the quarterback. For the better part of three seasons, we’ve seen quarterbacks running on ice and having all sorts of fits with Quinn’s defense.

The question we are now faced with is, is Quinn still that guy or is he starting to fade? Some concerning stats have people wondering about his abilities. Jane Slater pointed out that Quinn’s defense suddenly started having problems against good teams when they previously hadn’t.

In 2022, the Cowboys defense allowed 20.1 points per game against winning teams and 20.0 against losing teams. That’s as consistent as you can ask for. But last season, they allowed 28.7 points per game against winning teams and 11.7 against losing teams. That’s a huge disparity. The Cowboys' defense can dominate bad teams, but is dominated by good teams. That’s not going to fly come playoff time.

It gets worse. It’s not just a good team/bad team sorta thing. It’s also a now versus later thing. Quinn’s defense has put on some of their worst performances this season, and even more accurately, down the stretch. That’s also not promising.

So, what happens when a team that hasn’t been playing particularly well recently faces one of those good teams in the playoffs? Well, they got destroyed, that’s what happens. Nobody expected the Cowboys' defense to be so bad against the Packers as what we saw is not indicative of what we’ve seen from these guys this past season. But make no mistake about it, Quinn’s unit is having problems.

The Cowboys already indicated that they want to keep rolling with Quinn if he doesn’t take another head coaching job. Only time will tell if other organizations are as concerned about these recent trends as some of the Cowboys' fanbase. Are the problems on defense Quinn related? Are some of the players we have grown to appreciate maybe not as good as we thought? Are the Cowboys' similar disappearing acts on offense playing any type of role hurtful game scripts or is this an overall team preparation issue?

There are a lot of variables here and it’s unclear which one is the greatest detriment. It would be weird if Quinn just suddenly wasn’t a good coordinator anymore. Maybe he just has fits with those Shanahan-style offenses that he once employed in Atlanta. Or maybe it’s not the greatest idea to have a bunch of undersized late-round/UDFA hybrid players making up the bulk of your defense? We make one last gallant effort to try to understand what went wrong on Quinn’s defense as we a closer look at the personnel decisions the Cowboys have made on defense.

To be concluded...

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