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What Ron Rivera’s scheduled interview says about the Cowboys’ plans for the defense

How would you feel about the Cowboys hiring Ron Rivera as DC?

Yesterday, reports surfaced that the Washington Commanders intended to hire former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Quinn goes to Washington in an attempt to turn around a Commanders team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005. The last time a Cowboys assistant left the Cowboys to lead Washington was in 1994 after Norv Turner led the Cowboys’ offense to two Super Bowls. The NFL world is a small one, after all, shown by the news that the Cowboys plan to interview the recently fired Commanders head coach Ron Rivera for the vacant defensive coordinator job in Dallas. Before his NFL coaching career that spans nearly 30 years, Rivera was a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears defense heralded as one of the greatest defenses of all time.

Before his stint with the Commanders, Rivera coached the Carolina Panthers for nine seasons, including a 15-1 season resulting in a trip to Super Bowl 50. Regrettably, Rivera’s tenure as the coach of the Commanders was largely underwhelming before culminating with having one of the league’s worst defenses in 2023, which included yielding a four-touchdown performance to Dak Prescott in the season finale.

Rivera’s interview news will raise eyebrows among Cowboys Nation, and justifiably so. Rivera and Quinn’s syles from a temperamental standpoint and schematically are very much different, as are their recent results. Quinn turned around a Cowboys defense that was awful in 2020, whereas Rivera oversaw a defense that, while talented on the defensive line, didn’t disrupt passers. Further on the schemes, here is what Cowboys fans can expect should Rivera be named defensive coordinator.

Our very own David Howman did an excellent job breaking down Rivera’s defensive approach before their week 18 game against the Commanders.

“Rivera’s defenses don’t often blitz much, preferring to rely on rushing just four and drop seven back in coverage. In terms of the more common coverage types, Rivera’s scheme has always hinged on a variety of zone looks, with quarters and Cover 3 the most popular by far. While it would be unfair to say that Rivera and Del Rio have made zero tweaks to the scheme over the years, they’ve remained much more stagnant in how they operate defensively when compared to the rest of the league.

This scheme relies, by design, on talented players that play fundamentally sound football. Rivera’s best defenses in Carolina featured studs like Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short, James Bradberry and others.”

It’s problematic that Rivera will ask his players to succeed in the positions he places them in rather than putting them in a position to succeed. It leaves the Cowboys with no choice but to load the roster on defense with talent and depend on that talent to win. The question many fans are asking themselves is, why not somebody younger or more innovative? The answer is the Cowboys’ front office is old and set in its ways no matter what changes they promise or new approach they proclaim they’ll undertake.

Also, a candidate like Ron Rivera or Mike Zimmer, who is said to be interested, because the team wants to be comfortable with the staff they put in place and is hoping for stability. The team knows that Ron Rivera (62) and Mike Zimmer (67) are unlikely to be considered head coaching material at this stage in their respective careers. Hiring either of them gives the team confidence that they can retain their services beyond next year if they choose.

The other aspect is why a young and up-and-coming candidate would want the job. Head coach Mike McCarthy is coaching on the last year of his contract, and there’s no guarantee he’ll still be in Dallas beyond 2024. Why would any promising defensive coordinator climb aboard what he sees as a leaky ship? Quinn’s departure is forcing the Cowboys to pick comfort over creativity, and it’s unfortunate for a defense that features talent the likes of Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, and DaRon Bland. The Cowboys are playing it safe because they’re not in the position to demand otherwise.

The Cowboys are still expected to compete for a championship in 2024, but after that, there’s uncertainty. Micah Parsons will be in the last year of his rookie contract, albeit with the fifth-year option in the team’s back pocket; Stephon Gilmore is a free agent, and the team has to address what roles many players on their roster will play. Will Rivera see Markquese Bell as a safety or a linebacker? Rivera, a linebacker coach at heart, likely will want prototypical linebackers for his system. Assuming Rivera gets the job, a lot of work will need to be done.

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