Cowboys 2020 defensive struggles: What’s unsuitable and the way Dallas can repair the problems in 5 steps


There aren’t sufficient synonyms within the thesaurus to explain how lamentable the Dallas Cowboys protection has been to start out the 2020 season. Coming into Week 5, they’ve now allowed 38 or extra factors within the final three video games — solely the second roster in franchise historical past to take action (0-11-1 staff in an growth 1960 season being the opposite) — and have allowed a mixed 146 factors within the first 4 video games. The Cleveland Browns walked into AT&T Stadium and ran for 307 yards on the bottom with out Nick Chubb for 3.5 quarters, used Odell Beckham as each a operating again and a receiver, and hung 49 factors on the unit prefer it was Tecmo Bowl. 

For sure, this is not going to chop it for any staff, however particularly in case you’re the Cowboys. Why? Easy. It is as a result of all of the world is watching and in a 12 months that is seen the membership lastly transfer out of the Jason Garrett period and into the hyped regime of Mike McCarthy, beginning 1-3 is the antithesis of what was promised. Dak Prescott is on tempo to shatter Peyton Manning’s single-season passing report by practically 1,300 yards (!!) whereas averaging greater than 50 move makes an attempt per sport, and whereas the previous is as wildly spectacular because the latter is unsustainable, it is required when the protection cannot cease a nosebleed with seven fingers.

There is no such thing as a singular repair for what’s taking place to the protection in Dallas, however there are ready-made options ready for them to deploy, assuming they’ve the braveness and knowledge to take action. And may they select to just accept this mission, in just a few brief weeks, they will discover themselves again on observe to do what they nonetheless imagine they’re able to: making a run at Tremendous Bowl LV.

In any other case, it may be a really, very lengthy season.

1. Cease the offensive turnovers

When your protection is struggling, cease asking them to return to the sphere earlier than it’s a must to.

As a result of the Cowboys have all of the sudden change into a turnover machine in 2020, the discombobulated protection is tasked with taking the sphere extra usually, and it is a recipe for catastrophe when factoring of their incapability to take the ball away and provides it again to the very offense that simply misplaced it. And with that, the Cowboys are frequently dropping the time of possession battle and being compelled to climb again from massive deficits on a weekly foundation, and so they have not been in a position to. The historic comeback towards the Atlanta Falcons required a 40-point effort to finest a nasty Falcons staff, in Arlington, by a single level. Nonetheless within the struggle within the fourth quarter towards the Seattle Seahawks and Cleveland Browns, Dak Prescott and the offense has proven it may shoot it out with anybody, and whereas it is unfair to ask them to by no means, ever make a mistake — the fact is they can not afford to.

The protection is giving up the kitchen sink on possessions gained by Cowboys giveaways, having allowed 45 factors on them within the first 4 weeks, and in case you subtract that sum from the 146 mixed factors allowed and extrapolate for the averages — Dallas can be 4-0 with a bullet. As an alternative, they’re 1-3, and whereas it is principally due to the protection, the offense may help by gluing the ball to their fingers after they’re operating within the open area. The Cowboys lead the league with six fumbles (4 in a single quarter alone towards the Falcons), and that may’t proceed in the event that they need to play ball in January.

Once more, is it truthful to ask them to be flawless? No, however it’s truthful to level out how unacceptable it’s to common 1.5 fumbles per sport, and particularly when your protection is in shambles. With an offense this prolific, eliminating the fumbles would make them unstoppable, and put all the onus from right here on out on the defensive unit to get stops.

2. Purchase security assist — ASAP

At the start, it is time for Donovan Wilson to start out at security.

Wilson was a dynamo in preseason work final 12 months however by no means received the nod from Rod Marinelli, Kris Richard and Jason Garrett — shelved for gamers like Darian Thompson and Jeff Heath. With Heath now in Las Vegas, the 2020 season ought to’ve started with the Cowboys seeking to take the subsequent step with Wilson versus signing a now-fired Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and with Thompson now struggling, Wilson lastly noticed defensive snaps as a consequence of McCarthy benching the previous early on towards the Browns. Time will inform if Wilson might be an impression participant beside Xavier Woods, however it actually should not have taken this lengthy to drag that set off at a place of such dire want.

And since there may be such a necessity, the added set off to drag right here is bringing in a revered free agent. The important thing phrase right here is “revered,” as a result of respect is just not one thing Earl Thomas is garnering from gamers across the league, and that is why McCarthy and the Cowboys stay ice chilly to the concept of including him to the locker room. Thomas is not the one veteran security who may help instantly although, regardless of what speaking heads and people thirsty for clicks would have you ever imagine. For my cash, and contemplating it could even be for much less cash, I would put in a name to Tony Jefferson, Eric Reid or Eric Berry.

Any of these three might assist flip the secondary round in brief order, and with out the character issues. Jefferson just lately met with the Indianapolis Colts following the lack of Malik Hooker to damage however stays a free agent, able to be plucked. Berry labored out for the Cowboys in 2019, however the staff opted to move on signing him as a consequence of issues over his medical evaluation — sources informed CBS Sports activities on the time — rooted in his choice to not bear surgical procedure to restore a bone spur in his proper heel that may trigger aggravation and/or harm to his Achilles tendon (which was as soon as itself torn). Berry reportedly then took the 2019 season off to regather and refocus, and is able to play ball once more. 

A top-flight character man, if Berry is wholesome sufficient to play 12+ video games, he is definitely worth the name and subsequent one-year deal. The identical goes for Reid, who additionally logged 16 begins and profession highs in mixed tackles (130) and sacks (4) in 2019 with the Carolina Panthers. In assessing Jefferson, Berry and Reid versus the present state of affairs within the Cowboys secondary, it is borderline malpractice to disregard them frequently.

3. Belief the system or ditch it

This level has loads of layers to it. 

For one, the gamers must both utterly purchase in to what Nolan is promoting, or a change must occur. That change ought to be Nolan eliminating his try to put in a hybrid protection in a 12 months that lacked minicamp and a preseason, in addition to a scheduled April 6 begin for groups with new teaching workers. What ought to’ve been a phased strategy to the set up — i.e., break it down into 4 components and set up one part at 4 varied factors going ahead between August and January — is as an alternative Nolan attempting to squeeze a bowling ball right into a backyard hose. The higher plan was to start out with a marble and go from there, contemplating Nolan hadn’t been in the identical room along with his new-look protection till August.

And contemplating he hasn’t been a coordinator in half a decade.

However right here we’re, and the Cowboys protection is definitely a lot worse than a 12 months in the past after they ranked eleventh with a median of solely 20.1 factors allowed per sport, and had been hyper-predictable within the course of. Gamers look wholly confused within the new haphazard scheme and a few are seemingly reverting again to what they’re extra accustomed to, quiet because it’s stored, which suggests there may be fairly actually a number of schemes being run on the sphere on the similar time by the use of participant freelancing. It is formally the wild west underneath Nolan, and that may’t proceed. 

Ultimately, it’s going to all explode behind the scenes. 

4. Look behind Mike Nolan

Now here is a take a look at for the Cowboys. 

For principally a decade, they had been cussed in how they dealt with the teaching workers. The entrance workplace has a behavior of going lengthy within the tooth with points, doing their finest to fill cavities that stretch to the foundation as an alternative of merely yanking it and placing in a brand new one. That was the case with Jason Garrett, who allowed it to be the case with Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli — the latter being the important thing motive T.J. Watt is not in Dallas (i.e., scheme > participant). With the primary quarter of his inaugural season in Dallas now behind him, Mike McCarthy is confronted with stress to make a change at defensive coordinator earlier than it is too late. It is not going to occur simply but, if in any respect, and that is additionally largely to the pre-existing relationship between the 2 that is eerily much like what existed between Garrett and Linehan, as within the latter gave the previous his first teaching job.

However whereas McCarthy will and is standing on the desk for Nolan, the change does not essentially imply a firing. It might be a reassignment of duties, one thing that occurs usually within the NFL. Nolan might simply be retained however named a senior defensive assistant or the like, and McCarthy might then let somebody like George Edwards take a look at drive the protection. Edwards spent the final 5 seasons as defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings underneath Mike Zimmer, and joined McCarthy in his trek to Dallas this offseason. 

This is a breakdown of the Vikings protection annual factors per sport common underneath Edwards:

2014

21.4

eleventh

2015

18.9

fifth

2016

19.2

sixth

2017

15.8

1st

2018

21.3

ninth

2019

18.9

fifth

That is provocative. It will get the individuals going.

Very like a drastic in-game adjustment — one thing McCarthy has proven he is prepared to do — he can chunk the bullet and admit Nolan won’t be the person for the coordinator job, but additionally make the most of the escape hatch labeled “Reassign Him.” Edwards is a proficient defensive thoughts whose protection in Minnesota dipped under the highest 10 solely as soon as, ranked within the two 5 on two events and was one of the best within the league in 2017. It is secure to say no matter Edwards could be promoting, gamers would stand in line to purchase.

By the way in which, Edwards was additionally the linebackers coach for the Cowboys from 1998-2001, serving to to mould gamers like Dexter Coakley, so there’s additionally familiarity between he and the Joneses. That mentioned, they will not bat a watch if McCarthy approaches them with this feature.

5. Purchase time for the cavalry to reach

The Cowboys principally escaped the damage bug in August, however it’s sinking its tooth into their neck fairly good these days.

The staff was compelled to put Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie on injured reserve at differing factors to start out the season, at present leaving them with out three defensive starters and one Professional Bowl linebacker who’s coming off of arguably one of the best 12 months of his profession. Apart from Joe Thomas, the staff hasn’t been in a position to benefit from the “subsequent man up” mantra, as a result of few gamers are stepping as much as produce within the absence of the aforementioned expertise. That is the dangerous information, clearly, however the excellent news is the Cowboys protection will quickly get pleasure from a wave of gamers returning over the subsequent few weeks.

Whereas each Vander Esch and Lee are a bit farther out, Brown and Awuzie have a shot at returning in October to assist the porous secondary. And as soon as the 2 star linebackers do return to supply wanted assist to Jaylon Smith and Co., the Cowboys ought to see an instantaneous uptick in manufacturing. As for his or her line of defense — who’s having hassle getting residence constantly on opposing quarterbacks — there is a present quickly to reach for them as nicely.

Randy Gregory, just lately reinstated from his indefinite suspension, is eligible to return to apply going into Week 5 and to the sphere for reside video games in two weeks. Like Aldon Smith, Gregory is a freakish expertise who’s proven (in 2018) it is potential to have zero rust being compelled to sit down for an prolonged time period. With DeMarcus Lawrence, who referred to as the protection “mushy” after the embarrassment towards the Browns, is at present nursing a knee damage and Everson Griffen not performing as much as normal, the addition of Gregory might be large for the d-line. That features potential packages the place Gregory strains up on the left reverse Smith, and no opposing offensive line is seeking to such a mixture. The diminished snap rely on Lawrence would enable him time to heal and never ask a lot of somebody who’s working on a nasty leg, and Gregory is each refreshed, targeted and ravenous to assault QBs in 2020.

From gamers therapeutic up as we converse to Gregory readying for his return, if the Cowboys could make the above modifications and purchase themselves time for assist to reach, the season may finish very in a different way than which it started. 



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