What’s incorrect with the Cowboys protection? Here is 5 steps to repair what’s turn out to be a serious downside


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 workforce in an enlargement 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 working 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 workforce, however particularly when you’re the Cowboys. Why? Easy. It is as a result of all of the world is watching and in a yr 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 file by almost 1,300 yards (!!) whereas averaging greater than 50 go makes an attempt per recreation, 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 palms.

There isn’t any 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 will they select to simply accept this mission, in only some quick weeks, they will discover themselves again on observe to do what they nonetheless consider 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 sector earlier than you need to.

As a result of the Cowboys have all of a sudden turn out to be a turnover machine in 2020, the discombobulated protection is tasked with taking the sector extra usually, and it is a recipe for catastrophe when factoring of their lack of ability to take the ball away and provides it again to the very offense that simply misplaced it. And with that, the Cowboys are frequently shedding the time of possession battle and being pressured to climb again from giant deficits on a weekly foundation, and so they have not been in a position to. The historic comeback in opposition to the Atlanta Falcons required a 40-point effort to finest a foul Falcons workforce, in Arlington, by a single level. Nonetheless within the combat within the fourth quarter in opposition to the Seattle Seahawks and Cleveland Browns, Dak Prescott and the offense has proven it may well shoot it out with anybody, and whereas it is unfair to ask them to by no means, ever make a mistake — the truth is they cannot 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 when 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 can assist by gluing the ball to their palms after they’re working within the open discipline. The Cowboys lead the league with six fumbles (4 in a single quarter alone in opposition to the Falcons), and that may’t proceed in the event that they wish to play ball in January.

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

2. Purchase security assist — ASAP

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

Wilson was a dynamo in preseason work final yr however by no means bought 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 following step with Wilson versus signing a now-fired Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and with Thompson now struggling, Wilson lastly noticed defensive snaps resulting from McCarthy benching the previous early on in opposition to the Browns. Time will inform if Wilson may be an influence participant beside Xavier Woods, but it surely actually should not have taken this lengthy to drag that set off at a place of such dire want.

And since there’s 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 will not be 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 can assist instantly although, regardless of what speaking heads and people thirsty for clicks would have you ever consider. For my cash, and contemplating it might even be for much less cash, I might put in a name to Tony Jefferson, Eric Reid or Eric Berry.

Any of these three may assist flip the secondary round in brief order, and with out the character issues. Jefferson 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 workforce opted to go on signing him resulting from issues over his medical evaluation — sources advised CBS Sports activities on the time — rooted in his resolution 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 a number of layers to it. 

For one, the gamers must both fully purchase in to what Nolan is promoting, or a change must occur. That change needs to be Nolan eliminating his try to put in a hybrid protection in a yr 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 method to the set up — i.e., break it down into 4 elements and set up one section at 4 numerous 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 together 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 yr in the past after they ranked eleventh with a mean of solely 20.1 factors allowed per recreation, 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 saved, which suggests there’s fairly actually a number of schemes being run on the sector on the similar time by the use of participant freelancing. It is formally the wild west below Nolan, and that may’t proceed. 

Finally, it will all explode behind the scenes. 

4. Look behind Mike Nolan

Now here is a check 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 reach to the basis 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 cause 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 strain to make a change at defensive coordinator earlier than it is too late. It isn’t 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 would not essentially imply a firing. It could possibly be a reassignment of duties, one thing that occurs usually within the NFL. Nolan may simply be retained however named a senior defensive assistant or the like, and McCarthy may then let somebody like George Edwards check drive the protection. Edwards spent the final 5 seasons as defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings below Mike Zimmer, and joined McCarthy in his trek to Dallas this offseason. 

Here is a breakdown of the Vikings protection annual factors per recreation common below 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 similar to a drastic in-game adjustment — one thing McCarthy has proven he is prepared to do — he can chew the bullet and admit Nolan may not be the person for the coordinator job, but in addition make the most of the escape hatch labeled “Reassign Him.” Edwards is a proficient defensive thoughts whose protection in Minnesota dipped beneath the highest 10 solely as soon as, ranked within the prime 5 on two events and was the perfect within the league in 2017. It is protected to say no matter Edwards is likely to 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 mildew 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, but it surely’s sinking its tooth into their neck fairly good these days.

The workforce was pressured to position Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie on injured reserve at differing factors to start out the season, presently leaving them with out three defensive starters and one Professional Bowl linebacker who’s coming off of arguably the perfect yr of his profession. Excluding Joe Thomas, the workforce 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 unhealthy information, clearly, however the excellent news is the Cowboys protection will quickly take pleasure in a wave of gamers returning over the following 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 offer wanted help to Jaylon Smith and Co., the Cowboys ought to see an immediate uptick in manufacturing. As for his or her line of defense — who’s having hassle getting house persistently on opposing quarterbacks — there is a reward quickly to reach for them as effectively.

Randy Gregory, lately reinstated from his indefinite suspension, is eligible to return to follow going into Week 5 and to the sector 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 pressured to sit down for an prolonged time period. With DeMarcus Lawrence, who known as the protection “delicate” after the embarrassment in opposition to the Browns, is presently nursing a knee damage and Everson Griffen not performing as much as normal, the addition of Gregory could possibly 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 mix. The decreased snap depend on Lawrence would permit him time to heal and never ask a lot of somebody who’s working on a foul 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 would possibly finish very otherwise than which it started. 



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