The 2021 preseason has ended, and the Dallas Cowboys did not win a single game. Going 0-4 in games that don’t count isn’t the worst thing in the world. Hell, it might actually be a good sign. In 2014 and 2018, the Cowboys lost all of their preseason games and managed to make the postseason both times. So, not all is lost. But I’m still not convinced by some of the hype and expectation creeping up around this defense.
Like in most years, a lot of the defense’s success will depend on how long the offense can keep the ball each game. The Cowboys’ defensive backfield will be a young one this season, which can spell disaster at times. I know they’ve added pieces. Rookie linebackers Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox are expected to contribute significantly to new coordinator Dan Quinn’s defense. Second-round pick Kelvin Joseph is another new piece the ’Boys expect big things out of, but the cornerback has already been sidelined with a groin injury.
Now I know Quinn has a reputation built on the “Legion of Boom” ages ago, but it’s going to be a different story in Dallas. As head coach of the Falcons, Quinn’s defenses seemed to only get worse every year. In 2019, Atlanta was 13th-worst in yards allowed per game. Last season they feel to fourth-worst.
And that Falcons secondary was far from great in Quinn’s last couple of years there, and the team’s overall defensive performance was eventually Quinn’s downfall. Quinn was brought into Atlanta because of his defensive scheme, yet he produced one of the worst defenses ever seen toward the end of his tenure. The Falcons defense was so terrible last year that Quinn received his walking papers before the season ended. So, of course, Jerry Jones rushed out to swoop him up.
While the Cowboys defense did improve during the second half of last season, they still weren’t much better than Quinn’s Falcons. To run any scheme efficiently, you need the proper personnel in place. In Seattle, Quinn had tall, long, physical defensive backs who could challenge wide receivers at the line and had a strong presence at safety deep down the field in coverage. There is potential in the Cowboys’ secondary, but it’s on Quinn to dial it up and put these players in positions to succeed.
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One of the biggest things for Quinn in his first year as Cowboys DC will be whether his defensive line can generate a good enough pass rush to keep their cornerbacks and safeties out of trouble. DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are the guys the Cowboys will look to on the outside to get after the quarterback. Lawrence and Gregory combined for a total of 10 sacks last season. Last year, the Gregory missed the first six games due to a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. So, the Cowboys are hoping he can get back on track in more ways than one.
The LB corps may be the most consistent group of all going into the regular season. With Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith (unless he’s dealt) returning from last season, plus the drafting of Parsons and Cox, this could be one of the best LB groups in the NFL.
Anyway you view it, this Cowboys team will still depend heavily on its offensive weapons. Opposing teams are barely playing their starters as well. So, while the defense may not be as bad as last season, I still need to see it in the regular season before I can say they will be much improved. Let’s not place a ton of stock in preseason performances for predicting the regular season.
Sure, this can be said about every team. But every team doesn’t have this defense, and these backup QBs on its roster. Therefore, Dak Prescott’s health is most vital to the team’s overall success. And if I’m wrong about the defense after the first month of the season, I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong. My only fear is that I’ll be proved right on this one.