The Dallas Cowboys were expected to win the NFC East in 2020. However, everything that could’ve gone wrong did. From the COVID-19 pandemic altering normal protocol for an NFL season, the difficulty of trying to implement former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s hybrid scheme on the fly, and a rash of injuries made Mike McCarthy’s first season in Dallas a tough one.
Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith joined Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen on the Great Dane Nation Podcast presented by VegasInsider.com recently. When asked if he thought McCarthy was the right man to lead the Cowboys the NFL’s all-time leading rusher had this to say.
“I think this year was an experimental year for Mike McCarthy, to see exactly what he had, coaching style, defensive-wise, player or personnel-wise, and all those kinds of things — including coordinator-wise,” Smith said. “I think if he wants to right this ship, he’d better make some significant adjustments this offseason. I think it begins with the draft, drafting defensive players. Because think about it, Sean Lee is getting a little long in the tooth, no disrespect to Sean Lee, he’s going to give his very best effort. Leighton Vander Esch obviously has sustained a number of injuries over the last two years. Don’t know how long and productive he will be. Jaylon Smith is going to give us his all. These guys, they’re going to fight, they’re going to do what they need to do, but you’ve got to bring in some guys to replace and back these guys up. You just cannot depend upon them all season long.”
Emmitt Smith bringing up the defense isn’t surprising. The Cowboys finished 28th in points allowed, 31st against the run, and 23rd overall. Putrid, to say the least, and Smith said that has to change in 2021.
“Defense. Defense. We couldn’t stop a soul. We couldn’t get off the field on third down,” Smith said. “And I understand early in the season when we turn the ball over the defense is out there quite a bit, now I understand that piece. But still, our defense was so much more solid last year and I think that’s a product of the defensive change versus the players. I think you’ve got players that are not ‘suited’ quite nicely for this style of defense. So when you bring in new coordinators, do your players actually fit your style? And do your players actually understand your style and understand your defense totally? And are they doing, do they have the discipline to make the fits work? And I saw our defense create more issues, running out of zones and creating bigger zones for guys to run the ball with. That’s a problem. And that has to get corrected this offseason.”
The Cowboys hired Dan Quinn to be its new defensive coordinator. Quinn has a pedigree of elite defensive units on his resume. He was the mastermind of the “Legion of Boom” defense with the Seattle Seahawks, and led them to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances (2013, 2014), and won one championship.
Quinn will have plenty of work to do to fix the Cowboys defense. Rookie Neville Gallimore showed promise at defensive tackle, as well as Trysten Hill before his injury, but another anchor on the interior is needed to play alongside the two young studs and veteran Antwaun Woods. As Emmitt Smith mentioned, the linebacker position has been shaky as of late, which should make it a focal point in free agency and the NFL Draft.
There are questions in the secondary as well. Rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs and second-year safety Donovan Wilson were bright spots on the backend. However, Xavier Woods, Jourdan Lewis, and Chidobe Awuzie will all be unrestricted free agents this offseason, putting defensive backs high on the priority list before next season begins.
Will all these issues be corrected in 2021? Only time will tell.
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