Why, despite less talent, the Dallas Cowboys coverage will improve

Dallas Cowboys Chidobe Awuzie (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys Chidobe Awuzie (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images) /

From a personnel perspective, the Dallas Cowboys secondary took a step back this season

The Dallas Cowboys secondary took a step back in talent this season. For as high as we all are on what Trevon Diggs offers the team down the road, this season he’s not going to remotely approach the level of play Byron Jones offered last year at CB1.

Byron Jones may have been turnover adverse, but he was a true top-10 shut-down cornerback playing in an extremely difficult scheme. It’s just another reason why INTs are a poor way to grade CB performance and why Dallas took a huge risk by letting him leave.

To a lesser degree, the Dallas Cowboys gambled at safety too when they replaced Jeff Heath with that guy they cut last weekend. Heath was not an ideal starting safety, but dang, neither is anyone else on the Cowboys not named Xavier Woods.

Hopes are high for Diggs, Reggie Robinson, and Daryl Worley but it’s unlikely they’ll be as consistent as Jones and Heath were last year. For the short-term it’s pretty clear the Dallas Cowboys took a step back. But despite that, there’s reason to believe the unit will improve in 2020 and much of that is because of the new coaching staff.

Dallas Cowboys Philosophical Change

With the new coaching staff in place the Dallas Cowboys are expected to mix up their coverages. No longer employing the ride or die philosophy with the single high Cover 3, the Cowboys are going to do something the past regime considered unthinkable – they’re going to be unpredictable.

A couple weeks ago on The Players’ Lounge, two former Dallas Cowboys safeties discussed the Cowboys problems with predictability the past few season and how transparency doomed them in coverage.

"“If you’re playing a guy like Tom Brady and you line up in a Cover-2 shell, and then you play Cover-2 –  it’s an issue,” said Danny McCray. “If you line up in a Cover-2 shell and you just always drop back into Cover-3, he knows that – it’s an issue…You have to disguise pre-snap and post-snap.”"

McCray’s co-host agreed, doubling down on the importance of disguise…

"“Disguise will be huge coming up for this season,” said Barry Church. “[last year] everything was out of that 2-shell. Disguising your defenses pre-snap can basically, you’re winning half the battle if you can get the quarterback to not know what defense is in pre-snap.”"

New Coverage Schemes on the Dallas Cowboys

Unlike Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard, who leaned almost exclusively on the Cover 3 Seattle model (an evolution of the Monte Kiffin Tampa 2), Mike Nolan likes to switch things up. From his use of both odd and even man fronts, to his unpredictable blitz packages, to his use of both man and zone coverage, Nolan isn’t afraid to adapt his scheme if he thinks it gets the best players on the field or if he thinks he can keep the offense guessing.

In an interview this winter Mike Nolan discussed his coverage philosophy he’s bringing to the Dallas Cowboys:

"“I think you do have to have a mix [of man and zone coverage]. If you peg yourself too much into one hole doing one thing that’s easy for the best quarterbacks to dissect and take advantage of so I do believe you have to have a good mix between man and zone.”"

This is a departure from the previous coaching staff’s philosophy that insisted that all personnel conform to the scheme and technique favored by Richard. While the old Seattle model was proven to be successful by the Legion of Boom, the individual responsibilities were demanding and simply put – not everyone can handle the demands.

Its success in Seattle also meant it was well-studied by offenses across the league and subsequently, its weaknesses were known. Teams knew exactly what the Cowboys were going to do against them in coverage. QBs could easily prepare for them without worrying about any surprises…

"“They just kind of did what they do,” said Sam Darnold after defeating the Cowboys in 2019. “They do it every single week. They just play one-high (safety), occasionally two-high, and they like to stop the run.”"

Dallas Cowboys coverage in a nutshell

The new coaching staff doesn’t just want to try new schemes and new coverages. They want to play to their players’ strengths. They don’t insist the players conform but rather are willing to conform to their players. They also want to disguise what they’re doing and keep QBs guessing both pre-snap and post-snap.

More from Dallas Cowboys

Based on the personnel added and the coverage schemes Mike Nolan has run in the past, we have a pretty good idea we’ll see more man coverage on the boundary, and more safety support over the top. Coverages like 2-Man and Quarters figure to be used heavily in 2020. As will traditional Cover 2 and yes, even some of those old Cover 1 / Cover 3 concepts from before that lean on a single high safety.

The point is, Mike Nolan wants to keep opponents guessing and wants to play to his players’ strengths.

Related Story. Expect more 2-man coverage on defense from Dallas. light

Next. Best and Worst Case for the Dallas Secondary in 2020. dark

Despite taking a step back on the talent front, the Dallas Cowboys secondary will improve for a variety of reasons. That is why coaching matters so much in the NFL…

  • Published on 09/07/2020 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 09/07/2020 at 11:40 AM