Dallas Cowboys: The real conundrum behind the Cowboys defense

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Why is the Dallas Cowboys defense so inconsistent with turnovers?

If the word “inconsistent” had a picture beside its definition, the Dallas Cowboys would make for a great example. As fans can attest, the Cowboys are about the most inconsistent sports team in all four leagues or pro sports  – you have no idea what to expect from them on a weekly basis.

Now to be fair, the Dallas Cowboys offense has done the best it can considering all of the injuries. They lost their All Pro offensive line, their TE1, Bake Jarwin, and their MVP Dak Prescott. But the Cowboys defense is even worse. It’s is as inconsistent as a three-year old coloring between the lines in a coloring book.

The real conundrum behind the Cowboys defense is the coaching staff and front office not being on the same page when it comes to drafting defensive players. It’s true and the proof is in the last two seasons, especially this season.

Ask yourself this question: Why can Dallas’ front office draft the best offensive players every single flippin’ year, but couldn’t hit on an elite defensive player if it was gift wrapped, staring them in the face, and named something obvious, like say… “Watt”?

That’s not a coincidence. How can this team bat 1.000 on selecting its offensive players but barely bat .300 on its defensive players? Come on bruh!

Let’s start with the magnificent Will McClay, Dallas ‘Vice President of Player Personnel. To signify McClay’s importance, his name is mentioned every year as a general manager candidate for other organizations. He’s respected all around the NFL.

To be blunt, McClay is the main man because he’s the one finding the players, and McClay is the primary reason why Dallas has had the second- most Pro Bowlers since 2010-only behind the defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs.

In the Dallas Cowboys case, McClay needs to buy the groceries, cook the dinner and set the table because the coaching staff and McClay are not on the same page. As long as that happens, this conundrum will continue to plague this  inconsistent defense for years to come.

McClay’s job is to take the coaches’ wish list and find the players they need. So if the defensive staff wants a mammoth 400- pound defensive tackle and a thoroughbred linebacker for its 3-4 schemes, then McClay goes out and finds it. And therein lies the real conundrum.

For example, Dallas played in a 4-3 defense under former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee flourished in that defense, along with edge rushers DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and ex-Dallas player Robert Quinn. Oh, and the secondary did fine, too, despite not forcing any turnovers.

During the 2018 season, Dallas’ defense ranked seventh in the league and fifth against the run. The highlights of that season were how Dallas’ defense stopped the New
Saints high powered offense that was averaging close to 32 points a game. Then in the 2018 playoffs, Dallas stuffed the Seattle Seahawks running game to just 73 yards – a huge accomplishments since the Seahawks were averaging an NFL best 160 yards.

By the way, Dallas won that divisional game, too.

After slipping to 11th in the league in 2019. Dallas fell to 31st  this season, largely because the players are not a fit to run Mike Nolan’s odd-man scheme. Additionally, there was no offseason, OTA’s (organized team activities) or preseason games to transition.

That’s a recipe for an inconsistent defense that isn’t fit to play in a Pop Warner league. To worsen the situation, Dallas has no ball hawking defensive backs (or they’re not consistent enough to force turnovers). Which means Dallas’ defense doesn’t possess the ability to get the ball back to its offense on a consistent basis.

Instead of employing a 3-4 scheme that doesn’t fit the current players’ skill set, head coach Mike McCarthy had two options: either retain Marinelli and his staff or continue to use the 4-3 scheme that was successful for Dallas’ defense.

Look, Nolan hadn’t coached in a long time, and Coach Big Mac deserves some blame, too.

As you have witnessed, this defense isn’t suited for 3-4 schemes. Whatever players they drafted to play in this scheme is either injured or not playing. Critics can blame McClay until the cows come home, but McClay’s job is to find the players to fit whatever scheme. His job isn’t to coach it up.

To compound its defensive issues, Dallas allowed their best corner (and one of the best in the league), Byron Jones, to sign with the Miami Dolphins. As you can see, Dallas’ secondary suffered a major blow with the loss of Jones.

That bad decision squarely falls on the shoulders of cheap man Stephen Jones, but the coaching staff should’ve fought hard to keep Jones too. Jones covered opposing teams’ number 1 receiver, and that led to a trickle down affect on the entire defense.

Although I have no proof, I suspect McClay wanted to keep Jones because it makes his job easier to draft future corners in a specific scheme. I mean McClay not only finds the players to fit a scheme, but he runs the draft room, too. You’d think the Joneses would hire McClay as a general manager, but we all know that won’t happen, and that’s different discussion for another day.

Dallas’ defense intercepting two passes and forcing/recovering two fumbles against the 49ers is an anomaly because it highlights what each player is capable of doing. However, Dallas’ defense could perform like this on a regular basis if only the scheme matched their skill set.

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The best example is the interception by Donovan Wilson. Even though Wilson still makes mistakes, it’s clear he has a nose for the ball and is a good tackler. The guy can play and probably would make more plays if in the right scheme or played to his strengths.

Dallas being ranked 31st in defense has more to do with the scheme than its players. A better scheme tailored to their skill set would yield better results.

At some point, the coaching staff and McClay need to have a meeting of the minds.

Next. Defensive Makeover Time. dark

And as former Dallas head coach Bill Parcells famously said, “if I’m going to cook the dinner, can I at least shop for the groceries?”

In the Dallas Cowboys case, McClay needs to buy the groceries, cook the dinner and set the table because the coaching staff and McClay are not on the same page. As long as that happens, this conundrum will continue to plague this  inconsistent defense for years to come.

  • Published on 12/24/2020 at 13:01 PM
  • Last updated at 12/24/2020 at 11:07 AM