The Scheme Fit
Dan Quinn defenses are known for being zone-heavy, however, that doesn’t mean he’s married to the base 4-3 Under Cover 3 call. He doesn’t blitz a lot and his defenses in Atlanta in Seattle weren’t great in the pressures and sacks departments, but his defense in Atlanta being middle of the road in nearly every important defensive stat or metric should yield some optimism to Cowboys fans after having a historically bad defense in 2020.
If you need any more optimism, he seems to value halftime adjustments and playing defenders how they should be used!
It seems pretty crazy to think that halftime adjustments and proper use of personnel are things the Dallas Cowboys and their fans are asking for in the year 2021 If anything it shows that while the team was responsible for helping progressing the NFL into the most popular in the US, America’s team itself is quite behind in coaching philosophy.
I digress. The paradigm shift that took place last free agency and draft cycle was significant. The team sought after bigger names, albeit at cheaper costs. Most of the signings didn’t work, but the team did turn Everson Griffen into a conditional sixth round pick. At the end of draft weekend, many fans felt the team drafted incredibly well and a year later this proved to hold true.
It’s possible that pattern could repeat itself this year again. In the talent acquisition department, Quinn has assembled a defense similar to how Dallas signs players. With the exception of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, the Atlanta Falcons most expensive free agent since 2015 has been… Matt Bryant, a kicker they eventually released in 2019 to allow kicking legend Younghoe Koo to prosper.
The habits of cheap spending will likely result in Dallas having several no-names at positions on defense, but if there is someone who can get the most out of them, it will be Quinn.
But you might be asking, how does he draft, specifically at defensive back? Great question!
As head coach of Atlanta, Quinn has drafted nine defensive backs. Here they are:
2016: Keanu Neal – Florida
2017: Damontae Kazee – San Diego State
2018: Isaiah Oliver – Colorado
2020: AJ Terell – Clemson, Jaylinn Hawkins – California
Neal, Kazee, Oliver, Sheffield, Terell, and Hawkins are currently with the team. Six of nine is not a bad retention rate, but outside of one good season from Kazee, Keanu Neal has been the only good, if not game-changing, defensive back of the crop. Terell and Hawkins are trending up, but the jury is still out on them.
That probably doesn’t leave you feeling optimistic, but if it is any consolation, the two times that Atlanta used a first round pick on a defensive back, they’ve shown flashes of good play. (Keanu Neal and AJ Terell) If the Cowboys select a cornerback in the first round, they likely will have a decent rookie season.
But once again, who is that cornerback?
A common correlation between all the cornerbacks (Collins, Oliver, Sheffield, and Terell) were all of them ran faster than 4.55 seconds on the 40 yard dash and they each jumped 35 inches or higher on their vertical jump. The common assumption is that Quinn would target longer and stronger cornerbacks, but only one of the cornerbacks (Oliver) had over 32.5 inch arms. Him and Collins were also the only ones to weigh in over 200 pounds.
Based on the athletic data, he clearly covets faster and explosive cornerbacks regardless of body type. However, he seems to covet players that come from programs playing a lot of man coverage. With the exception of Terell, who played for Brett Venables, Collins, Oliver, and Sheffield played a lot of man coverage in college. Odd choice for someone who’s made a career on really good zone defense.
So if we’re connecting the dots here, I think the choice is pretty clear. It is hard to fault Quinn for wanting prospects more proficient in man coverage because playing man coverage is more difficult. But it seems his defensive backs just didn’t develop as much as he’d wish either because they weren’t taught properly, or because there wasn’t much variation with the play calling.
Caleb Farley seems to be the clear pick here but the Cowboys front office could view this very differently and think Patrick Surtain II is a better man coverage cornerback. However, even factoring that, Surtain II likely doesn’t test better than Farley, which means we’re back to square one.
See I wrote a whole bit on how the Cowboys will likely select Caleb Farley and I still feel like the odds of that happening are still less than 50 percent. *sigh*