Dallas Cowboys: Can Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme beat Tom Brady?

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

When the Dallas Cowboys replaced Mike Nolan with Dan Quinn this past offseason, players and fans rejoiced. The transition away from the Marinelli/Richard single high defense went horrendously and a return to normal seemed like the fastest cure.

Quinn, a disciple of the same coaching tree as Marinelli and Pete Carrol, has long been seen as a master of the single high safety defense. This defense, that alternates between Cover 1 and Cover 3, was made popular by the Legion of Boom and subsequently became one of the most popular looks in the years that followed.

As Sport DFW writer Adithya Prabakaran wrote about this offseason, Dan Quinn’s defense is all that and more. He has continued to tweak his defense since leaving Seattle seven years ago and is arguably the best single-high-safety instructor this side of the Cascades.

Can the Dallas Cowboys lean on their single-high-safety defense to defeat Tom Brady and the Bucs?

During Quinn’s time in Atlanta he leaned on his single high safety look heavily. According to Bob Strum, he ran single high safety looks 76 percent of the time, using Cover-1 29 percent of the time and Cover-3 47 percent of the time. That’s big-time usage, right there.

Also known as “middle of the field closed”, the single high positions a free safety over the top and either handles all deep zone coverage exclusively or shares it by cutting it into thirds and asking the boundary CBs to lock down their respective sides.

The goal of it is to take away those easy throws up the middle and force throws down the sideline and into smaller windows. As we’ve seen in Seattle, this puts enormous stress on the FS and two outside CBs and really only works when those positions are manned by top-notch players.

You can already probably see the problem I’m getting at here in Dallas.

Dallas isn’t exactly loaded at those three all-important positions. In fact, given how inexperienced they are, they could be downright terrible. Their secondary is arguably their weakest unit on the team and single-high-safety looks have a way of exposing that.

How does Tom Brady fair against single high safety looks (aka middle of the field closed?)

Let’s not go back and count Dan Quinn’s successes and failures against Tom Brady. Those were different times with different personnel and different teams. Instead let’s focus on Tom Brady’s success against a Dan Quinn-like defense and see how it compares to his success versus the alternative (split safety looks).

It will be interesting to see if Dan Quinn leans on single high safety looks as much as he has in the past. No one has been better at beating closed safety looks than Tom Brady so it stands to reason Dallas should avoid it like the plague in Tampa.

Luckily, we’ve seen split safety looks from the Dallas Cowboys throughout training camp and in the preseason. It could be just smoke and mirrors or it could be an evolution. Let’s all hope for the latter.

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With the level of QB play in this day and age, any franchise QB worth his salt is going to carve up a defense if he knows what they’re playing – regardless of scheme. The key is to be deceptive and switch things up. Show one thing and do another. Mix coverages so what’s true on one part of the field isn’t true on the other. In other words, be less transparent.

If Dan Quinn leans on split safety looks and the Dallas Cowboys can avoid their typical transparency, they may have a shot at slowing Tom Brady down. But if they just roll out their typical single high safety looks and expect to win straight up, we could be in for a long evening.

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What are you expecting Cowboys Nation? A return to the old single high defense or is Quinn going to throw something new at Tom Brady?

  • Published on 09/08/2021 at 16:01 PM
  • Last updated at 09/08/2021 at 14:27 PM