Dallas Cowboys: Why the Mike Nolan era was important

James D. Smith via USA TODAY Sports
James D. Smith via USA TODAY Sports /
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Osa Odighizuwa, Defensive Tackle, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Osa Odighizuwa, Defensive Tackle, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

The Players are Better

For years under Rod Marinelli, the team was obsessed with finding under-the-radar/market inefficiencies at defensive linemen positions with the hope of turning them into solid starting players. Antwaun Woods, Brian Price, Henry Melton, Benson Mayowa, and Kerry Hyder are a few names that come to mind.

Last year with Nolan the team did the exact opposite. Dontari Poe, Gerald McCoy, and Everson Griffen weren’t re-signed by their previous employers and instead chose to come to Dallas. They were big names that had success at the professional level, but their age and physical conditioning clearly weren’t what the Cowboys needed. Relatively quickly fans realized that the brand recognition didn’t live up to the product on the field even at their inexpensive price points.

In an attempt to give the young defenders the time to develop on the bench, the Cowboys tried to salvage what was left of the aging veterans hoping they’d do their individual jobs correctly for just long enough. Instead, the younger defenders were forced to grow up quicker. There was no way the team could be multiple if none of the veteran defensive linemen were able to hold their own at the point of attack.

A year later, Dan Quinn made it a point to find defensive linemen with good arm length in order to provide themselves with the advantage of initiating contact at the point of attack. The players, while previously seen as underwhelming acquisitions, have turned into a disruptive group of defensive linemen because of their motor and ability to engage.

At the second level, he wanted faster and more explosive players so they have the ability to cover and blitz without having to worry about switching a linebacker out.

It’s an identity so basic in logic yet so effective.

Now Osa Odighizuwa is one of the best interior defensive linemen from his rookie class. Micah Parsons likely wins defensive rookie of the year even after cooling from his hot start the past couple of weeks. Chauncey Gholston has sacked the quarterback and recovered a fumble in his lone two games this season.

Obviously, Quinn gets a lot of credit for constructing the defense but at the same time, Mike McCarthy had a vision for how he wanted his defense to play and he found the right guy in Quinn to help him achieve that. McCarthy’s faith in Quinn to make strategic and personnel decisions has paid off so far.

The fact of the matter is, the players are better, which makes it easier for Dan Quinn to call plays knowing he doesn’t have to worry about certain areas of the field being a liability.