The Dallas Cowboys have switched things up.
It wouldn’t be the first time that NFL teams have changed the focus of their team. The New England Patriots did it during the Tom Brady era. They were as a defensive minded team led by Teddy Bruschi and Willie McGinest who controlled the clock until they shifted to an offensive minded team where Brady and Randy Moss were breaking records.
Since 2016, the combination of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott has formed the identity of the Dallas Cowboys. The tea leaves now are front and center. Now that Dak has watched release of his best friend Ezekiel Elliott, he knows a change is happening whether he likes it or not. The once prolific offense is now taking a backseat to a defense that has Super Bowl aspirations.
The Dallas Cowboys have changed from a team focused on scoring points to a team focused on preventing the opponents from scoring.
The arrival of Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn sparked the transformation of the Dallas Cowboys mindset. Training camps have become a lot more competitive, and it is partly because of the hands-on coach with his ball cap flipped backwards helping players fine tune their craft. The passion he brought to the team was contagious. Players bought into the mindset not because of the hype but because they believed in the person with the message.
Prior to Dan Quinn’s arrival in 2020, according to Pro Football Reference, Dallas Cowboys defense was ranked 28th in points allowed. Now entering Quinn’s third season, the Cowboys’ scoring defense was ranked 7th and 5th over the last two seasons. Being able to change a team’s culture so quickly will open doors that were previously slammed in your face. The last two off seasons Quinn has become a hot commodity again for NFL execs and deservedly so.
However, for the second year in a row, Jerry Jones has thrown out the popular phrase of Lee Corso “not so fast” to those teams needy for an experienced head coach. Jerry loves the offensive side of the ball, but he can’t deny what is developing right before his eyes and Quinn has his hands all in it. The owner/general manager knows he is close to that Lombardi trophy, and he will move heaven and earth to keep this defense intact.
In order to change a team’s identity, you have to start with the face. Dak and/or Zeke had been recognized as face of the franchise from 2016 until 2021. What changed in 2021? Two words – Micah Parsons. The consensus Defensive Rookie of the Year is now carrying the torch as the new face of Dallas Cowboys. When you can rack up 26.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries in two seasons, people tend to put respect on your name.
It hasn’t been just Dan and Micah that convinced me this team leads with defense first but it’s the actions of the front office. They’ve prioritized defensive players. Just recently, they found a way to keep two of Dan Quinn’s guys, Donovon Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch. Additionally, the weakest link of the defense was at the cornerback position. I used the word “was” because they’ve already addressed it with the addition of Stephon Gilmore.
Some will say, well sir, Dallas would have those changes anyway. And maybe you are right. But when is the last time the Dallas Cowboys spent money to keep the safety room together? This is Dan Quinn’s influence and it’s because the defense is what is going to carry them to the pinnacle. The cherry on the top was Head Coach, Mike McCarthy, admitting this team goes as the defense goes.
So, while scoring points may sell tickets and having the quarterback as the face of the franchise works for some teams, this team’s strength starts on the defensive side of the ball. This team will go as the defense goes. If they play it from that standpoint, we may see a different outcome later in the postseason.