The Dallas Cowboys struggled to stop anyone during the 2020 NFL season. They were hard to watch once quarterback Dak Prescott went down, but the defense didn’t do them any favors either. The front office did a major overhaul on the defense in the offseason, and they’re hoping for a turnaround in 2021. Dan Quinn and the Cowboys defense will face a stiff test in their Week 1 season opener against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Dallas Cowboys defense ranked near the bottom in 2020
The Cowboys finished the 2020 season in the bottom five in total defense. They relinquished 473 points and 6,183 yards to opposing offenses.
Dallas struggled against the run and the pass. They allowed the second-most yards on the ground, behind only the Houston Texans. Allowing five yards per carry to running backs is alarming, to say the least.
Their defense wasn’t quite as bad against the pass, but that’s not saying much. They were in the middle of the pack in terms of total yards but allowed 34 passing touchdowns, which tied for the third-most in the NFL.
At times, it appeared as if the players had given up. There was too much talent on the field to be performing so poorly, it seemed.
When healthy, the Cowboys boast one of the league’s most explosive offenses. The defense being one of the league’s worst puts unfair pressure on the offense.
As bad as they were in 2020, there has to be some positive regression in the 2021 season.
Micah Parsons could be a game-changer for this defense
The Dallas Cowboys selected Micah Parsons with the No. 12 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. He was highly-touted coming out of Penn State. Still, some teams shied away from the linebacker due to potential character concerns. Jerry Jones has never been the type to shy away from that, and the team believes in Parsons.
Parsons shined bright as one of college football’s premier linebackers. He racked up 191 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and five pass defenses in three seasons with the Nittany Lions. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native played as an off-ball linebacker at Penn State and thrived in that role.
He possesses an elite combination of size and athleticism, and his production at the college level was indicative of that. The first-rounder has wasted no time making his presence felt on the field for the Cowboys.
Parsons showed flashes of brilliance in training camp and the preseason. He was flying all over the field, displaying his athleticism and playmaking ability. He was the highest-graded linebacker against the run in the preseason, per Pro Football Focus.
The Big Ten product is already one of the most versatile defenders on this Dallas defense. He lined up in multiple positions in college, and we could see the same at the next level. As long as there are no off-the-field concerns, the Cowboys got a steal.
The Dallas Cowboys hope Dan Quinn can turn the defense around
As a part of the defensive overhaul, the Cowboys fired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. In his place, they hired former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn.
Dallas does not lack in the talent department, but they need a coach who will put the pieces together properly. The front office is hoping that Quinn is the right man for the job.
Lining up next to Micah Parsons in the linebacker corps is Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. The Cowboys spent high draft capital to select both players, but neither has quite lived up to expectations.
This defense features talented pass-rushers as well, most notably DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Lawrence recorded double-digit sack seasons in 2017 and 2018 but has since seen a dip in production. Gregory is a former second-round pick who was dominant in college at Nebraska. He is yet another disappointing Dallas draft pick.
Cornerback Trevon Diggs struggled mightily in 2020, as opposing signal-callers picked him apart at times. Despite his poor performance to begin the season, he displayed an ability to make plays toward the end of the season. He’s the most talented corner on the roster, and he’ll need to rise to the occasion.
Dan Quinn is embracing the challenge of taking over this defense. “I love doing hard s*** with a group of people,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “To be here is why I was pumped when Mike offered me the opportunity to come and join him.”
Being a member of the Dallas Cowboys comes with high expectations, whether fair or not. The defense needs to improve in 2021.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.