FRISCO, Texas — Fresh off giving up 266 yards on the ground on Sunday in the 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills – the most rushing yards allowed by the Cowboys since 2012 – defensive coordinator Dan Quinn took the podium at The Star in Frisco on Monday to recap what went wrong for his defensive unit in the big loss.
Buffalo running back James Cook accounted for 179 of those yards as he was able to break contain on a number of occasions and get around the edges for big gains. Added in, the Cowboys defense missed 12 tackles in the running game alone which allowed for the Bills' big day.
"The biggest impact on this game was our tackling and our ball-hawking," Quinn said. "We're excellent at those two things, and we had a poor performance in both. Our tackling wasn't up to the standard we've set. That is our secret sauce, our tackling and our ball-hawking, and we didn't have it."
When addressing issues in tackling – especially this late in the season – it's difficult to pinpoint a quick fix that can result in immediate success. Rather, Quinn looks at the base of the technique from his defense and how the scales could be swinging further away from tackles rather than to tackles.
"I would say it's more in the concentration piece," he said. "The other is maybe you're too aggressive. You're flying past and not taking the right angle. Usually the truth is somewhere in the middle. In this case, we needed to take the extra step. We weren't going to lunge and miss because we didn't have the right angle in taking the next step."
The run defense issues were specifically highlighted in the absence of starting defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins who missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury. In his place, rookie first-round pick Mazi Smith stepped in as well as Neville Gallimore and Carl Davis.
"I thought across the board inside, the guys played square and strong, but we just didn't create enough plays," Quinn said. "Create some negative [plays] and knock them back further. From Mazi's standpoint, I thought he played strong and square inside."
The challenge in stopping the run only increases in the coming weeks with the No. 4 rushing offense awaiting in Miami on Sunday afternoon behind its two-headed monster of Raheem Mostert and Devon Achane.
"I think there's a relentless nature in the way they can attack an edge," Quinn said about the Dolphins' duo. "When you're going up against a team that has good speed, you really have to try to build a wall on the outside. There's all sorts of weapons they have, but with the speed you can use at running back from out of the backfield, in motion, use them in the backfield in empty sets and bring it back quickly on jets – that's the type of speed that you better be prepared for laterally."
Following the Dolphins, the Cowboys will see the No. 2 rushing offense when another powerful duo in David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs lead the Detroit Lions into AT&T Stadium on Dec. 30.