FRISCO, Texas – With largely a new coaching staff, the Cowboys implemented a lot of change to their defensive philosophy during an offseason condensed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In hindsight, maybe too much.
Less schematic change is a "do-over" Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones wished the team had as they continue through the final month of the regular season at 3-9, coming off two straight losses.
"I see guys that are trying to work the problem, trying to get better," Jones said Friday on 105.3 The Fan. "I will say this: Like anybody, you've got a lot of do-overs. I'd like to start again on how we approached our defense this year. I'd like to start that over again. I'm sure everybody else would, too."
In the offseason, first-year defensive coordinator Mike Nolan installed more of a multiple scheme featuring 3-4 principles as well as the traditional 4-3 fronts the club played in recent years. Injuries to multiple positions have been a factor, but the defense also hasn't found consistency from an execution standpoint in games.
They gave up 294 rushing yards in Tuesday's 34-17 loss to the Ravens – their second-highest total allowed this season and another step backward from a solid November stretch against the Eagles, Steelers and Vikings. Through 12 games, Dallas ranks last in rushing yards allowed per game (167.8) and points allowed per game (32.8).
On offense, the Cowboys kept more system continuity under returning offensive coordinator Kellen Moore in the offseason. Reflecting back, Jones said so much schematic change on defense proved to be a challenge following a completely virtual offseason and a shorter training camp that didn't begin until mid-August.
"We've obviously done some things. We've changed, and we're having a hard time getting those in place to be a good defense (with) that many changes," Jones said.
As an example, Jones cited the 2005 season when the team changed to a 3-4 scheme under-then coach Bill Parcells. An all-time great draft class that spring, headlined by future starters DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff and Chris Canty, made that transition work.
"Had we not drafted those guys, that would've have been a tough move and probably we wouldn't have gone into it as completely," Jones said. "That's speculation. But there's you a case. You've got to think about the personnel when you're talking about changing your scheme."
Jones emphasized that as general manager, he takes accountability for this year's philosophical decisions on defense along with head coach Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff.
The Cowboys play at Cincinnati (2-9-1) with another chance to turn things around, though the chances of clinching the division have diminished with Washington and the Giants ahead by two full games.