Now that the season is over, what's the verdict on the defensive situation as a whole? Was this a case of unfortunate injuries (Gerald McCoy, Trysten Hill, Chido Awuzie early on)? The scheme not fitting the personnel? Not enough preseason to properly install a new scheme? Under performing by former pro bowlers (Vander Esch and Smith). Coaching? All of the above? What's the answer for next season? Change in personnel, new coach, or new scheme?
— JEFF PARSONS / AMARILLO, TX
David: I honestly think the answer is "all of the above" to both of these questions. Yes, the Cowboys got unlucky with injuries, but they also clearly did not adapt to the challenges of virtual installation as well as some other teams, and they didn't get the necessary production from some of their better players. As far as how to fix it, again I'm going to say all of those answers are fair. I personally think this coaching staff needs to at least be tweaked, if not completely changed. And obviously, with so many free agents — not to mention a top 10 draft pick — there's going to be a lot of opportunity to upgrade the personnel. This defense needs a little bit of everything.
Rob: It's all of the above: a combination of scheme, execution, and no offseason to fine-tune things. I agree with the assessment that there was probably too much scheme change in a year where continuity was probably the safest way to go, at least for this season. But the club thought they could lean on their experience on defense and that didn't work out. They parted ways with three veteran offseason additions by the middle of the year. Injuries were a factor, too, particularly with the interior defensive line and secondary. I just think they have to, and will, take a hard look at the whole defensive operation and figure out if the past month was enough of a step in the right direction.
Which has more needs that should be addressed in the draft and free agency, the offense or defense? — GARY TOOTHMAN / FAIRFIELD, TX
David: The obvious answer is the defense, for a variety of reasons. They need help at all three levels. But just to play devil's advocate, you can't forget about offensive tackle. Both of the starters suffered very serious injuries, and 2021 will be Tyron Smith's 11th year in the NFL. I don't know that they need to draft an offensive tackle with their first-round pick, but it's definitely something that should be on their minds.
Rob: Defense. The offense can more or less run it back next season with a healthy group, provided that they must be mindful of their depth on the offensive line, as Dave mentioned. There are far more starters/key rotation players with expiring contracts on defense. Just more questions about the production and depth there. The draft will be critical because salary cap space figures to be tight based on league revenue loss in the pandemic.