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Mailbag: Expectations For The Defense Now?


What type of defensive scheme do you think fits the current roster best? Do you think former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's scheme would have worked with more time, or was it just not a good fit? And what do you expect from Dan Quinn filling Nolan's role? ALEX MILLER / HOUSTON, TX

David: I have a hard time answering the second part of the question, because I'm not convinced we ever got a good look at what Mike Nolan's scheme actually was. As for the next step, I think it makes a lot of sense that the team is hiring Dan Quinn. The Cowboys had a lot of success with that Cover 3 system under Kris Richard. Since it looks like they're going to be quite cash-strapped in 2021, it makes sense to trend back toward a system that might yield some success with the players that are already on hand.

Rob: I think a full offseason would have helped, but when you look at the whole body of work, I understand why Nolan wasn't retained. With likely a tighter cap league-wide due to the pandemic, it's probably going to be difficult for the Cowboys to make a lot of significant roster changes. So it makes sense to bring in a new voice/scheme change on defense and hope for progress there. More and more defenses are taking a more multiple-style approach to adapt to the way offenses have evolved, so I don't think what Nolan tried to do was unusual. But I do think a more traditional 4-3 probably fits the current roster better. Just my opinion. And that's what Quinn is mostly known for.

Since the Giants game could have been Sean Lee's final game as a Cowboy, what play or game do you remember instantly when reminiscing on his career? Mine is always the two-interception game against Peyton Manning and the Colts his rookie year. Lee will always be a favorite player of mine. — RANSOM MCINTIRE / EL PASO, TX

David: Two plays immediately jump to mind. The first came in 2013, when Sean picked off Philip Rivers in San Diego and returned it the other way for a touchdown. But my go-to Sean Lee moment was during that magical 2016 season. Cowboys-Eagles, Week 8. Philly held a 23-16 lead halfway through the fourth quarter, and they were already in field goal range on 3rd-and-8 from the Dallas 30-yard line. Practically any positive yardage would allow them to kick a field goal and take a two-possession lead. Carson Wentz looked for Darren Sproles on a swing route behind the line of scrimmage, but Sean diagnosed it beautifully, charged into the backfield and tackled Sproles for a six-yard loss the minute he caught the ball. The Eagles had to punt instead of trying a field goal, and the Cowboys wound up tying the game and winning in overtime.

Rob: Probably the overtime win over the Eagles in 2016, the one where Dak Prescott threw the deciding touchdown to Jason Witten in the back of the end zone. Lee had a team-high 11 tackles, including a massive tackle on Darren Sproles for a 6-yard loss that forced Philly to punt in the fourth quarter. (The Cowboys tied the game on the next drive to force OT.) Just a perfect read on the play, a testament to Lee's famous preparation. We'll see what the future holds – Lee said he still has a lot to give as player and will take some time to think about possibly another season – but that game will always stand out to me.

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