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Mailbag: How will Zimmer's philosophy differ?


With Mike Zimmer returning to Dallas as defensive coordinator, what will be the biggest change we'll see in the defense? How is his defensive philosophy different from Dan Quinn? – Jeff Parsons/Amarillo, TX

Nick Eatman: I think you're going to see a big difference in the type of player on this team, particularly at the linebacker spot. With Quinn's defenses, especially last year, we saw more of an emphasis on speed and coverage ability that size and tackling. I know we talk about Markquese Bell a lot, but he's the best example of the type of player that Quinn wanted to use for mismatches. The problem was, sometimes he was on the wrong end of those mismatches. With Zimmer's defense, he has played more of a physical scheme that puts a stronger emphasis on stopping the run. To do that, you usually have bigger linebacker, and different alignments up front to neutralize the running game. Nothing is a perfect science. In today's NFL, the offensive coordinators are always dialing up new ways to beat any kind of defense. With a scheme that is designed to stop the run, obviously you're going to be more vulnerable in coverage. But if Trevon Diggs is back at full strength again, coupled with Bland and perhaps Gilmore, I like my chances in the coverage more than ever. So having a front 7 geared to stopping the run might work more than it has in the past.

Patrik: Draw a circle around the linebackers corp in Dallas and, in my opinion, watch what happens there going forward. One thing about Zimmer's defenses in the past is that the role of LB is paramount and, as such, he usually keeps one or two heavy hitters in that regard who can play sideline to sideline like their hair is on fire. I believe that sees Markquese Bell moved back to safety and someone prominent potentially added in free agency to tandem with Damone Clark, regardless of if LVE opts to return for 2024. I'd expect a different plan for Mazi Smith than keeping him light enough to run at 3-tech and instead possibly returning him to the weight of a 1-tech, which would be fine by me in truly beginning to unlock his potential as a run-stopper. I also believe you can do away with worrying about if Zimmer will run a 3-4 or a 4-3, because it doesn't matter. That's because he's had success in running both in his first stretch with the Cowboys (4-3 under Switzer and Campo, 3-4 under Parcells) and, more importantly, most the league uses nickel defense as a base the majority of the time anyway. My only concern is will the Cowboys' defense take what they've learned from Quinn regarding takeaways and roll it into the Zimmer administration, because that's not been a strength of Zimmer's defenses in the past, but the Cowboys can't afford a step back in that area, either. Lastly, don't expect Zimmer to be anything other than an "old ball coach" in his demeanor. Even the biggest names will be held accountable at all times, and that can only help push toward greatness.

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