Now that Dallas was able to retain Dan Quinn as their defensive coordinator, and the fact that he has a full year under his belt with the Cowboys, do you think they have the potential to be a top-three defense in the league next season? (Keeping in mind who we might lose or retain in free agency could play a big part.) — MARK SOMMA / GAINESVILLE, VA
Nick: No, I don't see that happening. Top 3 defense? They weren't really close to that this year. I guess it all depends on what stats you want to go by. They were 19th in total yards. They were 7th in points allowed. Now, turnovers, the Cowboys were right near the very top. But considering the guys they'll probably lose in free agency, I don't see a massive jump. But if the Cowboys manage to keep Gregory and Jayron Kearse, then yes they should improve. But I still don't see this being a Top 3 defense.
Rob: Not only who they keep in free agency matters, but who they might have to bring in to replace guys. They hit on so many signings last year, and that's tougher to do when you're talking about one-year deals in the later stages of free agency. Obviously the draft is huge, too, and Will McClay and company have done a great job there. If you judge off the DVOA metric, the Cowboys ranked second on defense behind only Buffalo. So, top-three next year? So much will depend on what the roster looks like by May, but no doubt Quinn's return is huge, and it doesn't hurt to have Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons as building blocks.
I often hear that Tony Pollard didn't get enough touches. What's the answer? Should Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott each get the ball about 50% of the time? Should Pollard have been the starter? Thanks. — MARK WHITT / MULLENS, WV
Nick: The answer is – everyone involved in this situation needs to improve. Zeke has to figure out once again how to get his body right and try to stay healthy throughout the season. Kellen Moore has to be even more creative in how they get Pollard in the game. And Tony Pollard, himself, needs to be more versatile in the offense. He needs to improve his blocking, get a better understanding of all the positions and that would help him get on the field more. I think if everyone steps up their game this year, they can figure out how to get Pollard and Zeke enough touches to be successful.
Rob: No, I wouldn't go that far as make a starter change. I think Pollard is terrific in his role as a change of pace. To me, the ideal balance is what we saw early in the season when the run game was humming and chewing up clock -- Elliott's 74 carries to Pollard's 58 in Weeks 2-5. That's more in line with what Mike McCarthy suggested in training camp about keeping Zeke fresh from the playoffs. One can argue that Pollard should have taken more of the load in the middle of the season when Zeke was clearly banged up. Then again, Elliott is better in terms of pass protection, which can't be overstated when you look at how much Dak Prescott was pressured down the stretch. No matter who's in at running back, winning the line of scrimmage is the biggest factor to me.