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Mailbag: Will new scheme bring fewer turnovers?


Dan Quinn's defensive scheme played a lot of big nickel and the safeties were constantly making big plays and creating turnovers. Mike Zimmer's scheme sounds like it will have a few bigger linebackers on the field instead of the hybrid safeties. Do you think this will lead to fewer big plays by our secondary? – H. Melvin/Ocean City, NJ

Kurt: Among the top goals for every defensive coordinator across the NFL is to create turnovers, so that's not going to change now with Zimmer. In truth, though, we may not see a huge difference in the defensive alignments. The Dallas defense under Quinn for the most part used only two true linebackers (not counting Micah Parsons lined up as a pass-rusher). But take a look at Zimmer's last season as head coach of the Vikings. In 2021, the nine most common defensive alignments for Minnesota also featured only two true linebackers on the field. Meaning, we'll continue to see a lot of nickel and big nickel packages. As you mentioned, where the difference might come is in the size of those 'backers. That 2021 Vikings season usually used a mix of Eric Kendricks (6-0, 232), Anthony Barr (6-5, 257) and Nick Vigil (6-2, 230). Once Leighton Vander Esch was lost for the 2023 campaign, the Cowboys had to turn to Markquese Bell (6-3, 205) to help out at linebacker, which as the measurements show, created a mismatch. Sure, the Cowboys might lose a bit of speed by adding more size to the position, but look at it this way: Making teams one-dimensional by slowing down the run, plus giving receivers an intimidation factor to think about in the middle of the field could result in even more opportunities for takeaways.

Nick Eatman: I think there's always a trade-off. You might get fewer turnovers and big plays because of the way DQ likes to pressure the quarterback with multiple rushers. But on the flip side, Zimmer could bring a little more discipline to the defense and hopefully a better run defense as well. I think with more of an emphasis to stopping the run, you're going to see a more basic defense, which should prevent a lot of big plays but might not lead to turnovers. Don't be surprised if the penalties are cut down on defense, which would be a plus for this team.

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