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Offseason | 2021

Mick Shots: Moving Forward While Looking Back


FRISCO, Texas – New defensive coordinator.

No surprise when your defense gives up a franchise-high 473 points and finishes 31st against the run.

New secondary coach/pass game coordinator reportedly on the way.

No surprise when giving up 34 passing touchdowns, another franchise single-season high.

New defensive line coach likely up next.

No surprise when registering just 31 sacks, matching the fewest since the 28 of 2014 and the second fewest since the 24 of 2002.

And don't think the Cowboys simply woke up Friday morning and decided to fire defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula when they made the announcement. This decision had been in the works for weeks, but likely solidified after exit interviews with some of the more veteran players.

Don't think the Cowboys conducted just a virtual interview with Dan Quinn on Sunday for the defensive coordinator position. Flew him in on Monday for an in-person interview and hired him by Monday night. Look, the guy had been out of a job since October, fired as the Atlanta head coach after getting off to a 0-5 start this season. This move likely had been considered for weeks, like after those back-to-back shellackings at the hands of Washington and Baltimore and then giving up 33 points and 458 yards in a win over San Francisco.

Plus, those interviews with the secondary coaches/passing game coordinators for the defensive coordinator's job, they set the groundwork for head coach Mike McCarthy and Quinn reportedly bringing in their former secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. to the same position.

To me, when you decide to move on from a coach, you better have an idea of where you're going next. Otherwise, you get yourself into a bigger mess. Learned that in 1998 when Barry Switzer was dismissed and the Cowboys thought they had former UCLA head coach Terry Donahue wrapped up. But the Cowboys were left in a lurch when Troy Aikman's college head coach balked at also handling offensive coordinator/play calling duties so late in the game, the Cowboys then settling for Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator Chan Gailey on Feb. 12.

Never want to be left taking shots in the dark.

  • Shaking It Up: Nothing wrong with McCarthy, after the hiring of Quinn as his defensive coordinator, to give him the prerogative to influence shaking up that defensive staff. Let's remember, Quinn made his NFL coaching bones as a defensive line coach before he ever became a coordinator. So makes sense he would want influence on that next hire since the Cowboys also let the defensive line coach Tomsula go, too. And don't think a coincidence it's being reported the Cowboys also are hiring Whitt, Quinn's former defensive passing game coordinator/secondary coach in Atlanta. Another guy who spent years working for McCarthy (2008-2018), Whitt rising from a quality control coach to defensive passing game coordinator in Green Bay. Plus, he worked with Quinn in Atlanta the past two seasons in the same capacity.
  • Points Matter: We've repeatedly noted the Cowboys giving up 473 points this season as a franchise single-season high, this after giving up what we thought was an unacceptable 321 in 2019 and 342 in 2018. Ha. Those totals would have been warmly welcomed in this 2020 season, when giving up an average of 29.6 a game. When giving up at least 33 points in eight games this year, including a 49er and 41er. How bad has all that been? Just look to this past weekend's playoff games. Five of the six winning teams held their opponents to no more than 24 points, Cleveland the lone exception in that 48-37 win over Pittsburgh. And three of those five held opponents to no more than 20 points. The Cowboys only held three opponents to no more than 20 points: Rams (20), Bengals (7) and Eagles (17). Yep, points do matter.
  • Running Matters: This stuck out, too, while watching the six playoff games this past weekend. Even with eight of the top 11 rated quarterbacks playing, running the football and stopping the run mattered. Check this out, too. Five of the six winners totaled at least 123 yards rushing, including 236 by the Ravens, 164 by the Rams and 142 by the Buccaneers. The only team to win rushing for fewer than 100 yards was Buffalo (96). And four of the six losers rushed for no more than 86 yards, the two exceptions being the Colts (163) and the Seahawks (136). Yep, like points, running the ball still matters, especially in the playoffs, and the 1,788 yards the Cowboys ran for this season was the fewest since 2013. And their average of 4.2 yards per carry was the lowest since 2012's 3.6.
  • First Impressions: These College Football National Championship games can leave an indelible impression. Like the 2015 one at AT&T Stadium, when Ohio State thumped Oregon, 42-20, with Ezekiel Elliott running 36 times for 246 yards and four touchdowns. After the fourth one, caught myself saying aloud, "The Cowboys need to lock the doors on this place and don't let this Elliott kid out." Well, a season later, the Cowboys selected Zeke with the fourth pick in the draft. Now don't know how this will turn out, but after watching Alabama route Ohio State, 52-24, a guy never heard of previously, Christian Barmore, caused the same reaction in front of the TV screen. Like, with the 10th pick in the draft the Cowboys select defensive tackle from Alabama … Good gosh, the kid was unblockable, if that is a word, by what was supposed to be a stout Buckeyes offensive line, ending up the game's Defensive MVP with five tackles, two TFLs, one sack and generally a pain in the you know what all night. And this after five tackles and a sack in the semifinal against Notre Dame. Why, he's 6-5, 310, and doesn't turn 22 until July 28. Have mercy on offensive linemen once this guy gets in the weight room fulltime. Now, he's only a red-shirt sophomore and hasn't declared if he's coming out or staying. But if he is coming out, and he's there, and I'm no expert at this stuff, but if there is a better defensive tackle than this first-team All-SECer, got to see him.
  • News Flash: And not sure this had reached the state of Ohio in time for Monday night's game, but this Alabama wide receiver from Amite, La., by the name of DeVonta Smith, like, he won the Heisman Trophy. He's pretty good now. Pretty fast, too. Just not sure the way the Buckeyes tried to cover him they actually knew how good he was. Gracious me. Like, put two guys on him. Do not – I repeat, do not – give him a free release off the line of scrimmage. And if he goes in motion, don't ask one guy more than 5 yards off the line of scrimmage to try to trail him back and forth. Assign him to two guys, one on each side. And for goodness sakes, don't ask poor ol' No. 32, a linebacker, to pick him up out of the slot for more than 5 yards. Seriously, poor Tuf Borland, and I'm sure a fine lad and linebacker at Ohio State. But get real.
  • Off The Charts: Cowboys had the ignominious honor of being ranked 32nd in run defense in seven of the season's 17 weeks, but managed to hold the Giants to just 125 yards in the final game to finish 31st, just ahead of Houston by 23 yards, thanks to the Texans getting nailed for 288 by Tennessee – 250 of those belonging to the NFL's 2020 rushing king, Derrick Henry, that allowing him to reach the 2,000-yard mark with 2,027 … Some takeaway turnaround, the Cowboys with seven after just nine games but unearthed 16 more in the final seven games, finishing with 23, their most since the 31 of 2014 … Cornerback Trevon Diggs finishes the season with a team-high 15 pass breakups, the most by a rookie to lead the team, three more than the previous high of Byron Jones (12) in 2015 and Derek Ross (12) in 2002 (since they started tracking stat in 1984) … We know CeeDee Lamb smashed the franchise record for most catches by a rookie (74), previously held by Hall of Famer Bob Hayes with 46 in 1965, but Lamb's 935 yards receiving were only beaten by Hayes' 1,003, so pretty high-cotton company … Greg Zuerlein's 34 field goals tied the franchise single-season record set by Richie Cunningham in 2002.

And the final word goes to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones when recently asked if Dak Prescott's serious ankle injury, a compound fracture and dislocation surgically repaired, might impact the upcoming contract negotiations for a long-term deal, saying, "No, I don't see any negotiation implications that are a part of his injury."

Sure might have been, though.

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