Skip to main content

Science Lab

Presented by

Science Lab: Cowboys Defense is War Daddy Central


Patrik [No C] Walker joined the Dallas Cowboys digital media group as a staff writer and media personality in July 2022, having professionally covered the NFL and, more specifically, the Cowboys since 2007.

He most recently did so for CBS Sports by way of 247Sports, where he also spent time delving into collegiate recruiting as well – ultimately becoming well-known for his level of unapologetic objectivity labeled by many as his own unique brand of football "science".

Welcome to "The Science Lab", a place where football facts and in-depth analysis always triumph over feelings.

FRISCO, Texas - It feels like it was forever ago when owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he was working to identify a war daddy on/for the Dallas Cowboys defense, but it was recent history. But having gone from worst in the NFL (2020) to one of the best in only one season (2021) with Dan Quinn as the defensive maestro – and the best this season - Jones isn't trying to find one anymore.

That's because he has 11 war daddies now, and possibly more.

"To win the world championship you have to have a top-flight defense," said head coach Mike McCarthy.

You already know of the sensational talent that is Micah Parsons, a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler whose first-round pick status in 2021 created a wave of criticism toward the Cowboys before he went on to devour the league that same year and who now has 19 sacks and four forced fumbles in his first 21 NFL starts..

You also know of Trevon Diggs, of course, the former second-round pick who tied the franchise's single-season interception record only a few months ago and is off to another hot start in Year 3 - having a total of 15 interceptions in his first 32 NFL starts and on pace for career highs in both pass break ups and …wait for it: tackles.

The beauty of Quinn's defensive unit is it doesn't simply stop at Parsons and Diggs though, but rather depends largely on the impact from every single player at every single position whether they're a starter, a rotational guy or a practice squadder.

Hell, even the tackle dummies are required to perform at an All-Pro level.

It's a culture of defense that hangs its hat on how "connected" they are to one another, evidenced by Quinn noting the unit doesn't "just like each other, they love each other" and it shows on every single play. DeMarcus Lawrence isn't simply disproving his detractors on a regular basis, against both the run and the pass, but he's continued to be the vocal leader in the locker room for a fairly young defense who revere and respect him.

It all leads to a group that's much akin to a hydra, wherein lopping off one head doesn't mean much of anything because another one will quickly grow in its place.

In 2021, it lost Lawrence (foot) and Neville Gallimore (elbow) for the majority of the season and didn't miss a beat. In 2022, it lost starting right defensive end Randy Gregory to free agency and then both Tarell Basham and Jayron Kearse to injury and didn't miss a step.

Instead, you're seeing players like Donovan Wilson and Dorance Armstrong having the best season of their career; and resurgent campaigns from former first-round picks Leighton Vander Esch, Dante Fowler and Malik Hooker.

You're seeing four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr starting to find his groove in Quinn's system, hot off of what was easily his best game with the Cowboys thus far in the victory over the Rams and rookie cornerback DaRon Bland tossed in at the last minute against the Washington Commanders and grab his first-ever interception in his first-ever start as a professional.

And, quiet as it's kept, you're seeing talent like rookie Markquese Bell and second-year safety Israel Mukuamu make an impact whenever they're given the chance to do so, the Cowboys list of inactives sometimes including players who could arguably start for other clubs.

At a certain point, you have to think Congress will draft legislation to limit the amount of talent Quinn is allowed to have, seeing as the Cowboys front office has given him all he can handle and more in that regard; and without breaking the bank to do so (yet).

Having now defensively mowed through Tom Brady, Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford through the first five outings - allowing only 19 points or less to this point in the season and only five touchdowns through as many games - there's admittedly always something more to prove, until there isn't.

They'll have another major test when they take on Jalen Hurts and the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles but, that said, and regardless of the outcome of that game, we've seen enough to know what this defense is and can be.

It is basically Ghirodah, with a lot more heads, and has yet to meet its Godzilla in 2022.

"Everybody is him," said Armstrong to me following the win at SoFi Stadium. "If it's not the same guy this week, it's a new guy. That's the good thing about our defense - we've got guys that can actually go."

Quinn agrees, and so should your eyes.

"It speaks to the unselfish nature of the group," said Quinn. "It speaks to the entire crew - how deep and how hard we roll together knowing it might be different the next week to be counted on in a certain role. I believe that was a pretty accurate description by him. They all could be that.

"We play guys in different roles and different ways and if you key too much on one person, the next one is ready to attack."

And attack they most certainly do.

The five sacks against Stafford, including a breakout game by Osa Odighizuwa (hey look, there's another notable name), give the unit a total of 20 on the season and this franchise hasn't seen a defense do that since 1987. Not even the heralded and untouchable 1992 iteration of the franchise's defense achieved the feat (go look at that roster because good grief) and that was with a Jimmy Johnson defense that, personnel-wise, established a sort of blueprint for the one Quinn is using to eviscerate opponents nowadays.

Toss in four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, five interceptions and a defensive touchdown to the mix and the picture begins to paint itself, but here's the kicker:

Quinn demands more, expects more and more is likely coming. Sam Williams, the rookie second-round pick, had his best game of the season in Week 5 and Quinn expects him to improve exponentially "over the next couple of months". There have also been plays left on the field, be it with dropped opportunities for more interceptions and/or the need to button up the run defense more consistently.

And though players like Chauncey Golston, Trysten Hill and Quinton Bohanna have been impact players, they're still thirsty to break out more consistently for a defensive line unit that Quinn confesses has a great problem in trying to get everyone the amount of snaps they deserve on a weekly basis.

Well, when everyone is a wardaddy, no one is at peace.

Just ask the opponents of the Cowboys.

Related Content