Getting better on defense has been at the top of the Dallas Cowboys’ to-do list this offseason. Owner Jerry Jones and head coach Mike McCarthy have been serious about beefing up a unit ranked 28th in points allowed in 2020. Veteran safety Keanu Neal and a draft class loaded with playmakers mean new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has plenty of fresh personnel. Have the Cowboys done enough to be better on defense in 2021? That’s one of the pressing questions facing this franchise in May.
The Cowboys Have Added Enough Edge-Rushers?
False. You can’t fault the attention to detail the Cowboys have paid their sack-shy front seven this offseason. The problem is the franchise has opted for a quantity over quality approach to bolstering a unit that logged just 31 sacks last season. Tarell Basham arrived from the New York Jets in free agency, but all he could manage was 3.5 sacks in 2020. Basham will be a rotational edge-rusher in the mix with DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and third-round draft pick Chauncey Golston.
The latter has sleeper potential as a rookie, but it’s a lot to ask for a first-year player to add the oomph this rotation needs. Gregory has had one problem after another, including just staying on the field, while Lawrence is beginning to tire under the burden of being the man offenses love to double team. The Cowboys will regret not adding some serious star power to this rather meh contingent of edge rushers.
Dan Quinn Will Make the Secondary Better?
True. It’s something of a misnomer, but the Dallas secondary should improve even if the pass rush remains sluggish. Quinn’s arrival will be the decisive factor. He can use his experience with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and ’14 to improve the Cowboys’ pass defense. Thus, Quinn will likely start with the Cover-3 setup the Seahawks used, a zone with some press coverage principles mixed in.
The Cowboys gave Quinn the right players to put this scheme into practice. Neal is the ideal box safety to mug tight ends underneath the way he did for Quinn with the Atlanta Falcons. Second-round draft pick Kelvin Joseph has the size to play press and the ball skills and recognition for being a factor in off-coverage. Third-rounder Nahshon Wright might be an even better fit for the man who once coached the famed ‘Legion of Boom’ in Seattle. Wright is 6’4″ and will rough up receivers if given the license to use his hands early.
The Cowboys Are Set at Left Tackle?
False. Signing Ty Nsekhe during free agency was a smart move, but it hasn’t taken the question mark away from the left tackle position. There would be no questions if Tyron Smith were fully healthy. Unfortunately, peak health has eluded arguably the NFL’s best left tackle in recent years. Smith hasn’t played since undergoing neck surgery back in October. So, there’s naturally some doubt about how effective he can be in 2021. There will be a major drop-off if Nsekhe, who has been a serviceable backup in Washington and Buffalo, has to start ahead of Smith for a prolonged period.
Will Micah Parsons be a Pro Bowler as a Rookie?
True. Parsons landed in a good situation when the Cowboys drafted him 12th overall. He joined a linebacker corps already featuring Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. They will be flanking the rookie after Quinn decided Parsons will play middle linebacker in his first season. A 6’3″, 245-lb athlete who can operate in the A-gaps and plug the run, and is also quick enough to roam sideline to sideline and handle coverage responsibilities, is a great fit for the position. Quinn is hoping for another Bobby Wagner, a do-it-all mike who impacts every phase of the game in a role Parsons has dubbed “a Rambo player.”
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