After last season, the Dallas Cowboys front office took a long hard look in the mirror.
Coaches stayed together a year too long. Overpaid players were released. Underserved needs were finally addressed, wink, wink, defensive tackle.
Re-signing Leighton Vander Esch, Donovan Wilson, and Jonathan Hankins were financially responsible moves.
However, the major blessing came from retaining Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn.
Before the Quinn era, 2020 included a Mike Nolan hiring and firing, 6 wins, and a defense giving up just under 30 points per game.
So, yes, DQ coming back falls in the divine category.
This defense prepares to do some extraordinary things in Year 3 under Quinn.
In both 2021 and 2022, the Dallas Cowboys defense took the ball away from opposing offenses more times than any other team, 34 and 33, respectively.
Are they prepared to lead the league in takeaways for three straight seasons?
Short Answer. Yes, absolutely, the defense can and will. However, just saying yes isn't good enough.
Dallas is going to have a new face in the NO-FLY zone
The point I am about to make is the epitome of low-hanging fruit, but it's valid.
The acquisition of Cornerback Stephon Gilmore will undoubtedly help the defense with takeaways in 2023.
The 11-year former Defensive Player of the Year has 29 interceptions. Four of which he collected over the last two seasons.
Unfortunately, Gilmore's last two seasons were in Carolina and Indianapolis. For that, he is certainly deserving of a reprieve.
Enter Dan Quinn's defense. He will have a chance to show everyone why he was known as a no-fly zone.
Dallas is notorious for getting after the quarterback.
As long as Micah Parsons is attacking the likes of Daniel Jones, the ball will come fluttering out sooner than he would like.
When it does, the law office of Gilmore, Trevon Diggs, and DaRon Bland will be ready to represent.
At the end of last season, Dallas ranked in the top 5 in total pressures, including quarterback hurries, knockdowns, and sack plays.
They also led the league in pressure percentage at 25.6, right above that Philadelphia team.
Is it outside the realm of possibility to believe that having another solid cornerback opposite Trevon Diggs would get you more takeaways with similar or more pressure?
We know the answer to that, and soon enough, the rest of the NFL world will also know.
Plugging up the middle may give the defense more opportunities for takeaways
The light switch went off for the Dallas Cowboys executive team after week number 7 of the 2022 season.
The middle of the defense was still compromised, so they added Jonathan Hankins to beef up the interior.
Why is that important? It's simple. There was a higher probability that Dallas would get a turnover if the opposition was in 2nd and 10 or more.
According to Pro Football Reference, Dallas picked off 6 of their 16 interceptions when the defense forced a 2nd and long situation.
So why is there a picture of Mazi Smith instead of Hankins?
That's not hard to answer, either.
While the Hankins' trade created immediate improvement last season, drafting an elite athlete like Smith will give this team a run stuffer and more.
No guarantee that opposing offenses will run the ball on the first down, but the probabilities point in that direction.
Those hated Philadelphia Eagles; while I prefer to not include them in anything I write, I must at least reference their 1st down run percentage of 43.82% last season.
Dallas coaches know that number, so Smith and Hankins being on this roster is vital.
The team will attempt to fill a hole in their defense and put teams in less advantageous positions on 2nd and 3rd downs.
It's football 101. Stop a running attack on the first down; there are better odds they'll be less conservative on second down.
The Cowboys haven't drafted an interior defensive lineman in the first round since 1991. Dan Quinn knows it starts up front by stopping the most fundamental principle of football.
More takeaways can be had if the Dallas Cowboys do that. The numbers don't lie.
The Big Nickel defense that Dan Quinn employs is a difference maker
Outside of Parsons, the best athletes for the Dallas Cowboys are arguably in the defensive backfield.
Diggs, Gilmore, Bland, and the trio of Malik Hooker, Jayron Kearse, and Donovan Wilson.
Those last three names make a huge difference for the defense.
In both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Defensive Coordinators Rod Marinelli and Mike Nolan were confident they had the linebacker equation solved.
Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were the future of the defense.
Little did they know that combination helped direct them to the unemployment line.
Dan Quinn had a different vision for the defense. Getting faster and more athletic would lead to more plays on the football.
What do you know? He was right.
Rather than having lumbering linebackers slowing down his defensive flow, he chose safeties who could play multiple roles.
If you think Quinn is not doubling down on this strategy, think again.
In 2021, he drafted Israel Mukuamu and signed undrafted free agent Markquese Bell in 2022.
What did he do in 2023?
The Dallas Cowboys drafted another hybrid athlete DeMarvion Overshown, from the University of Texas.
That's three additional athletes with a nose for the football.
They'll cause turnovers and, more importantly, provide depth if any of the hybrid safeties find themselves on the injury report.
From top to bottom, this defensive unit is built to take the football away.
America's Team has done it the last two years and is poised for a three-peat.