The struggles of the 2020 Cowboys defense are common knowledge at this point.
We all watched as they blew coverages, missed assignments, and got run all over during the early part of the season. We also watched as they slightly improved, largely due to positive turnover regression late in the year.
And we also all know that the personnel on the defensive side of the ball needs a bit of an overhauling. Right now the Cowboys only have two legitimate options to start week one at cornerback, need to find a way to improve on the interior of their defensive line, and could use a linebacker upgrade over the duo of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
Realistically, though, the 2021 defense is going to look similar to the 2020 defense. Key player wise, at least.
This is why it’s going to come down to things outside of just individual talent. How quickly can a defense that looked lost under Mike Nolan last season adapt to Dan Quinn’s scheme for next season?
There was hope that 2020 would be the only virtual offseason which featured massive cancellations and postponements of preseason work. But 2021 isn’t looking much better. Virtual meetings may be the way of the future, and given that future brought so many unique challenges to Mike Nolan and company last year, Quinn has a tough task at hand.
What Dan Quinn has working in his favor, though, is simplicity and familiarity. Having dealt with Kris Richard a couple seasons ago, many of these Cowboys will be familiar with Quinn’s defensive preachings. It will still require adjustment, and there will still be newcomers, but it won’t be nearly the massive jump that moving from Rod Marinelli to Mike Nolan was for this group.
I’d also like to think that the coaching staff learned something from last year’s virtual setup. Mike McCarthy has emphasized in the past how key improving communication across the defense will be this year, and having a full 12 months of COVID-affected football activity should help them prepare going forward.
This world is no longer new. It may still not be ideal, but it’s not new. And at this point, it probably even feels a bit normal.
Hopefully this team can take lessons learned in 2020, and apply better ways of working and learning in 2021.