When the Dallas Cowboys hired Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan last January, the thought was that his hybrid scheme with multiple three and four-man fronts would keep opposing offenses off-balance.
The defense as a whole struggled for most of the 2020 season. They finished 28th in points allowed, 31st against the run, and 23rd in overall defense. The best player on the Cowboys defensive unit, DeMarcus Lawrence, talked on Monday about how injuries and playing young players were a big part of the struggles on defense in Dallas.
“We went through some tough battles at the beginning of the season,” Lawrence said, via the team's website. “Not me personally with Coach, but I'm just saying, in general, as a defense we went through tough battles. When you're playing with young guys on defense you have to take into consideration that some things that are easy for me won't be easy for the next person.”
The Cowboys ended the season on a high note going 3-1 over their last four games, mainly due to an improved defensive unit. They only allowed 20 points per game over that span which was almost 10 points lower than their average for the season (29.9). Also, they forced 12 turnovers, which was more than they had in the first 12 games (11).
Lawrence mentioned that Nolan made adjustments to his scheme to get better results on the field, which included more snaps for guys like Randy Gregory and second-year safety Donovan Wilson.
“I respect Mike as a man because he looked himself in the mirror and he changed some things to make us play faster and helped us play better,” Lawrence said. “I mean, it was later in the season, but we started to see improvements, and I think it really shined a light on the type of players we are.”
Despite playing on a defense that was one of the league's worst from an overall standpoint, Lawrence was his usual dominant self. He finished third in run stops and forced fumbles (4) for all edge rushers according to Pro Football Focus who also named him a second-team All-Pro for 2020.
The game of football is the ultimate team sport, though, and Lawrence vows to have the Cowboys defense ready for next season.
“I'll make sure we're ready,” Lawrence said. “That's all there is to it. You can expect us to give our all, make sure we come out there and dominate each and every play and make sure we show you the type of men we have in this locker room.”
The 2021 NFL Draft is a little under four months away. Possessing the 10th overall pick, if the Cowboys are smart, defense will be a huge priority.