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Former Cowboys Great Speaks on New Look Cowboys Defense

When the Dallas Cowboys made the move to hire Mike Nolan to be their defensive coordinator, speculation began that the Cowboys would be switching to a 3-4 defense. Though he coordinated 4-3 defenses in Atlanta, Nolan had a lot of success in San Francisco and Baltimore running base 3-4 defenses.

Speaking to Jori Epstein of USA Today, former Dallas Cowboys great, and 3-4 OLB, DeMarcus Ware spoke about what the Cowboys might show in Mike Nolan’s defense. 

USA TODAY Sports on Twitter

@DeMarcusWare divulges his thoughts on what the Cowboys defense might look like in 2020 to @JoriEpstein.

DeMarcus Ware said:

Now you’ve got a whole new guy coming in and the 3-4 defense is all predicated in getting pressure, pushing the pocket up the middle, stopping the run, bringing those outside linebackers to create those turnovers. That’s why DeMarcus Lawrence and Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory they can excel in this defense, because you might get a tight end. You might have to be on a running back because there’s five guys rushing now instead of four but they can interchange each one of those guys, and that’s what makes it hard on those offenses because they can’t block you.”

DeMarcus Ware via Jori Epstein of USA Today

In comments made to the media after being hired, Nolan mentioned that the Cowboys want to be able to show multiple looks in their front seven. The goal is pressure, regardless of personnel or front.

So that means, we’ll see the Cowboys line up in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. As the NFL has become more of a passing league, the true base defense is nickel defense.

Teams are in 11-personnel nearly 70% of the time, necessitating five defensive backs in most situations.

The Cowboys have done a ton of work to overhaul their defense this offseason adding three defensive tackles and three edge rushers. Players like Dontari Poe, a true nose tackle, and Aldon Smith, a 3-4 EDGE, give the Cowboys the flexibility to show a variety of defensive fronts.

Ware also mentioned that DeMarcus Lawrence has reached out to get some tips on how to play that outside linebacker and rush as a stand up EDGE rusher.

DeMarcus Lawrence is going to be just fine if he has to stand up and play as an outside linebacker, even if he’s never done it, because the Cowboys are going to have him rushing the quarterback far more often than dropping into coverage. Lawrence reaching out to Ware for insight on how to rush from a two-point stance reveals that the Cowboys are going to play some 3-4, but they’ll allow Lawrence to rush from his three-point stance as well, because he’s proven incredibly effective rushing from a three-point stance throughout his career.

While a lot of Ware’s comments focus on the benefit of playing a 3-4 defense, he does mention there at the end of the clip that the hybrid defense will be good for the Cowboys cause it will predicate on getting pressure.

Pressure is the name of the game for the Dallas Cowboys moving forward. Head Coach Mike McCarthy has even talked about the idea of having a designated rusher and having five or six guys that can get after the quarterback.

Newcomers Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Neville Gallimore, Aldon Smith, and Bradlee Anae added to DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford, and Jaylon Smith give the Cowboys a deep group of players that can put pressure on the quarterback. 

Putting pressure on the quarterback is the key to Mike Nolan’s defense. With the additions they’ve made, the Dallas Cowboys look ready to do just that.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.


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  1. Just the fact that its a new scheme is enough to excite me. And as long as all this talk about Nolan being pressure-minded is true, the defense should benefit overall. Even with last year’s roster, a better scheme would have resulted in a better defense. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the difference between the 2019 and 2020 Cowboys will come down to the defensive performance. Here’s to good health!

    • The philosophy is the thing I’m most excited about.

      Pressure from the front seven and press-man coverage on the outside, which won’t allow quick and free releases forcing the QB to hold the ball longer than he’ll feel comfortable with five and six rushers coming at him regularly.

      • I agree … but I do have some reservations about Nolan. He’s been around and is respected, but he’s never been considered a mastermind or a “must have” kind of coach. After all, he was out-of-work and available for McCarthy. Nonetheless, he’s a new voice and scheme which I think was paramount for this team … let’s just hope he gets tenure he and we aren’t re-doing this again in another year or two.

        • Your comment about Nolan being out of work in incorrect. He has been coaching the Saints LBs for the past couple of years. If you do a little research Nolan has been in the top ten rated DCs when he is the DC. Many of the teams he has coached over the years have been in the top ranked defenses. He is a great schemer or as you say master mind. Has been know as a defensive guru. That is one of the reasons the Saints defense had the big turn around in the last three years. In his carrier he as tormented QBs like Manning, Brady, Breeze. They have all said so. He has been known to get a lot out of the defense even with no talent. He has been with many teams which is not uncommon in the NFL. Unfortunately DCs and OCs and the remainder of the coaching staff go when the head coach gets let go. It is not a reflection on how good of a coach they are. You could be the greatest coach in the world but if you work for a bad owner that selects bad players you pay. I know you will be pleasantly surprised with this defense.

          • Hope you’re right. But I’m pretty certain I could roll off at least 10 preferable DC’s most people wouldn’t dispute as being better (no disrespect to Nolan). I’m on board with him, just a little unsure of who he is …

  2. I think of all our pass rushers D Lawrence is the only proven commodity all the other come with questions mark. Hopefully when it all shakes out we have a few rushers that are impactful. As for Nolan hopefully he can schemes in ways to help our players create more turnovers. Our lack of turnovers have really hurt us in recent yrs. I would guess that we have been at bottom of the league in that regard for several yrs now. That coupled with poor special teams play has hurt us big time.

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