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Unified vision has led to the Cowboys' defensive turnaround

The Dallas Cowboys defense was full of question marks before the season but coordinator Dan Quinn has integrated well with the team’s decision makers.

DALLAS — While everyone has marveled at the club’s prowess on offense, the turnaround for the Dallas Cowboys on defense has been one of the more astounding aspects of the team's first six games.

In 2020, the Cowboys were third-worst in the NFL against the run as they surrendered 5.0 yards per carry. Opposing quarterbacks compiled a 100.4 passer rating, the seventh-highest in the NFL. Although the Cowboys finished even with the Tennessee Titans tied for the eighth-most turnovers with 23, they only gathered seven by the time of their Week 10 bye, and had a 2-7 record to show for it.

Albeit six games, the Cowboys have stopped the run at a rate of 4.3 yards per carry, tied for 15th-lowest; limited opposing passers to an 88.1 rating, the eighth-lowest in the league; and are second in the NFL with 14 takeaways. The difference has garnered Dallas a record of 5-1 where they sit atop the NFC East.

According to Cowboys COO Stephen Jones, the secret to the Cowboys' turnaround defensively has been a unified vision to talent acquisition. Vice president of player personnel Will McClay and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn worked in lockstep to ensure that the defense acquired the necessary pieces in free agency and the draft to run Quinn's scheme.

"I think Dan was outstanding giving our scouting area a great vision for what he needed, and I think we were able to find those players that Dan was looking for, and they fit in, and the same holds true for the draft," Jones told "GBag Nation" on 105.3 "The Fan" [KRLD-FM] on Friday.

What Quinn had that his predecessor, Mike Nolan, who lasted the 2020 season only, didn't have was an actual offseason program. The COVID-19 lockdowns prevented the NFL from having a true offseason curriculum – coaches weren't able to be with their players in the third dimension, for example – on the practice field until August for a month-long training camp that featured no preseason games.

"We were pretty much sticking with what we were doing on offense, but were being a little aggressive in wanting to change some philosophical things defensively," said Jones. "I think this year we really got our hands around it and were able to understand what the vision was for the defense."

Jones also mentioned that the continuity between offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and starting quarterback Dak Prescott also helped the scouting department devote more attention to fixing the defense. Why fix the offense if it clearly isn't broken?

A defensive player who best typifies how the scouting department and coaching came together to add an effective piece was safety Jayron Kearse. The 6-4, 215-pound defensive back has filled in nicely for safety Donovan Wilson, who is battling a groin injury, and has found his own niche guarding tight ends.

"There he is, 6-4-plus, long, and Quinn’s vision for a player like that is to be a great weapon covering tight ends," said Jones. "Certainly this day and time we see all the emphasis on tight ends because they are mismatches. They’re great athletes. Certainly had a rare one come out this year in [Kyle] Pitts from Florida. Obviously you got to start to find these guys that can match up."

The missing element has been the defense. Dallas is hopeful the unified vision stays clear all the way through January 2022.

Are you happy with how the Dallas defense has performed through the season’s first six weeks? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.