It’s early, but through two contests, the Dallas Cowboys defense is performing nothing like the unit many had pegged to be a top 5 group this season. They haven’t been poor by any stretch, and the very important, bottom-line number of 14 PPG allowed is strong.
What’s troubling however is the fact that the defense has relinquished 264 passing yards per game thus far against some bad offenses, and sacked opposing quarterbacks just twice.
Heading into the season, the defensive line looked to be the team’s strongest and deepest unit. Through two weeks of football, that has most definitely not been the case. There are reasons. The unit’s best player, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence missed the entire preseason recovering from shoulder surgery and is not yet in peak form. Utility rush men Tyrone Crawford has been hindered by a lingering hip injury and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods suffered a knee injury during the Week 2 tilt with Washington. In addition to injury, underperforming players have hurt the unit as well. Taco Charlton (released Wednesday, claimed by Miami) was unable to play his way onto the active roster, as was 2019 2nd round pick, defensive tackle Trysten Hill.
Enter Robert Quinn. On March 29th, the Cowboys cut a deal with the Miami Dolphins to bring the 29-year-old veteran defensive end to Dallas in exchange for a 2020 5th round draft selection. Quinn is a former 1st round pick (Rams), a former All-Pro, and the 2013 Pro Football Writer’s Association Defensive Player of the Year. In that remarkable 2013 season, Quinn notched 19 sacks and has topped the 10 sack mark three times in his 8-year career.
Injuries and schematic changes have caused Quinn’s production to dip in recent years. After racking up 10.5 sacks in 2014, back and concussion issue limited Quinn to just 15 starts combined over the next two seasons. In 2017 Wade Phillips was hired as the Rams defensive coordinator, forcing Quinn to do more work standing up, and on occasion take on some coverage responsibilities. In 2018 he was traded to the Miami Dolphins where he would turn in a respectable season of work. In February 2019, the Dolphins hired Brian Flores as head coach, and Quinn once again became an ill-fitting piece.
Quinn by all accounts is now fully healthy and will be playing in a defense that allows him to do exactly what he does best.
In Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard’s defense, the ‘right end’ or ‘weakside end’ is supposed to be a true speed rusher. DeMarcus Lawrence eats from the ‘left side’/ ‘strong side’ being a well rounded, athletic and powerful technician. The man manning the right side is supposed to be lethally sudden, and bendy, threatening the width of the pass protection arc. That is exactly the type of player Robert Quinn is, and in Dallas’ defense, he will be allowed to pin his ears back and scream off the edge. Though Quinn is the prototype for his role, it’s odd that he is really going to be the first legitimate bookend DeMarcus Lawrence has had, excluding the sporadic contributions of Randy Gregory.
Returning now from a bizarre 2 week PED suspension stemming from a contaminated prescription for anti-seizure medication, Quinn’s debut can’t come fast enough for a stagnant defense in need of a shot in the arm. In addition to injuries along the defensive line, the Cowboys are also without their center fielder, safety Xavier Woods. Nothing helps out an ailing secondary quite like pressure.
Hopefully, Quinn can be the help that Lawrence and company need to find their groove against a helpless Miami Dolphins squad in Week 3.