There’s been plenty of time for the NFC East Champs to mourn their divisional round dismissal at the hands of the NFC North Champion Green Bay Packers. Players have moved on to their off-season routines, while others have traveled to Orlando, Florida to prepare for the Pro Bowl. Looking back on the collapse, it’s safe to say that Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli must do better with the talent he has on defense.
Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli Must Do Better
As reported throughout the season, the Cowboys defensive unit has its weaknesses. The team is missing a big-time pass rusher who can disrupt opposing quarterbacks. However, the unit’s strength is in its defensive backfield. Marinelli often appeared to be reluctant to put his secondary in aggressive positions to knock receivers off their routes and affect the offense’s timing. Instead, the veteran coordinator elected to use soft coverage meant to confuse the Cowboys opponents for most of the season.
Soft Zone vs Aggressive Man
The philosophy put his corner-backs and safeties in a bind far too often. Rumor has it that his defensive linemen begged him for the opportunity to rush four in a few games. Surprisingly, he gave them the chance on a couple of occasions. The tactic paid off in games against the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cowboys front four got home enough to hammer out victories in those games but against magical quarterback Aaron Rodgers they failed miserably.
Instead, Marinelli opted to send defensive backs on blitzes, getting to Rodgers three times in the game with Barry Church, Orlando Scandrick and Jeff Heath. The Cowboys defensive line never touched the Packers signal caller. Defensive end David Irving was supposed to be a factor but the youngster’s deficiencies were exploited throughout the game. The Packers offensive linemen elected to cut-block him on most of Rodgers’ deep drop-backs, rendering the sometimes clumsy Irving useless. Marinelli shouldn’t get all of the blame but he definitely deserves his share.
Creativity Is Lacking
When Marinelli coached the 2002 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line, he was blessed to have a future Hall of Famer at the three-technique in Warren Sapp and an excellent speed-rusher in Simeon Rice. Those two players alone gave offenses fits. He doesn’t have that in Dallas but rookie Maliek Collins has some of the same tools Sapp did. Collins is inexperienced and had some minor health issues in 2016. Look for him to have a strong off-season and come back a much better player in 2017.
As a disciple of former Buccaneers and Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Marinelli must find a way to use the Cowboys current talent in a much more aggressive manner next year. Kiffin is considered the mastermind behind the Cover 2 defense. He is known for putting extreme pressure on quarterbacks and their pass-catchers in a number of creative ways. Creativity is what Marinelli and his staff appear to lack. There’s no question they know the Cowboys defensive personnel much better than any of us do.
During his tenure in Dallas, Marinelli has given the impression that he’s stuck in his ways even after one his schemes or plays is unsuccessful. The coach keeps going to the well over and over without making any adjustment to the look or design of the scheme. There were times during the divisional playoff game where Rodgers had the audacity to run plays without buckling his chin-strap. The quarterback knew he wasn’t going to be touched. He could have just been confident in his O-line, but it’s more likely the Cowboys defensive alignment tipped their hand.
With possible losses pending in free agency, the Cowboys defensive backfield will probably look much different in 2017. Expect cornerback Anthony Brown to be re-inserted into the starting line-up. Scandrick could take the other corner-back spot in the team’s base 4-3 defense but don’t be surprised if Byron Jones moves over from safety to the corner permanently. The team could end up drafting a top-tier safety in the coming draft, enabling the team to utilize Jones’ multi-dimensional coverage skills.
Super Bowl 51 will feature two of the league’s most high-powered offenses in the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots. Not many people would give the Cowboys a puncher’s chance against either of those teams, primarily because of the team’s perceived weak defense. Still, there are some of us who believe that coach Marinelli and his defensive assistants could find various ways to disrupt both teams. The Cowboys defensive staff needs to show more confidence in the team’s personnel and yes, the team needs to improve its defensive talent one way or another.