What is the problem with the Dallas Cowboys Defense?

When Jerry Jones purchased the Dallas Cowboys from Bum Bright in 1989, he did two things that shocked Cowboys fans. He fired a Legend and a Hall of Fame Head Coach Tom Landry. The next thing that Jones did ended up sending shockwaves through the NFL, trading Herschel Walker.

Jerry Jones started making moves even before then. He hired a man who was his college teammate at the University of Arkansas, Jimmy Johnson.

The Cowboys’ started their 1989 season 0-4, and Jerry and Jimmy knew something would need to change if they wanted to be a good team. They pretty much knew right away that they would not recover from that 0-4 start and a big part of that reasoning was because of the New York Giants starting the 1989 season 4-0. The Cowboys would not be a team that could compete for a playoff spot; the writing was already on the wall.

It’s now October of 1989, and the Cowboys are 0-4, and they got on their phones and started making some calls. The Cowboys made calls, and they were able to convince someone to listen to them. The man who answered the phone on the other end was the Minnesota Vikings General Manager Mike Lynn. Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson convinced Lynn to pay a massive ransom for the Cowboys’ best player Herschel Walker. The trade is infamous for many reasons, and some say it is the best trade of all time. Honestly, it was assumed by many that the Vikings got the better end of the deal, but this story is not about that trade. 

What is this all about then? I just needed to give you some background on Jerry Jones, that’s who, and this is about trying to figure out if he needs to do something about his team after the 2020 season ends.

The one thing that is certain about the NFL is the fact that injuries do happen. The Dallas Cowboys lost their star Quarterback Dak Prescott in Week 5 this year. Prescott had a compound fracture and a dislocation of his right ankle when he attempted to slide for a few yards. The Dallas Cowboys went from being the NFC East favorite to win the division to the “I wonder if we will get a Top Five Draft Pick” within minutes after the trainers and medical personnel had carted Prescott off the field.

Before Prescott went down with that injury, I wasn’t quite sure they would be in contention for the division, and that is because of their putrid excuse of a defense. When the Cowboys season ended last year, the team did not waste much time and decided to fire their Head Coach Jason Garrett; Garrett coached the Cowboys for nine and a half seasons. The Cowboys’ ended up hiring former Super Bowl-winning coach Mike McCarthy to head this 2020 Dallas Cowboys roster. It seemed like it was an excellent hire to many, including myself.

The life of a coach in the NFL is not a job that is as glamorous as it may sound. There has been a saying for years, “coaches get hired to get fired.” When Mike McCarthy lost his star quarterback, some would say he got a bad deal. He would be the first to tell you that he did not feel sorry for himself at all, and since that day, McCarthy has been getting up every day and going into the Dallas Cowboys Practice Facility and working the same way he would if Prescott was still playing.

It was not until this past Thursday that McCarthy was getting the benefit of the doubt. That was all on how the team has primarily been playing without Prescott. The local and national reporters and writers who cover the Cowboys regularly have been the ones who were cutting some slack for McCarthy. It’s not for sure, but that benefit of the doubt may be disappearing in Dallas, and it is all based on the team’s execution during the entire season.


The Cowboys’ granted, have not had the best luck. Just two weeks after losing Prescott, their backup and former Pro Bowl Quarterback Andy Dalton ended up getting concussed during their Week 7 game against Washington. McCarthy and the Cowboys then presumed that Dalton would be returning to practice, but instead, he went on the reserve/COVID list. Which meant a new Quarterback would need to come in and step up. Because of injury or lousy play, the Cowboys have had four different starters this year. Let’s be honest here, a new coach having to go with four other Quarterbacks in as many games usually will mean the deck’s stacked against the coach.

So what’s the problem? Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram might have said it best. “This team is 3-8 for reasons that extend beyond the injury to quarterback Dak Prescott, seemingly the entire offensive line, and other players. One of the reasons this team is 3-8 is Mike McCarthy.” He is right; McCarthy is not the McCarthy we remember from Green Bay. The guy who coached Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers helped make them the Super Bowl Champs. He has not shown me anything impressive this year, or at least not yet. The time is running out for the season, and I don’t think Cowboy fans will see anything noteworthy either other than the play of CeeDee Lamb.

The biggest mistake Mike McCarthy made this year was who he decided to bring in to be his Defensive Coordinator, Mike Nolan. Nolan had no business being this team’s defensive coordinator, and based on his record as a coach, it is a surprise he is still coaching in an important position. The last time he was in charge of defense was 2014, with the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons were ranked #27 in defense during the 2014 season. One of the biggest reasons Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith ended up getting fired after that season was in-part of Nolan’s coaching.

This defense has been pathetic on numerous levels this year; the Cowboys are ranked last in total defense, and let’s be honest here, that just should not be the case when you have players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, or even Aldon Smith. Aldon Smith has been out of the league since 2015; however, he is fifth in tackles for the Cowboys and has been good. This team last year ended the season 11th in team defense. That is simply inexcusable to drop that many spots.

Why did McCarthy bring Nolan with him to Dallas? Sportsnaut’s Vincent Frank pointed it out last month in an article about Dallas’s Defensive woes when they had a bad loss to the Cleveland Browns. It was an 11 point difference, but the Browns scored 49 points on Dallas’s Defense.

Dave Briggs of Sportsnaut TV had former Kansas City Chiefs Cornerback Brandon Flowers talking about the Cowboys. Flowers made a point about it as well when he said, “Mike Nolan hire was a favor from him (Nolan) hiring McCarthy years ago, and they thought it could just work, and that’s not how it happens in Football.”

I will give Nolan credit; he’s been a coach a long time in this league. He has coached every year in the NFL since 1987, except for one year, and that was in 2016. I will not give him credit for his record as a Head Coach or Defensive Coordinator. He is 160-186-1; overall, his overall record not including playoffs is 270-255-2 because he has also been a position coach.

So what will Jerry Jones do after this season, other than firing Mike Nolan, presumably? Will Jones fire McCarthy too? McCarthy has had his fair share of making some pretty dumb moves himself this year.



Now, without sounding absurd, I will never root for someone to lose a job. However, this is a job where you know it will happen. That quote “coaches get hired, to get fired” right now feels spot-on.

Based on how bad the NFC East is this year, and the Cowboys are one game out of first place, it still is not too late to make the playoffs. If Dallas seriously thinks they can win the NFC East, it might be worth letting Nolan go and bringing in someone else.

About the Author

Rob Wilkins

Rob Wilkins is a freelance writer who lives in Mankato, Minnesota. He is known for quoting lines from movies at the absolute worst time or times.

He loves to talk to anyone who will listen to him. He does live coverage of AEW Dark & AEW Dynamite for Fightful.com. He covers a wide variety here on ShootingTheSportish.com, and can be followed on Twitter @RobWilkins

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