What’s old is new: The Dallas Cowboys are bringing back former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to run a unit that improved under Dan Quinn.
DALLAS — With Super Bowl Sunday now in the rearview mirror, the Dallas Cowboys have found their next defensive coordinator. While the reports came out last week that longtime defensive coach Mike Zimmer would be replacing the recently departed Dan Quinn, the deal wasn’t agreed upon until Monday with team owner Jerry Jones in Las Vegas over the weekend.
The former coordinator will now return to the defensive top dog position with the current Cowboys, marking his second stint with the organization. Zimmer coached in Dallas in various roles for the defense starting in 1994, and became their defensive coordinator in 2000, a position he kept until 2006, when he left for the Atlanta Falcons.
The team did a more thorough search than some expected before landing on a familiar face, but most of the candidates were veteran coaches and not some of the younger coordinators in the league. While that led to some questioning on the motives of Jones and his inability to risk hiring an unproven DC, the goal was to get a good coach. In that respect, the Cowboys got it right.
Zimmer’s hire might not be thrilling for those who wanted a fresh name, but he’s a good coach who brings something that the defense has been missing, toughness. For as good as Quinn’s units were during his three seasons, where indeed he made Dallas’ defense one of the best in the league at creating turnovers, he was known more as a player’s coach who rarely got fired up about his defense’s mistakes.
Expect that to change with Zimmer, who is more of a hard-nosed, disciplinarian than Quinn. Zimmer can perhaps play the role of bad cop that Quinn never took on for good cop head coach Mike McCarthy. The toughness that’s been missing from Dallas’ defense in recent years shouldn’t be a problem with their new coordinator.
“I’m excited and honored to be back with a great organization,” Zimmer told Ed Werder on his return to Dallas. “I’m thrilled to work with Mike McCarthy, for whom I have had a ton of respect in our NFC North days, and to do anything I can do to help the Joneses and the Cowboys.”
Aside from the sternness of Zimmer, he also brings an ability to field good defenses. In six years as the DC for the Cowboys in his first stint, Zimmer’s defense led the NFL in yards per game in 2003, while also leading two top 10 defenses in yards.
Zimmer continued his success with the Cincinnati Bengals following his tenure in Dallas. During his six years there, his defenses finished inside the top 10 four times in yards allowed and in scoring defense. In his last three seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals also ranked inside the top 10 in sacks each year.
The veteran defensive coordinator’s work was so well recognized that he was hired by the Minnesota Vikings to be their head coach in 2014. In eight years with the Vikings, Zimmer compiled a record of 72-56-1, won two division titles, and took the team to an NFC championship game in 2017.
During his time as the coach in Minnesota, Zimmer wasn’t the defensive coordinator, but he did oversee the unit and did help call defensive plays in his last few seasons. In those eight years, the Vikings had a pass rusher with double-digit sacks in six of those seasons. Zimmer helped the talents of edge rusher Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen blossom.
The Cowboys have some top-notch pass rushers who should benefit from Zimmers aggressive scheme that is good at disguising where pressure is coming from, or if it’s not coming at all. This should allow Dallas’ best edge rushers to attack the quarterback and put the defense in advantageous matchups by confusing the offense.
Zimmer’s style could also lead to different roles for safeties Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson, who took on hybrid looks under Quinn, both of whom could blossom.
Regardless of the scheme that Zimmer employs, the defense surely needs to get bigger and better up the middle. A stout run defense and quality linebacker options are needed in Dallas. The defense was soft against the run and not sturdy enough under Quinn.
Expect that to change under Zimmer. There should be more accountability and attitude for the Cowboys’ defense with the veteran in charge.
This move should benefit the entire team, who had two player-friendly coaches in Quinn and McCarthy which perhaps led to the issues with discipline that had Dallas piling up the penalty flags in recent seasons. There was a mindset that was missing in the prior staff, but that has a chance to change with Zimmer leading the defense. The veteran DC will require less talk and more action as former players tout Zimmer as someone who preaches “tough love.”
There’s no guarantee that Zimmer will have better results than his predecessor, but the culture for their defense will shift. After several years of coming up lame in the playoffs, that’s something that was drastically needed in Dallas.
A new era is coming for the Cowboys’ defense. What’s old is new again.
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