Can Cowboys D Really 'Chill Out!' At Seahawks?

Mike Fisher

FRISCO - The new Dallas Cowboys defense is in the midst of learning a long-standing football truth: Play a 4-3. Play a 3-4. Play zone. Play man. Play "vanilla.'' Play "deceptively.''

None of it really matters if a defense doesn't play ... well.

“I think everybody needs to just chill out,'' said Cowboys defensive end Aldon Smith, one of the few members of the unit who through two games we can say has excelled. "This is the third game coming up. We didn’t have too much of an offseason. We didn’t have a preseason. COVID presented us with a lot of different challenges.

“I feel like we’re doing the best as a team to adjust and be the best we can be.''

"Chill out''? At whom are we aiming this instruction?

It's new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan who, after Dallas' defense was victimized often in a 40-39 Week 2 win over Atlanta, volunteered the idea of simplifying his system.

It's linebacker and defensive signal-caller Jaylon Smith who said, “I believe it's important that each and every player knows, in-and-out, what they have to do. And with a smaller playbook, it gives us a better opportunity to do that.”

It's defensive lineman Everson Griffen who said the experiment of using him as a stand-up end is over, and that he (and maybe DeMarcus Lawrence, too) wishes to revert back to having a hand on the ground.

"That's what I'm more comfortable at," Griffen said.

It so happens that Aldon Smith was a stand-up guy in San Francisco so he has no problem with that part of the defense. Indeed, he doesn't have a problem with any of it.

“I feel like they’ve made it fairly simple,” Smith said of the new Dallas coaching staff. I know every week we’re going to get better, and I just think as long as everyone sticks around and keeps believing, everything will work out the right way.”

Maybe so. But as the Cowboys roll into Seattle for a Week 3 challenge against the high-scoring Seahawks, Dallas has just two sacks in two games and is allowing more than 400 yards and almost 30 points per, and has spent the week in public talking about "change'' and "simplification.''

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Ironically, most of the same exact people registered displeasure last year in a defense led by then-coordinator Rod Marinelli that was "too vanilla.'' Nolan talked this week about the "chess game'' that fuels a team's desire to be unpredictable, as Dallas is now trying to be.

“There is a chess game going on within the game,'' he said. "When you see that, you’re seeing somebody trying to play some of the chess. Sometimes it’s effective and sometimes it’s not.”

So far ... "not.'' And, in chicken-or-the-egg fashion, it's impossible to know if that's because the system is poor or because it's being executed poorly.

"We understand this is going to be a process," Jaylon Smith said. "But we have the guys, we have the talent, we have the mentality and the work ethic, and we're putting all the work in. Sometimes great things just take time. We're trying to speed it up as much as possible, and it's an every-day effort."

Sunday, against QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, will be the next step in a "process'' to deceive or simplify and to produce or shut up and to get antsy over an underperforming D ... or to succeed and therefore be able to comfortably accept Aldon Smith's "chill out'' advice.

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