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Don't Look Now, But There's a D in Dallas

It's early, but so far Cowboys' defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is a miracle worker

Let's not anoint it "Doomsday III" just yet, but lost amidst Dak Prescott's inspirational comeback is the remarkable transformation of the Dallas Cowboys' defense.

2020: Historically horrible.

2021: Good enough to help the Cowboys be the best team in the NFC East.

Dan Quinn, take a bow. You've already manifested a miracle.

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Prescott is the story of the Cowboys through three games. Maybe the best story of the NFL. He's on pace to be not only Comeback Player of the Year, but perhaps also Most Valuable Player.

The Cowboys' defense is making a similarly astonishing recovery. Not from a gruesome ankle injury, but more so record-setting ineptitude.

Since the days of quarterback Tony Romo throwing for 400 yards in a loss, Dallas has searched in vain for a defensive coordinator to support an offense capable of winning a Super Bowl. Rob Ryan. Monte Kiffin. Rod Marinelli. And, last season, Mike Nolan. All - seemingly - came with the chops to build a suitable defense. None delivered.

Enter Quinn, the man who wouldn't be here if his Atlanta Falcons had protected a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI four years ago. Then: Failed head coach. Now: Fantastic healer.

Quinn, who helped build the famed "Legion of Boom" defenses in Seattle, arrived on the scene of a 10-car pileup in Dallas. In 2020, the Cowboys were gouged for 57 touchdowns and 473 points, both franchise records. They gave up 200+ rushing yards, twice. Worse, players visibly quit.

Again, these Cowboys won't be mistaken for the '85 Bears. But the improvement - the effort, the execution - spawned by Quinn is dramatic.

The Cowboys rarely play a base defense, instead using a 4-2 alignment that gives linebackers freedom to roam and employs a gaggle of athletic players in the secondary. It helps Quinn, obviously, to have drafted a versatile monster like Micah Parsons. But where the Cowboys have for years pined for a playmaking safety (remember when Jeff Heath was the best they had?), Quinn is squeezing the best out of guys like Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse. And, overnight, cornerback Trevon Diggs has blossomed into Everson Walls, a ball-hawking superstar.

For what feels like a quarter century - since their last Super Bowl in 1996 - the Cowboys have been void of defensive game-changers. Not enough pressure to force opponents' mistakes. Not enough awareness or athleticism to take advantage when they did.

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Last year through seven games, they had only three takeaways. In 2019, they had four through five weeks.

Quinn's Cowboys have intercepted Tampa's Tom Brady, the Chargers' Justin Herbert and Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts. During the 2-1 start they have eight takeaways, most in the NFL. And to think, they're doing it without key contributors DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Donovan Wilson and Keanu Neal.

The Cowboys' defense isn't a finished or polished product. For all the improvements, it's still 31sth in the league in yards allowed with 995, next-to-last with just four sacks and has surrendered the most plays of 20+ yards with 16.

But, considering Prescott's level and the high-powered offense, better might just be good enough.