'Turnovers Win Games': The 14-Word Philosophy That Will Drive Nolan's Cowboys Defense
FRISCO - "We must knock the ball loose, force mistakes and cause turnovers. Turnovers win games." Fourteen simple words that form the basis for what Mike Nolan has always asked of his defenses, and will ask of the 2020 Dallas Cowboys.
While Nolan was working to institute that mindset as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, his buddy Mike McCarthy was doing the same as head coach of the Green Bay Packers - and in Green Bay, the approach overflowed with results. The Packers, over the course of 2007 to 2012 in particular, met those "Turnovers Win Games'' goals as they always finished in the top 10 in interceptions, and in 2009 and 2011 led the league in interceptions.
Under now-departed head coach Jason Garrett's 10-year reign, the Cowboys - with three different coordinators and two different systems - talked the same talk, stressing the importance of takeaways, as all football coaches do. But whether it's the result of a bend-but-don't break strategy, or a philosophy that doesn't allow for spending big on safeties, or the employment of good athletes who aren't "ball-hawks,'' Dallas does not walk the walk.
The Cowboys perennially finish near the bottom of the NFL in interceptions. In 2019, Dallas totaled seven picks. McCarthy's Packers? Over the course of six seasons, one player alone - Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson - almost averaged seven picks per year. All by himself.
The Cowboys don't employ a Woodson. Maybe they could, with a change in philosophy. Maybe safeties matter more than this "system'' thinks they do? Maybe a cornerbacks "traits'' shouldn't be "long arms'' but rather "interceptions in college''?
For the better part of Garrett's tenure here, whether assisted by Rob Ryan or Monte Kiffin or Rod Marinelli or Marinelli/Kris Richard, a Dallas defensive back never got more than three picks in a season.
We can't know if re-signing free-agent corner Byron Jones and free-agent safety Jeff Heath are viewed as answers because not even McCarthy and Nolan have been in place long enough to know. Is free safety Xavier Woods overrated? Is young Donovan Wilson underrated? Did the Cowboys staff not do enough to make cornerback Chidobe Awuzie better? Did the Cowboys staff not do enough to let cornerback Jourdan Lewis even play?
We must knock the ball loose, force mistakes and cause turnovers. Turnovers win games." Fourteen simple words that are in the McCarthy vocabulary and in the Nolan vocabulary and now part of a language that needs to be translated for the 2020 Dallas Cowboys.