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Did Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones put Mike Nolan’s defense on notice?

Changes are likely to come to the Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones has signaled that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could be among those on the hot seat.
Credit: AP Photo/Ron Jenkins
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) talks with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, right, in the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals in Arlington, Texas, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.

DALLAS — Jerry Jones may have signaled Friday that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could be on the way out if the defense doesn't improve.

On Friday during his weekly appearance on "The K&C Masterpiece" on 105.3 "The Fan" [KRLD-FM], the Cowboys owner, president, and general manager fielded a question about whether he is seeing a lack of effort from the team. While Jones mentioned heart and effort are usually criticized in down seasons, and that some players are "trying to work the problem" to improve, he started talking about do-overs.

"I will say this," Jones said. "We've got, like anybody, you got a lot of do-overs. I'd like to start again on how we approached our defense this year. I'd like to start that over again. I'm sure everybody else would, too."

When asked to elaborate on where he would start, Jones said, "right there on the first day."

Said Jones: "The first day when training camp is normally over. That's where they were. I would really make sure that any changes we were making I would make sure that we were doing it in the same way we didn't make changes on offense. Because we didn't think that we had the situation or we had the time to make those changes and it really be effective. We obviously did some things. We changed, and we're having a hard time getting those in place to be a good defense. That many changes."

Jones also compared the situation the Cowboys defense is in to that of 2005 when they switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. Though Bill Parcells was known for coaching 3-4 defenses, Dallas had stayed with the 4-3 under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer through Parcells' first two seasons. Even as the Cowboys were entering their third season with Parcells, there was some hesitancy to make the complete transition.

"He had a tough time buying into drafting DeMarcus Ware," Jones recalled of the 2005 NFL Draft. "He wanted to draft [Marcus] Spears because Spears fit both ways, 4-3 or a 3-4. DeMarcus Ware was principally going to the [3-4]. All we did was turn around and have the greatest draft we probably ever had on defense and drafted Spears and Ware and [Jay] Ratliff and [Chris] Canty. And we were able to make the move right then and there.

"Had we not drafted those guys, that might have been a tough move and probably we wouldn't have gone into it as completely. That's speculation. But there's a case. You got to think about the personnel when you talk about changing your scheme."

In the 2020 offseason, by bringing in Nolan, the Cowboys, who have been playing a version of the Tampa-2 since 2013, have transitioned to a defense that has edge rushers in a two-point stance and an emphasis on position flexibility in the defensive backfield. The scheme hasn't been able to realize its potential due to the challenges of the traditional NFL offseason workouts being canceled and perhaps Dallas not adequately addressing the personnel.

Jones finished up the interview by stating that if changes are to be made, it starts with himself.

"You've heard me say this a jillion times," said Jones. "When you work for yourself, okay, there's no firing him. You got to change him, and he's got to change the direction he's going. And I worked all my life for myself, but I have had to change direction many times. So, I will change. I can change. I'm not saying which way I will change, but I am capable of changing. I've had to to have any success in my life."

The one side of the ball that has not been as impacted by injuries has been the defense. Questions about the scheme have been prevalent even as far back as October, and are especially rampant with the club at 3-9 and virtually out of the playoffs.

With the unit giving up the most rushing yards in the NFL (167.8), most yards per carry (5.2), tied for second-fewest takeaways (11), and recording the third-highest opponent passer rating (105.0), the defense is under considerable scrutiny.

Do you think Mike Nolan has done enough to earn a second chance? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.