Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is looking for a way to accomplish a feat no other Dallas defensive unit has ever accomplished — beating Tom Brady. In six games against No.12, Brady is a perfect six-and-0, including a harrowing come-from-behind victory on opening night in 2021.
Brady engineered a game-winning drive with less than a minute to play, marching the Buccaneers into field goal range to rob Dallas of opening night glory.
“The guy is a fantastic competitor and just always seems to put his team in this position to win at the end,” Quinn told reporters on Monday.
“I think, going against a competitor like that, you better be at your best in the moments of games where it’s going to come right down to it because that’s usually the separator. It’s not the first down play or the second down play. It’s within a two-minute drive that’s in a red zone play to make sure that the intensity is just right and how to match up because a quarterback of his stature will have seen so many looks.”
When the Bucs and ‘Boys tangle on Sunday, several notable differences will potentially give the Cowboys coaching staff an opportunity for success, starting with the growth and development of the defensive line.
Micah Parsons, linebacker phenomenon and Rookie of the Year in 2021, was in his first game last year, not fully dialed into the defensive scheme, and still adjusting to the speed and ferocity of NFL gameplay. He contributed three solo tackles, four assists, and hit Brady once, but no one on the Dallas defense was able to record a sack.
Since Brady entered the league, only a handful of defenses have given the star quarterback trouble. Former Cowboys coach Rob Ryan is one of the few who found success, though not a win for Dallas.
The secret that Ryan, along with legendary coaches like Dick LaBeau, Steve Spagnuolo, Larry Coyer, and Rob’s twin brother, Rex, discovered is to disrupt Brady in the pocket, force him outside, and keep tight coverage in the secondary.
The game plan calls for the defensive front four to rush while dropping seven players into coverage. For the plan to work, the defense must be fast and athletic, a combination Quinn believes he has orchestrated in Dallas for 2022.
“The play speed is where the fast comes from,” Quinn said. “The more you know it, the faster you can play. We got a lot of speed; we got a lot of length. It’s probably one of the fastest and the longest in terms of safeties, linebackers with this kind of size and this kind of length.”
“This group I’d put up with anybody in terms of the speed to go play,” he said.
With Parsons dialed in and ready for a breakout second season and players like Neville Gallimore, who missed 12 games last season after suffering a preseason elbow dislocation, the defensive front Quinn will field has the skills to create havoc for Brady.
When passing opportunities do present themselves, Brady will be going against third-year corner Trevon Diggs, who snagged 11 interceptions last season, including one interception against Brady on opening night. Jayron Kearse will also be full-speed after emerging last season as one of the best acquisitions by Quinn the previous offseason.
Brady will be without one of his long-time favorite targets, Rob Gronkowski, who retired following the 2021 season. Another favorite target, Chris Godwin, is currently listed as questionable after suffering a season-ending injury late in 2021.
If Quinn and the Dallas Cowboys want a win against Brady and the Bucs, it will come down to whether Quinn can employ a fast-paced scheme that disrupts Brady’s timing while preventing receivers from getting separation downfield. With a full season implementing his game plan under his belt and a returning cast of players poised for a breakout season, it will fall to Quinn to make the right calls at the right time to finally get a win over the G.O.A.T.
“I think when I go back to watch last year’s game, you wish you had some calls back,” said Quinn. “We weren’t quite ready to make some multiple checks within a call, and now we are. We grew through the season, but they won’t be facing the same defense that they faced last year. Although there will be some similar faces, I would say our style has evolved quite a bit.”