There’s no doubt that one of the biggest reasons why the Dallas Cowboys beat the Cincinnati Bengals was defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s approach to the game. His unit was able to exploit the Bengals’ biggest weaknesses and proved to be a coaching mismatch against Zac Taylor and Brian Callahan, the offensive minds behind the AFC Champions.
First of all, they were able to exploit the Bengals’ poor pass protection. Knowing fully well that Cincinnati hasn’t figured out how to keep Burrow’s jersey clean, Quinn unleashed Micah Parsons as a rusher while showing varied defensive fronts throughout the game.
At one point in the third quarter, Burrow and the Bengals lined up in an empty set (no one in the backfield but the quarterback) and took a timeout to avoid the Cowboys’ defensive front altogether. He even yelled to Zac Taylor that he didn’t want to run any more empty sets.
Here's Joe Burrow yelling to Zac Taylor: "No empty set."— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) September 19, 2022
You can actually hear him say it. #Bengals used Joe Mixon as a blocker the next play. Burrow was sacked. Led to a FG. pic.twitter.com/dyOBm1GSiP
Heading into the game, the Cowboys’ defense was expected to get to Burrow and keep it close for Dallas.
However, it was in another area that Dan Quinn changed it up for his defense. In a landscape in which most teams are playing two-high defensive looks, Quinn has remained a one-high truther. Last year, the Cowboys used single-high shells at the seventh-highest rate and middle of the field closed defenses at the third-highest rate.
As such, Quinn had a decision to make versus the Bengals. Should he play to his defense’s strengths or switch to what has proven to be the recipe to slow down Burrow and friends?
The quarterback’s postgame comments reveal that the Cowboys decided to go with the latter. He claimed the defense played a lot of “Tampa 2,” a zone coverage that’s like regular Cover 2 with a linebacker dropping to deep coverage over the middle.
Bengals QB Joe Burrow said the Cowboys played a lot of Tampa 2 defense that prevented big plays.— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) September 19, 2022
Clearly, it worked. The Cowboys forced the Bengals to march down the field and kept Cincy from netting big-gain plays. Burrow finished the day with only two completions beyond 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. For the most part, he had to be content with short throws.
While this should be far from a surprise and something the Bengals should’ve be prepared for, Quinn deserves credit from being willing to stray from his own preferences in order to match up well against his opponent.
If he can do that while his players adapt properly, this Cowboys defense could be an elite unit in 2022.
Featured image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports