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Mike Nolan to employ more complex defense in Dallas

The focus this offseason in Dallas has been on the Cowboys' offensive changes, for good reason. With Mike McCarthy replacing Jason Garrett, Dak Prescott's and Amari Cooper's contract situations, Ezekiel Elliott's presence as the top-paid RB, the offense is the natural place to look.

The defense, however, was a key reason Dallas disappointed in 2019. The unit never seemed to get a big stop when needed in a big game. Despite owning talent up front, including a massive payday for Demarcus Lawrence last offseason, the Cowboys generated just 39 sacks, 19th in the NFL last season, and the secondary got torched on the regular.

New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan wants to change all that in 2020.

"You want it to look like a swarming type of mentality," Nolan said, via ESPN. "I believe there's parts of coaching that goes into that. The things you do with players, the way you teach your players, everything from the language to the scheme, I think, are all critical factors in making it looking just like that."

Last year under DC Rod Marinelli and passing-game coordinator Kris Richard, the Cowboys were a line 'em up and play style defense. Under Nolan, the Cowboys hope to be more diverse and give offenses a lot more to think about.

Nolan bringing in D-line coach Jim Tomsula and former Mike Zimmer understudy George Edwards, among others, provides hope that Dallas will get creative on defense.

"Doesn't always happen that way," Tomsula said. "I mean, I've been in different places where a guy shows up, throws a book on the table and you go. Coach Nolan is different. You can tell he's cerebral. ...He sits down and he wants your opinions. He wants your thoughts. He's always learning. He's a guy that shows up in the room with a pen and pencil."

What the Cowboys defense will look like remains to be seen. A host of key contributors are set to be free agents, including corner Byron Jones, DE Robert Quinn, DT Maliek Collins, linebacker Sean Lee and others. Dallas could also be in the market to upgrade several positions, particularly at safety, where they tried to trade for Jamaal Adams last year.

Once he knows his personnel, it will be on Nolan to concoct a scheme to best fit. One thing he knows already is Dallas must be more complex than in the past.

"If you give yourself too much of doing one thing, that's easy for the best quarterbacks to dissect and take advantage of," he said. "You have to have a good mix between man and zone. ... You don't want to create so much volume that you really don't have an identity, but you have to have some kind of variety in order to be successful."

The Cowboys D wasn't very successful last season. The change to Nolan could prove just as big as the moves on offense, even if they've flown mostly under the radar.

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