Thomas started it all off by grabbing coach Jason Garrett just outside the Cowboys’ locker room following Seattle’s victory at AT&T Stadium last December. It continued through the NFL scouting combine and the draft and through the offseason program, organized team activities, minicamp, training camp and preseason games.
On Sunday, when the Cowboys travel to CenturyLink Field to take on the Seahawks, Thomas will be on the Seattle sideline.
At the moment, all of the talk seems like wasted breath, but the guy the Cowboys actually got from Seattle in the offseason, passing-game coordinator Kris Richard, has made an impact that cannot be overstated.
“Just his passion, emotion,” defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said. “He’s got a great understanding of the game and expertise, yeah, definitely. I would never take that away from him. But it’s that and just the fact that he’s got a lot of confidence in himself as a coach, as a great coach. That’s what encourages me. He’s got that.”
Said cornerback Byron Jones, “That just flows throughout the entire team.”
The Cowboys did not make Richard available for an interview this week. The only assistant coaches required to talk to the media every week are the offensive and defensive coordinators. The team has made other assistants available over the years on a case-by-case basis.
What this week’s game means to Richard depends on who you asked.
When Jones was asked if this was a big week for Richard with the return to Seattle, the cornerback said, “What do you mean?”
When Richard’s tenure in Seattle was mentioned, Jones said, “Oh, we’re here to play ball and win a game regardless if it’s the Redskins or Seattle.”
Said safety Xavier Woods, “I think we all know. We want to play for him. We haven’t said it, but I think it’s understood.”
Richard spent eight years with head coach Pete Carroll in Seattle. He helped develop the “Legion of Boom,” led by Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. He has a Super Bowl ring from the 2013 season and came within a yard of earning another the following season. From 2015 to 2017, he was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator.
After injuries, age and personnel changes, the Seahawks dipped to 11th in the league in defense in 2017 after top-five finishes from 2012 to 2016, prompting Carroll to make a change. When Matt Eberflus opted to leave the Cowboys to become the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive coordinator, Garrett interviewed Richard.
“I think what you’re trying to do any time you interview somebody is you bring them in, you try to get to know them as a person, you try to get to know them as a coach, you spend a lot of time talking about football, you spend a lot of time on the board and a lot of time watching tape,” Garrett said. “You have meals together, you see if you’re comfortable with one another, you try to have some honest talk, some direct talk and see if the whole thing fits.”
It helped that the DNA of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s scheme is in the scheme Richard ran in Seattle. They spoke the same language. As the passing-game coordinator, Richard is responsible for marrying the back end of the defense to Marinelli’s pass rush.
He has brought some of what worked so well for Seattle. Jones and Chidobe Awuzie play more press coverage, disrupting the timing at the line of scrimmage. The linebackers blitz more than they had in the past. Of the Cowboys’ six sacks last week against the New York Giants, five came on a blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Marinelli-Richard partnership is working well through two games. The Cowboys rank third in points allowed per game (14.5) and fourth in yards per game (274). Their nine sacks are second-most in the NFL.
“Coach Marinelli has always had variation, and I think Coach Richard brings some of that too,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “The combination of both is exciting.”
Coaches can be territorial. Credit can be a drug. Marinelli is 69 years old. He is in his 23rd year of coaching in the NFL and his sixth season with the Cowboys. He is beyond caring about credit.
“Coach Marinelli has never been about the ego thing,” Crawford said. “He’s always been about other guys and growing other men. I think he sees that in Richard. I think he sees he can be something special in this league and that’s just a credit to him. He does that for people. He does that for a lot of the men he has coached. He’s a great man, and a great man is about being a leader and bringing people with him, trying to help them get to the top.”
When Richard first talked to the players in the offseason, they noticed his passion. He captivated the room. He does it on the practice field, wearing cleats as if he were still playing. In the preseason loss to the Arizona Cardinals, he lit into the players on the sideline. He can praise with one hand and scold with the other.
“It was, ‘OK, this guy’s got some juice to him,’” Jones said. “We kind of knew of him and what he did in Seattle. Just knowing he’s coming with that energy to us, we knew it would be special for us ... He’s always at 10. He’s always the same guy. He’s comfortable with who he is and we love the energy he brings to us. He can see it makes a difference.”