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Dallas Cowboys must give Dan Quinn talent or defense won't improve

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Is Dan Quinn the right DC hire for the Cowboys? (2:18)

Stephen A. Smith is unsure about Dan Quinn as the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys as he was the coach for the Falcons' botched onside kick recovery earlier in the season. (2:18)

FRISCO, Texas -- Welcome to the Dallas Cowboys, Dan Quinn. Now, go make this defense into something.

The Cowboys finished 23rd in the NFL in yards per game in 2020. They allowed the second-most points per game in 2020 and the most points allowed in a season in franchise history (473). They allowed the second-most rushing yards per game in 2020 and the second-most rushing yards allowed in franchise history (2,541).

Quinn inherits a Dallas defense, after coordinator Mike Nolan was fired on Jan. 8, that has questions at every level.

He does not have Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril or the other members of a Seattle Seahawks defense that finished No. 1 in yards and points per game when Quinn was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator in 2013 and '14.

The Dallas defensive line is anchored by DeMarcus Lawrence, who had a fine season but 6.5 sacks. Who would be considered the Cowboys' second-best defensive lineman? Neville Gallimore? Antwaun Woods? Randy Gregory? If you consider him a down lineman, how about Aldon Smith?

How about linebacker?

Jaylon Smith had a career-high 161 tackles. Do you remember any of them in a positive way after the 2020 season? Leighton Vander Esch missed six games with a broken collarbone and high ankle sprain, but has he hit the same level of play he did as a rookie in 2018? Sean Lee and Joe Thomas are scheduled to be free agents. The rest of the lot are special-teamers or young players who might or might not make the roster in 2021.

The Cowboys' secondary might have the most questions.

Safety Xavier Woods is a pending free agent. He had as disappointing a season as any defender, considering it was a contract year. Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, like Woods, struggled in his contract year. Jourdan Lewis had the most positive moments in his contract year, but he tied for the team lead in penalties with Jaylon Smith (eight).

A year ago, the Cowboys knew they needed to get new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan some help. In free agency, they added defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, defensive end Everson Griffen and cornerback Daryl Worley.

McCoy suffered a season-ending quadriceps injury in the first padded practice. Clinton-Dix did not make the team out of training camp. Poe made little impact and was released. Worley was beaten by wideouts often and released. Griffen was traded to the Detroit Lions. Aldon Smith performed well early but seemed to hit a wall in his first NFL season since 2015.

This offseason, the Cowboys need to get Quinn help.

They are not devoid of talent. Lawrence's full game needs to be judged, not just his sack total. Gregory played well given his lack of practice time the past few years because of suspensions. Second-year safety Donovan Wilson showed a nose for the ball. Second-round pick Trevon Diggs performed well and battled through numerous injuries, including a broken foot. Gallimore also had his moments. The Cowboys are not ready to give up on Vander Esch.

There just is not enough talent. Not at the moment, anyway. And not enough even with a return to a 4-3 defensive scheme favored by Quinn.

To attract free agents, the Cowboys will have to be creative with the salary cap, considering the upcoming cost of quarterback Dak Prescott's franchise tag or multiyear deal. They have the No. 10 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, as well as selections in the second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds and will likely get three more compensatory selections for losing Byron Jones, Robert Quinn and Randall Cobb.

The Cowboys must address their defense -- at every level -- or Quinn will suffer the same fate as Nolan.