Cowboys Interview Frontrunner ‘Target’ for Defensive Coordinator: Report

Joe Whitt Jr. with Packers

Getty Joe Whitt Jr. with Packers

It likely won’t be long before Mike Nolan’s successor is named.

According to media reports, the Dallas Cowboys interviewed Atlanta Falcons secondary coach/pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. for their defensive coordinator vacancy on Sunday. Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Whitt “has been the target for a few days,” and there’s “a lot of familiarity for a very good coach.”

Whitt knows Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy from their time in Green Bay; Sports Illustrated’s Mike Fisher reports the latter pushed for the former before settling on Nolan this past offseason. The 42-year-old started as Green Bay’s defensive quality coach in 2008, following one season as Atlanta’s assistant defensive backs coach. He was promoted to the Packers’ cornerbacks coach in 2009 and to pass game coordinator in 2018.

The Cleveland Browns hired Whitt in his current role in 2019 before he took the same job with the Falcons, whose secondary was … not great this season, surrendering a league-worst 293.6 passing yards per game. The unit also ranked 17th in interceptions (12).

McCarthy received an up-close look at Whitt’s bunch amid the Cowboys’ miraculous Week 2 comeback win over Atlanta. Quarterback Dak Prescott went 34-of-47 and amassed 450 air yards in the stunning 40-39 victory, spawning a pair of 100-yard receivers (CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper).

A longtime McCarthy crony hired as a presumed upgrade on predecessors Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard, Nolan was dismissed by Dallas on Friday after his defense, albeit injury-marred, allowed the most points (473) in franchise history — 29.6 points per game — blowing past the previous record (436) set in 2010. The unit also ceded the second-most yards (6,183), finishing 31st against the run (158.8 yards per game) and 23rd in total YPG (384.4).

They hit rock bottom on numerous occasions, allowing a 307-yard rushing effort in Week 4 and a 294-yard performance in Week 13. To be fair, the defense pulled together over the final quarter of the regular season, helping the 6-10 Cowboys win three straight prior to their Week 17 playoff-eliminating loss at New York.

The late-year surge was too little, too late to save Nolan from the chopping block. And the justification for his firing was in the pudding: No defender logged more than 6.5 sacks (DeMarcus Lawrence) or three interceptions (Trevon Diggs), nor qualified for the 2021 Pro Bowl. The outfit took a collective step back under his watch.

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Ware Teases Return to Cowboys as New DC

Franchise legend and future Hall-of-Famer DeMarcus Ware threw his hat into the ring to become the next Cowboys defensive boss. Ware took to Twitter on Friday with a ponderous message after Nolan was axed.

Ware remains popular in Dallas and cut his coaching teeth with the Denver Broncos in recent years as a pass-rush consultant. But expecting him to become Nolan’s successor is a massive, unrealistic leap. Perhaps if he was part of the organization, but not straight from his couch.

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