When last season began, there was a lot of talk about how bad the Dallas Cowboys defense was going to be. I can admit to being one of those worried as well. All of our concerns were borne out to some extent, as the Cowboys ended up as the No. 19 defense in the NFL, and was rated No. 26 against the pass. They did rate as the No. 8 best run defense, though they allowed the second most touchdowns on the ground (18) in the NFL.
They came on as the season went on though, and played very well during the stretch run and the rankings—while not pretty—represent a tremendous improvement. That said, while they improved (mostly through the efforts of middle linebacker Rolando McClain, Tyrone Crawford and Henry Melton), they also benefitted from an offense which ground out the clock.
Melton has left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the secondary was iffy, save for Orlando Scandrick. Brandon Moore and Morris Claiborne continue to be bad and nobody else they threw in changed that much.
Dallas added Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker, Corey White at cornerback and Greg Hardy at defensive end. Hardy will likely be suspended for some portion of the season—some, like USA Today’s Lindsay Jones have said it could be a 6-game stint—and reactions were mixed. Off the field, people naturally have issues with him. On the field, we know he can be a difference maker, if he’s in the right kind of shape after a year off.
Some, like Dallas are sportscaster Dale Hansen, were slightly more outraged.
All that doesn’t matter, save for the fact that if things go wrong, it’s going to be a distraction. It’s really a distraction anyway, but this could be a larger one.
It’s possible the defense is better—a sure thing if Hardy plays the way we’ve seen him play—so even if you think they played over their skis last season, they will be improved.
If things go wrong though, we’ll see how quickly the locker room might turn.
Again though, the defense last year was helped by time of possession.
According to TeamRankings.com, Dallas held the ball for an average of 32:13 per game—the third highest in the NFL last season. That was in large part because of DeMarco Murray—and that’s where the problems start on offense.
Murray is gone, replaced by Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle. McFadden is never healthy and the next time he carries a full load of plays may be about the first time, while Dunbar and Randle are unproven.
The Cowboys cannot count on the ground attack to milk the clock, which will put more pressure on both sides of the ball.
Add to that the reluctant acceptance on Dez Bryant’s part of a franchise tag and you do wonder whether this offense can carry things forward or will be nearly as effective as it was last season.
At least the schedule—aside from the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers (two of which are at home)—doesn’t look too tough right now, depending on how the NFC East plays out.
Next: Philadelphia Eagles