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The Dallas Cowboys Defense Still Stinks

The Cowboys defense was a huge problem last year, and it hasn't gotten any better.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Dallas Cowboys defense was nothing short of a grease fire. It finished at or near the bottom of nearly every statistical category, and because of the front office's inability to manage the salary cap, lost two starters in DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. They also unfortunately lost Sean Lee to injury in the off-season. Twice retired at the age of 24 Rolando McClain was acquired in his place. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was demoted and Rod Marinelli was promoted.

Things somehow looked even worse heading into the season. Now, more than halfway through the year and with the Cowboys legitimately in the hunt for the playoffs, there is a notion that one of the reasons for that is that the defense has improved.

They don't have any pass rushers and they don't have any cover guys. I don't know how they're doing it. Rod Marinelli (Dallas' coordinator) should be Coach of the Year.

They haven't.

The Cowboys are giving up fewer points and total yards per game, but that is because the defense isn't on the field as much, the offense is running more plays, up to 19th from 32nd last year. The defense can not control that. Well, they can in that they can force more punts, but they aren't doing that. Their improvements have been marginal.

Cowboys Defense
Category 2013 2013 Rank 2014 2014 Rank
DVOA 13.8 30th 6.1 25th
Pass DVOA 20.7 27th 16.2 22nd
Rush DVOA 4.3 28th -6.6 18th
Yards Per Play 6.1 t-29th 5.9 t-26th
Sack % 5.2 t-31st 4.6 t-27th
Adjusted Sack % 6.1 t-26th 4.2 t-29th
INT % 2.4 t-20th 3 t-9th
Turnovers 28 t-13th 18 t-12th
Passer Rating 96 26th 91.8 19th
Completition % 64.7 t-25th 66.2 28th
Yards Per Att 7.8 t-26th 7.6 t-20th
Adjusted Y/A 7.7 t-24th 7.2 17th
Yards Per Carry 4.7 30th 4.3 18th
3 and outs per drive 0.163 32nd 0.179 22nd
3rd down % 43.3 29th 45.5 29th
Yards per drive 36.48 31st 31.47 16th
Penalties 112 29th 66 5th
Plays per Game 68.4 27th 60.5 4th

Penalties against have also improved dramatically, but even there context is needed. Being on the field less means fewer opportunities for penalties. The rest of the improvements--and in some areas decreases--are just normal year to year fluctuation that every team has no matter how good or bad they are. We can see this by looking at what the teams that were just one rank above the Cowboys in 2013 (can't rank below because they were last or tied for last in some categories) have done this year.

Team One Rank Above 2013 Cowboys Defense
Category 2013 Rank 2014 Rank
DVOA 29th 32nd
Pass DVOA 26th 10th
Rush DVOA 27th 30th
Yards Per Play 29th t-11th
Sack % 30th t-4th
Adjusted Sack % 25th 19th
INT % 19th 7th
Turnovers 12th t-12th/t-17th
Passer Rating 25th 4th
Completition % 24th 31st
Yards Per Att 25th t-29th
Adjusted Y/A 23rd t-14th
Yards Per Carry 29th t-23rd/30th/t-27th
3 and outs per drive 31st 26th
3rd down % 28th 23rd
Yards per drive 30th 12th
Penalties 28th t-29th
Plays per Game 26th 15th/18th/26th

We see the same type of marginal increases and decreases the Cowboys have. There's no great coaching job by Rod Marinelli or rag tag team of destiny factor nonsense. They're still really bad, they just haven't had as many opportunities to show it.

When they do get those opportunities, they haven't looked any better. They leave big gaps in the secondary:

Dallas Cover 2 Gaps

And their defensive line gets pushed around:

Dallas DL Gaps A

Dallas DL Gaps B

A big issue the Cowboys have is their tackling. It was one of the reasons why they got into an early hole against the Rams in Week 3, and it hasn't improved. The tackling in the clips above is poor, and even worse below.

Dallas Bad Tackling A

Dallas Bad Tackling B

The Cowboys defense is exactly what we expected it to be heading into the season: a very bad unit that lacks talent due to bad drafting, bad free agency decisions and bad cap management. Changing coaches from Monte Kiffin to Monte Kiffin Lite predictably hasn't made any real changes. They commit a few less penalties, but are other wise the same terrible, inefficient defense we saw last year. They just don't see the field as much because DeMarco Murray is having a sensational year. And even that has tailed off, after being on pace to shatter the single season rushing attempt record, Murray had three straight games of only 19 carries before Sunday's game against the Giants. He's now on pace to finish with less that 400 attempts.

The Eagles offense has its own problems, the line can't stay healthy and Mark Sanchez is making poor throws, but they're a much better unit than the Cowboys defense. And of course the Eagles run the most plays in the league, so there will be plenty of chances to expose Dallas' defense. When Joe Buck and Troy Aikman talk about how Dallas's defense has improved, feel free to spit take your cider. Especially if you have that uncle who is a Cowboys fan watching with you. Why was he even invited to Thanksgiving?