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.
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.
|Category||2013||2013 Rank||2014||2014 Rank|
|Yards Per Play||6.1||t-29th||5.9||t-26th|
|Adjusted Sack %||6.1||t-26th||4.2||t-29th|
|Yards Per Att||7.8||t-26th||7.6||t-20th|
|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|
|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|
|Yards Per Play||29th||t-11th|
|Adjusted Sack %||25th||19th|
|Yards Per Att||25th||t-29th|
|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|
|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:
And their defensive line gets pushed around:
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.
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?