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2017 Cowboys Defense: Better Or Worse Than Last Season?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Defense Better Or Worse Then Last Season?
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Dallas Cowboys have unfortunately came out on the wrong end of the spectrum the last two games against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers. There has been plenty of blame to go around as to how they allowed both of those games to slip through their fingers, but most everyone would agree it falls on the Cowboys defense.

The Dallas Cowboys defense has already seen their fair share of ups and downs through the first five games of the 2017 season. Injuries, suspensions, and poor play have all contributed to the overall performance, or lack thereof, of the defense. But, are things that much worse than last season or has everyone around Cowboys Nation just raised their expectations?

In order to try and clarify things during the bye week, I decided to take a look at the Cowboys defense so far this season and compare it to what they were able to accomplish in 2016 in order to make the playoffs. The results may or may not surprise you, but you have to continue to read below to find out.

Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr2016 Cowboys Defense

There was certainly nothing special about the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2016, but there is no denying they outperformed any expectations anyone had for them. They ended up finishing the season as a middle of the road defense, but that was good enough to get them into the playoffs.

Probably the best thing the Dallas Cowboys defense did last season was keep their opponents out of the end zone. The Cowboys defense only allowed 19.1 points per game, which ranks right there among the defenses of the teams that won the Super Bowl over the past several seasons. Honestly, that's really impressive, but let's take a look at how they did in some other categories.

Rushing

  • 3.9 yards per carry
  • 83.5 yards per game
  • 9 TDs

Passing

  • 260.4 passing yards a game
  • 25 TDs
  • 9 INT's, 36 QB sacks

In all honesty, even after witnessing how the Dallas Cowboys defense performed in 2016, I'm still surprised they were able to accomplish that with the players they had on the roster. But, even after exceeding expectations, the Cowboys decided not to re-sign any of their free-agents on the defensive side of the ball.

Not bringing back any of their free agents irked some Cowboys fans, but the organization was prepared to overhaul the defense in order to hopefully add more talent and improve. It could be one of the reasons why the Cowboys defense in 2017 is struggling, but let's take a look at how they performed so far through the first five games of the year.

Cowboys Defense2017 Cowboys Defense

It was honestly no surprise that the Dallas Cowboys defense wanted some new blood and that is why it ended up being the focal point of the 2017 NFL Draft. The only problem with overhauling the defense and replacing them with drafted players, is the amount of youth and inexperience expected to play big roles.

Injuries and suspensions have forced some of the younger rookies to play larger roles than they were initially expected to play, but that hasn't necessarily been a bad thing. Even with all the youth inserted on the defensive side of the ball, they are still only giving up 26.4 points per game. Ideally the Cowboys would prefer that a lot lower, but it's enough to win games if your offense is capable of putting up 30+ points a game. But, let's take a look at some other statistics and then compare them to 2016.

Rushing

  • 4.6 yards per carry
  • 118.0 yards per game
  • 2 TDs

Passing

  • 221.8 passing yards a game
  • 11 TDs
  • 2 INT's, 16 QB sacks

 ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The biggest difference in the Cowboys defense in 2016 and this season to me is obviously how they've performed in the running game. The Cowboys were one of the best at defending the run last season and are now allowing nearly 40 more rushing yards per game and almost a yard more per carry. To me, this is the area they need to improve the most and quickly.

Surprisingly enough, the Cowboys secondary hasn't really been as bad as believed. These young guns in the secondary are allowing about 40 less passing yards per game, but they are unfortunately on pace to give up more touchdown passes. Fortunately, I think this is an area where they will continue to improve as the season progresses.

One area where the 2017 Dallas Cowboys defense has much improved is sacking the QB. In 2016, the defense had a total of 36 sacks for the entire season, but this year's team has already accumulated about half of those through the first five games of the year. That in large part can be attributed to how dominant DeMarcus Lawrence has been.

Overall, things might not be quite as bleak as we are led to a belief. Yes, the Dallas Cowboys defense haven't caught their stride in 2017 yet, but with the exception of their run defense, they're pretty much on par with what got them to the playoffs just a year ago. I think we should all just remain patient and let things play themselves out. At least that's the approach I'm taking and I hope you will too.

Do you think the 2017 Cowboys defense will improve?



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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6 Comments
  • Steve Trevor

    Hey sh*t for brains… they’re coming off 2 straight games of giving up 35 points (plus the 42 to Denver!) and you ask a dumbass question like this?!?! Please for the love of God go back to working the night shift at 7-11 and give up writing!

    • Brian Martin

      Wow Steve, why don’t you tell me how you really feel. I was merely trying to point out that this year’s defense isn’t that far off from last year’s. The same defense that was good enough to get the Cowboys to the playoffs. But, the 2017 defense could end up being better a few changes and the continued progress of some of their young players.

  • Travis Diggs

    This defense definitely took a step back. D Lawrence and J Lewis have been the only bright points Jeff Heath has been terrible, Jaylon Smith is a liability in passing downs, and they cant get off the field when they need to. The defense has been the issue in Dallas for 10+ years, whats new?? Jerry is worried about players kneeling when the whole time it looks like the defense is kneeling. It sucks to watch Dak blame losses on himself when its the defense bird watching. Without D we’ll be right back on the couch in January

    • Brian Martin

      I’m probably a little too optimistic, but I think this year’s defense can be good enough to get the Cowboys to the playoffs. Injuries and suspensions really set them back so far, but they should be almost at full strength coming out of their bye week. It’s going to take a little bit of patience on a lot of our parts, but I think the defense will improve in time. It will once again be a a priority in the draft and that’s really the best way to rebuild things.

      • Travis Diggs

        I understand the optimism but the coaching staff needs to get their heads out of their asses and make personnel changes. As fans we see it, so why havent they seen it, I like Marinelli as our DC but he needs to realize these personnel issues are killing us the most, Jeff Heath has no business starting next to Byron, Where’s Taco n why so much Tyrone Crawford, he’s a big waste of money, Jaylon shouldnt be in on passing downs. All these things are hurting us but they keep the same guys in Its becoming frustrating

        • Brian Martin

          Travis, I understand where you’re coming from. The frustration with this defense has gotten to a lot of us. Unfortunately, I don’t know if we will see a lot of personal changes. A lot of these players are having to be depended on because of lack of depth or a better option. I do think we will start seeing Jeff Heath phased out, at least on passing downs. Xavier Woods has clearly outplayed him in those situations, but Heath is better against the run. The same can be said for Smith and Crawford. They just don’t have better options right now.

Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: ¿Dónde Tiene Que Mejorar Dallas?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Jaguars

El mejor juego de los Dallas Cowboys en 2018 vino la semana pasada, cuando recibieron a los Jacksonville Jaguars y los vencieron 40-7. Un resultado que tomó a todos por sorpresa demostró la mejor cara en el año de este equipo que apenas tiene un récord de 3-3.

Por más dominantes que se vieron en el emparrillado el domingo pasado, esa actuación no termina de reflejar lo que realmente son los Cowboys. Son un equipo con potencial en la ofensiva y con una defensiva bastante fuerte, pero ¿pueden ganar constantemente como lo hicieron contra Jaguars?

De entrada, la respuesta a esta pregunta parece ser no. Aún en esa victoria, se vieron problemas evidentes en la ofensiva. Para empezar, la falta de ejecución en la segunda mitad en series ofensivas que incluso llegaron a iniciar en territorio enemigo. De gol de campo en gol de campo se juntan puntos, sin duda, pero en partidos cerrados eso termina costando victorias. Hace falta que Dak Prescott y compañía puedan mover el balón una vez en rango de gol de campo y convertir esas oportunidades a touchdowns.

Otra preocupación que no podemos subestimar es que el juego aéreo sigue sin funcionar apropiadamente. Cole Beasley dominó con nueve atrapadas para 101 yardas y dos touchdowns, pero el resto de los receptores se fueron sin  más de una recepción por cabeza. El único jugador que logró más de una fue el TE Geoff Swaim, quien se llevo dos en todo el juego.

Si bien Beasley tuvo uno de los mejores juegos en su carrera, más receptores tienen que involucrarse para llevar la ofensiva al siguiente nivel. La buena noticia es que en esta ocasión se enfrentaron contra una de las mejores secundarias en la NFL. Los números son malos, pero tienen la oportunidad de demostrar mucho más contra otras defensivas.

Los Dallas Cowboys tienen que repartir más la bola y seguir buscando maneras creativas de utilizar a su RB Ezekiel Elliott. Pases pantallas en tercera y largo no es ser creativo. Lo vemos funcionar dos o tres veces al año pero mandan esta jugada semanalmente. En cuanto a Dak Prescott, hay mucho donde mejorar. Deberíamos estar viendo pases más arriesgados, al centro del campo y mucho mejor posicionados.

Sean's Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory's Potential Impact on Cowboys Defense

Para la defensiva, las cosas se ven muy bien. Puede que veamos la mejor versión de esta unidad esta semana, cuando viajen a Washington. Maliek Collins, Sean Lee, David Irving, y Randy Gregory estarán jugando mucho más sanos y preparados. Este es un frente defensivo lleno de talento que intimidará constantemente a Alex Smith este domingo.

A pesar de que los Redskins no tienen una ofensiva muy explosiva, el área de oportunidad principal para la defensiva de Cowboys está en la profundidad defensiva. Tanto Jeff Heath como Xavier Woods han hecho un trabajo decente, pero tienen sus momentos en los que no logran asegurar una tackleada y permiten jugadas largas.

Hace unos meses no esperábamos que fuera la defensiva y no la ofensiva la que cargaría a este equipo a muchas victorias, pero ese ha sido el caso en las tres victorias de esta temporada. Y en las tres derrotas, la defensiva fue la que mantuvo a los Cowboys en el juego.

Sin duda alguna, lo que tiene que mejorar es la ofensiva. Los receptores tienen que desmarcarse, Prescott debe ser más preciso y tener una mejor conciencia en la bolsa de protección.

Pero sobre todo, es la inconsistencia del equipo. Esto se comienza a sentir como la temporada del año pasado, cuando los Cowboys se fueron 9-7 y nunca terminaron de establecerse como contendientes a los playoffs. Aún en una NFC East donde todos los equipos tienen récords similares y débiles, no pueden continuar perdiendo una semana y  ganando a la otra.

Ganarle a los Redskins sería la primera victoria de Dallas jugando de visita. También sería la primera vez en el año en la que tendrían victorias consecutivas. Por esto y muchas otras razones, incluyendo el potencial liderato de la división, este juego es de suma importancia.

Si ganan, podría ser el momento en el que los Cowboys terminen de darle la vuelta a la página y si pierden, podría ser un indicador de que esta temporada será igual que la del 2017.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: ¿Dónde Tiene Que Mejorar Dallas?" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Time to get FB Jamize Olawale More Involved Offensively?

Brian Martin

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Time to get FB Jamize Olawale More Involved Offensively?

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off arguably their best and most complete offensive performance of the season after playing the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, but there is still quite a bit of improvement that can be made. The need to get more playmakers involved is apparent, which is why I think it's time to utilize Fullback Jamize Olawale's unique skill set.

I know many of you will argue that getting Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup going is a higher priority, and you wouldn't be wrong, but Jamize Olawale's playmaking ability could be a huge asset for Quarterback Dak Prescott and the offense. I know it sounds a little strange, but hang in there with me for little bit.

As things stand right now, Olawale has only played 38 offensive snaps (10%) in 2018. That's the exact amount of offensive plays Wide Receiver Terrance Williams has played this year and he's missed the majority of the season. It's not exactly the kind of production I was expecting when the Cowboys decided to bring him aboard via trade with the Oakland Raiders earlier this offseason.

I don't know about you, but I was expecting Olawale to be more involved in the offensive game plan. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and isn't too shabby as a runner either. But, we haven't seen him utilized in either fashion this season and I think that's an injustice that needs to be corrected.

Now, I fully understand there are other offensive weapons ahead of him in the pecking order who need to see more targets, but I also really think he can make a difference maker, especially in the passing game. That is where his strengths lie, not as a lead blocking fullback.

Jamize Olawale

Dallas Cowboys FB Jamize Olawale

Olawale was a bit of a Swiss Army knife during his time with the Oakland Raiders. He played a little running back, fullback, tight end, and even a little slot receiver. I really thought the Cowboys would take advantage of his versatility in the passing game, but as of yet they have failed to do so.

I'd like to see the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan utilize Jamize Olawale's unique playmaking ability a little bit more on offense. I think they should try to utilize him like the San Francisco 49ers use their fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. He's much more involved and has played a total of 263 offensive snaps (63.68%) this year.

Juszczyk is a better lead blocking FB then Olawale, but that's not where he makes the most difference in the 49ers offense. He does it as a receiver and has already caught 17 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown. That's some pretty solid production from a position that is being phased out in the NFL.

Now, just imagine the Cowboys offense getting similar production from Olawale and how that would help open up things for everybody else. It's not out of the realm of possibility because the 49ers offense and the Cowboys isn't all that dissimilar.

Unfortunately, I think Jamize Olawale is pretty much an afterthought in the Cowboys offense right now. It's truly unfortunate because I think he can be a difference maker if given the opportunity. And with a division foe like the Washington Redskins next on the schedule, what better time to unleash a new and unseen element of the offense?

Do you think Jamize Olawale needs to be more involved offensively?



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Cole Beasley Key to Cowboys Passing Game Productivity?

Brian Martin

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Jaguars 1

What most of us already knew was confirmed last Sunday afternoon against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wide Receiver Cole Beasley is the Dallas Cowboys best receiver and is the key to the passing game productivity. He is not only the most productive, but the most consistent.

Cole Beasley isn't the tallest or the fastest and definitely doesn't look like a prototypical NFL receiver, but he showed last week against the Jaguars why opposing defenses have to account for him on every single play. He torched Jacksonville's top-ranked passing defense for 101 yards on nine catches and added two touchdowns, and it's that production that could help open up the entire passing game for the Cowboys.

It's painfully obvious Cole Beasley has been Dak Prescott's favorite target in the passing game since he took over the starting duties in 2016. Once opposing defenses figured that out they started to make things extremely difficult by bracketing Beasley in coverage and the passing game hasn't been the same since. But, that could be changing if the Jaguars game was an indication of what we might see moving forward.

Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan did a much better job of moving Beasley around to create favorable matchups against the Jaguars. I think we will see much more of that moving forward, but that likely means opposing defenses will once again try to take away Prescott's favorite target. That actually could end up helping the Cowboys passing game though.

Dak Prescott, Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

If opposing defenses indeed try to contain Cole Beasley like they've done in the past, it should help provide more opportunities for Dallas' other pass catchers. Spreading the ball around to several different receivers would not only help Prescott and the passing game, but also open up the entire offense.

We haven't really seen much of Allen Hurns or Michael Gallup this season, but both are more than capable of being more productive if they are seeing single coverage more often. That's what's likely to happen if defenses bracket Beasley in coverage once again. Both WRs need to be more involved anyway and Beasley's recent spike in production could help do just that.

Now, if defenses decide to try and cover Beasley one-on-one like the Jaguars did quite a bit of last Sunday, the Cowboys would be wise to take advantage of that mismatch. He simply can't be covered by a single defensive back because of his precise route running ability. He is that good.

Regardless of how opposing defenses try to handle/contain Cole Beasley, he is without a doubt key to the Dallas Cowboys passing game productivity. Just the threat of him on the field changes a defenses approach, which is why he is Dallas' #1  WR in my book. He absolutely has to be more involved moving forward, even if it is as a decoy.

Do you think Cole Beasley is the key to the Cowboys passing game productivity?



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