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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

Time to see What Darius Jackson can do as Zeke’s Backup?

Brian Martin

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Will RB Darius Jackson Stick With Cowboys Second Time Around?

I hate to say it because I really like Rod Smith, but I think it may be time for the Dallas Cowboys to reevaluate the running back position as it pertains to Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup. Smith just hasn't been good this year, which is why I think it may be time to see what Darius Jackson can do if given the opportunity.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting the Dallas Cowboys move on from Rod Smith or demote him right now, but I would promote Darius Jackson from the practice squad to the active roster as insurance in case something were to happen to Zeke. It just seems the right time to make that move after #21's injury scare Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Eagles.

You may have forgotten, but Ezekiel Elliott had to spend some time in the medical tent Sunday against the Eagles. He was luckily able to return to the game not long after, but it did shine a spotlight on Rod Smith and the lack of depth behind him.

Despite how much I like Rod Smith, and I do, he just hasn't been the same player this season as he was last year as Zeke's fill-in. He is just not running with any kind of authority and has been too apt to run east and west instead of north and south. I think it's one of the reasons why the Cowboys have continued to give Zeke such a heavy workload, despite him being banged up.

Rod Smith

Dallas Cowboys RB Rod Smith

Now, Rod Smith did look a little better against the Eagles, but I still believe it would be wise for the Cowboys to promote Darius Jackson to the active roster. Having more depth at such a physically demanding position is just smart football.

With the Dallas Cowboys playoff spot all but secured, it might be time to start thinking about lightening Ezekiel Elliott's workload just a little bit. Whether it's Rod Smith or Darius Jackson, the Cowboys have to find someone who can step in and be productive.

Rod Smith has had his opportunities this year, but hasn't really been able to capitalize like we believed he could. It might be time to turn to Darius Jackson, a fan favorite, who unfortunately just hasn't been able to prove what he can do as of yet in a meaningful game. I think it's time we change that.

As much as I like Rod Smith, I might like Darius Jackson just a little bit more. I think he is kind of like a poor man's Ezekiel Elliott. He is just as athletically gifted and can be a threat as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. He just needs the opportunity to prove it.

There's really no way of knowing if I'm right or wrong about this, but I believe he is worthy of a roster spot on game day if nothing else. I'd rather have him and not need him then need him and not have him.

Do you think it's time to see what Darius Jackson can do?



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Star Blog

Cowboys Lassoing NFC East Title as NFC Dark Horse

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Cowboys Lassoing NFC East Title as NFC Dark Horse

Well don’t look now but the Dallas Cowboys are in control of their division and anything short of a catastrophic collapse will see them hosting the first round of the playoffs. Dallas strengthened their grip on the NFC East by knocking off a divisional rival and the reigning Super Bowl champions with a 29-23 overtime win over the Eagles.

Those who have a favorite online sportsbook and wagered on the Cowboys were ecstatic to see Dak Prescott hit Amari Cooper for a 15-yard touchdown pass in overtime, thus covering the 3 ½ point impost that oddsmakers hung on Dallas.

The Cowboys have now won five consecutive games, with three of those over divisional opponents Philadelphia (twice) and Washington. But before we celebrate, we must consider that there's still a mathematical possibility of either Philadelphia or Washington stealing the division crown away from the Cowboys.

The Giants' only hope is an outside shot at a wildcard berth if they win outright but they've been eliminated from contending for a division title due to their 1-4 record against NFC East teams.

Essentially, all the Cowboys must do is win one of their three remaining games in order to celebrate a division crown. If Philadelphia or Washington loses any of their three games they will be out due to tie breakers that go in the Cowboys’ favor.

As of this moment, the Redskins are a disaster with no one under center to captain their rudderless ship, and the Eagles must defeat the Rams in LA, which would be considered a stunning upset seeing as any reputable online sportsbook is offering the Rams as 9 ½ point favorites as of this writing; then they must win at home against Houston and on the road against the Redskins.

Of course, the Cowboys are counting only on themselves to reel in the division title and with games at Indianapolis, home against the Bucs, and wrapping their season in New Jersey against the Giants, at least one win seems likely.

The addition of Amari Cooper to the Dallas offensive arsenal has been a game-changer as the former Oakland Raider hauled in 10 of 13 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner last Sunday against Philadelphia. He was the top-tier receiver Prescott had been lacking and his presence on the field improves both the passing game and running game by virtue of his dynamic playmaking abilities. Ezekiel Elliott has eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards in four of the six games since Cooper has been on the Cowboys roster.

Furthermore, Dallas has averaged 24.4 points per game over their last five wins with Cooper in the lineup, which is more than five points improved from where they were prior to their winning streak without him in a Dallas uniform.

In addition, Prescott has morphed from a game manager at 202 passing yards per game to a game breaker as evidenced by his 285.7 passing yard average in six games with his new target at his disposal.

Ultimately, the Cowboys will be tasked with turning all of this good mojo into a deep run into the postseason. We can now confidently say that there is one other team to consider besides the Rams, Bears, and Saints as this year’s NFC entrant into the Super Bowl. However, Dak Prescott will need to eliminate turnovers and interceptions if Dallas is truly going to contend against the powerhouses they will face in the playoffs.

Last Sunday, Prescott caught fire in the fourth quarter and ended with 455 yards passing, connecting on 42 of 54 passes with three touchdowns, but his two interceptions were converted into nine points by Philadelphia. As we move forward, Prescott will need to lead right from the get-go and understand that one poor decision can cost his team what is now a realistic shot at a championship season.



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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Sí, Amari Cooper Lo Valió

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys' Revenge Against Atlanta Hinges on These 3 Key Matchups 1

Cuando los Dallas Cowboys sorprendieron a la NFL mandando una selección de primera ronda por el receptor Amari Cooper de los Oakland Raiders, la respuesta fue muy dividida. Al final de cuentas, Cooper estaba pasando por una temporada bastante mala junto a su equipo. Sus números iban en decline y muchos habían perdido la fe en la ex-estrella de la universidad de Alabama y cuarta selección global en el NFL Draft del 2015.

Pero sorpresa, sorpresa. Desde que se unió a las filas de los Dallas Cowboys, Amari Cooper ha demostrado que la decisión que tomaron los Jones fue una muy buena.

En esta liga, es muy complicado justificar el deshacerse de un pick de primera ronda.

Estamos hablando de la oportunidad de tomar a un novato joven con muchísimo potencial para convertirse en un jugador calibre All-Pro en algún punto de su carrera. No es fácil renunciar a una posibilidad así en esta liga. Sin embargo, Amari Cooper no ha hecho más que justificar el trade por parte de los Cowboys. Si continúa así, al final de la temporada podríamos estar hablando de que Dallas pagó de menos por él.

Es importante recalcar que Amari Cooper tiene 24 años de edad. Para el NFL Draft del 2019, los mejores prospectos en esta posición tienen a lo mucho cuatro años menos. A.J. Brown de Ole Miss tendrá 21 años cuando pise el emparrillado por primera vez en la NFL.

Y no, ninguno de estos receptores está cerca del nivel de talento con el que cuenta Cooper.

#DALvsPHI: Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott Key to Clipping the Eagles Wings?

¿Qué tan grande ha sido el impacto de Amari Cooper?

Desde la semana 9, cuando los Cowboys consiguieron a Cooper, este ha tenido 30 recepciones. 23 de las cuales han resultado en un primer down o en un touchdown. Es el receptor con más atrapadas en tercera oportunidad. Podríamos hablar de las grandes estadísticas que el wide receiver ha conseguido vistiendo la estrella individualmente. Pero realmente, ha tenido un impacto en la ofensiva entera.

Desde su llegada, los Cowboys son el tercer mejor equipo en porcentaje de pases completos, el segundo en yardas después de la recepción y el tercero a la hora de convertir terceras oportunidades y mover las cadenas.

Simple y sencillamente, ha tenido un impacto que ningún otro novato del 2019 hubiera tenido en este equipo. Si, los Cowboys tendrán que pagarle una extensión cara en el futuro, pero cuando este sea el caso, lo habrá valido.

Amari Cooper es el ejemplo perfecto de porque la NFL es un deporte de equipo. Con los Raiders, todos lo tachaban como un jugador que ya no era bueno e iba para abajo. Pero bajo los Dallas Cowboys, se ve como un jugador que promete mucho para esta joven franquicia que necesitaba un verdadero #1 en la posición de wide receiver.

La ofensiva de los Cowboys tiene mucho talento. Es cuestión de mejorar en zona roja para que Dallas sea una amenaza bastante considerable en los playoffs de la NFL.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Sí, Amari Cooper Lo Valió" 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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