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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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Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?

Brian Martin

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Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?

Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.

Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.

A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.

Rob Demovsky on Twitter

Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.

Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.

Josh Jones, Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers S Josh Jones

It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.

I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.

Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?

In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.

Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.

Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?



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How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?

Kevin Brady

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Ranking The Dallas Cowboys Rookies Through Week 8
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.

The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.

For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.

The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.

Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.

The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.

Anthony Brown's Resurgence A Great Sign for Cowboys Defense

Nov 30, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown (30) returns an interception against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.

You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.

This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.

In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?



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Will It Be The Cowboys, Or Another Team, Who Pays Byron Jones After 2019?

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Headlines -  81

After having his fifth year option exercised for the 2019 season, cornerback Byron Jones enters a contract year this Fall.

Jones inarguably had the best year of his career in 2018: earning not only his first Pro Bowl selection but also Second Team All Pro honors for his performance. Doing it all without an impressive stat sheet, Jones was able to let his film speak for itself throughout most of the year, and he became the number one cornerback we'd all hoped he could be when the Cowboys decided to take the freakishly athletic defensive back in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

This contract year is quite unique for Byron Jones, however. Next offseason the Cowboys will be forced to re-sign and extend just about all of their key contributors on both sides of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence already got his contract, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and others still await their deals. Deals which the front office has all-but explicitly promised will come.

This leaves Jones, the former first round pick and now former All Pro, generally considered to be the odd man out. So while 2019 is a contract year for Byron Jones, he may be earning himself a contract from a completely different team.

Jones has had an interesting road to this contract season. One which would be a shame for the Cowboys to waste. Moving between cornerback and safety during the first three years of his career, Jones fell out of the coaches' good graces while playing out of his most natural position. Under Kris Richard's new regime, though, Jones had his best season to date. He looked to finally be comfortable in his role, and was now playing for a coach who believed he could be a special player.

Now that Byron Jones has found his place in the Cowboys defense, and has earned his way into conversations with the league's top cornerbacks, he's likely priced himself out of the Cowboys' future plans.

It's funny how that works out. Of course, Jones should go get paid, and I'd never fault a guy for maximizing his value on the market. But there's a good chance the Cowboys make the mistake of allowing a premier cornerback to walk out of their building next offseason. But if they want to retain players like Elliott and Cooper, they may not have any other choice.



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