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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

Tony Romo Documentary in the Works

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Blog - 5 Most Heartbreaking Losses Of The Tony Romo Era

If you've missed seeing Tony Romo on the field, an upcoming documentary may be the cure. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback is reportedly the subject of a film chronicling his football career going all the way back to high school.

"Now or Never" will tell Romo's incredible story, going from undrafted to one of the top passers in the history of the Cowboys' storied franchise. It's being produced by a Texas-based company run by Christian Hanna (no known relation to James).

According to an article from MyRacineCounty.com, Romo's hometown newspaper, the tale of Tony's football career will be told going back to his days at Burlington High School in Wisconsin. It will follow him to Eastern Illinois University, the same QB hotbed that more recently produced Jimmy Garoppolo.

But what most of us will want to relive is Tony's amazing NFL career, which stands out among the most unexpected rises to stardom of any player in league history.

Romo, who was an undrafted free agent signed by the Cowboys in 2003, didn't play in a game for three seasons. He rose the QB depth chart through practice and preseason play, eventually becoming the backup and earning the respect of then-coach Bill Parcells.

 - Tony Romo, #9

Former Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo

In Week 7 of 2006, Parcells pulled struggling starter Drew Bledsoe at halftime and went with his intriguing young prospect. Tony's first pass in the NFL was one to forget; an interception.

About a decade later, Romo would retire as the Cowboys' all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He currently ranks fourth all-time in NFL history for passer rating.

Tony's career never saw the playoff and Super Bowl success of predecessors Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, but he remains a beloved figure in team history. The controversial end to his football career, losing his job to rookie phenom Dak Prescott in 2016, created a major rift among Cowboys fans.

While no longer playing, Romo remains one of the hottest names in football. His charisma and football acumen have him in a featured role with CBS Broadcasting.

From obscurity to "anointing oil" to one of the most discussed names in sports, Tony Romo's story is fascinating. This documentary crew picked a great subject, and we look forward to enjoying their work and revisiting the Romo Era once the film is released.



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Star Blog

Prescott VS Wentz Rivalry is Just Beginning

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz Make Cowboys/Eagles Rivalry Great Again

No one expected Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott to become such an interesting rivalry, but that's precisely what the 2016's second and 135th draft picks have turnt out to be since the day they entered the NFL. The two came into the NFC East with very different expectations. Dak wasn't even supposed to be a starter, but circumstance is what helped this rivalry emerge.

Prescott seemed to lead the race after their rookie seasons were over, having led the Dallas Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the #1 seed in the NFC, but Carson Wentz made a huge statement in 2017. Before he went down injured playing versus the LA Rams last December, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback was playing astonishingly well.

Leading the MVP race before tearing his ACL, Carson Wentz had thrown for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns through 13 games. Had he not gone down, it's more likely than not he would've been named the MVP instead of Tom Brady.

Despite having won the passing yards race, Dak Prescott's 2017 was rougher than his rival's. His interceptions count went from 4 in 2016 to 13 last season. He threw for only 22 touchdowns, falling eight short of the 30 TDs mark. His completion percentage also went down, from over 67% to almost 63%.

As we all know, it wasn't a good year for the Dallas Cowboys. Suspensions, injuries and poor play led them to a disappointing 9-7 season that didn't feel like a winning season at all, even though that's how it will go down in the books.

To make things worse, the Eagles went into January with QB Nick Foles starting, and overcoming adversity and doubters, won their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Although it was Foles and not Wentz the one who played Philadelphia's postseason, the former second overall pick is one of the main reasons for the team's success.

His sophomore year was way better than Dak's.

But as impressive as Wentz's year was, the rivalry between the two signal-callers is just beginning. There is still a lot of history to write in this duel of two young and hard-working players. Two leader of men in one of the most intense rivalries in the NFL.

5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule 1

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz (Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports)

Through two years of football, here's how their numbers look like:

Wentz: 29 games, 1,047 attempts, 644 completions (61.5%), 7,078 yards, 49 TDs, 2 rushing TDs

Prescott: 32 games, 949 attempts, 619 completions (65.2%), 6,991 yards, 45 TDs, 12 rushing TDs

There's not a ton of difference between their numbers, but in the NFL, it's about more than stats. Prescott had the better 2016, Wentz the better 2017.

Dak and Carson have really only played two match-ups in their two years playing in the league. Sitting at an even 1-1 record, 2018 will feature two great games between both of their teams. The defending Super Bowl Champions against the underestimated Dallas Cowboys.

The sport is about winning games and championships, but rivalries like this one make the NFL even more special. Even with Wentz being the MVP front-runner for most of last season, Dak Prescott still has a lot of time to turn things around.

If both turn out to be as successful and important as their franchise wish them to be, then this rivalry will be around for a lot of years.

Tell me what you think about "Prescott VS Wentz Rivalry is Just Beginning" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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Star Blog

If Reinstated, Is Randy Gregory A Lock for Cowboys 53-Man Roster?

Sean Martin

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Is It Time To Give Up On DE Randy Gregory?

The Dallas Cowboys will enter training camp in Oxnard with arguably their deepest and most talented defensive line in years. Cowboys Nation continues to hope for the best possible news on suspended Defensive End Randy Gregory, to potentially take this defensive front to the next level. Should Gregory be reinstated, the Cowboys would have another option at right defensive end. This is a position they've bolstered with the signing of Kony Ealy and drafting of Dorance Armstrong, both moves coming behind would-be starter Tyrone Crawford.

This logjam at DE begs the question, amidst optimism for Gregory's situation, is the 2015 second round pick even a lock to make this roster?

Who Does Randy Gregory Need to Outplay?

Going through some form of the Cowboys depth chart at Gregory's position above does little to sort out how Gregory can justify a starting position. Having true starters on the defensive line is not DC Rod Marinelli's way, meaning a possible rotation of Crawford, Gregory, and Armstrong could coexist.

If Reinstated, Is Randy Gregory A Lock for Cowboys 53-Man Roster?

Dallas Cowboys DE Tyrone Crawford, QB Dak Prescott

Even with insufficient depth at defensive tackle, the Cowboys seem committed to keeping Crawford on the edge. As he's done with each position change within the Cowboys defense, Crawford is slowly developing into a respectable right end that's great against the run.

This sounds like just the type of player to compliment a speedy rusher like Gregory, but Randy won't be alone in this role should he return to the team. Along with FA addition Kony Ealy, the Cowboys will look to bring Charles Tapper back from an offseason concussion, and also have second-year rusher Taco Charlton in need of a true position.

It's fair to say that Gregory has been anything but reliable since the Cowboys took a gamble on him, but turning his life around to see out this reinstatement would go a long way in beating out the often-injured Tapper.

Given Ealy's ability to play both on the edge and inside, at his best if receiving limited snaps, I believe that Gregory will only have to surpass Tapper in reaching a favorable spot on the Cowboys depth chart at DE.

Comparing Randy  Gregory and Dorance Armstrong

Of course, making the roster and making an impact on defense are two vastly different realities for Gregory in 2018. Another player that could stunt his opportunities to hunt down quarterbacks is rookie fourth round pick Dorance Armstrong.

If Reinstated, Is Randy Gregory A Lock for Cowboys 53-Man Roster? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE Dorance Armstong  (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

The Cowboys would love to see Armstrong begin his career with a strong showing in Oxnard, owning all of the traits needed to be an effective right end at the next level.

Lacking the true cornering speed that Gregory has flashed in short spurts, Armstrong did produce a ten sack season for Kansas in 2016. This production matches the traits that kept Armstrong a priority for the Cowboys at the draft, despite only seeing him get home 1.5 times in 2017.

Rewind to last year's draft, and the Cowboys spent their first round pick on a defensive end they looked to make a right end, all while knowing his ideal spot is at LDE. This makes the difference between drafting Charlton and Armstrong an important one, as the Cowboys are clearly searching for high-value options to complete their pass rush.

Again, assuming Tapper becomes the odd man out in the Cowboys carrying Gregory, Ealy, and Armstrong as right ends, the work is cut out for Gregory to regain the trust of his coaches and bring what only he can to this defense.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

It goes without saying that Randy Gregory will carry plenty of attention with him if present in Oxnard. This is a player capable of transforming a young Cowboys defense into one of the league's most feared.

While the Cowboys would do well to quickly sort out who plays the 3T-DT position alongside DeMarcus Lawrence, and the 1T inside for that matter too, sticking Gregory on the opposite edge could be the easiest decision they make to see immediate improvements in their pass rush.

Should Ealy or Armstrong have more to say about this lineup for the Cowboys defensive line, the depth of this unit will live up to the hype.

Tell us what you think about "If Reinstated, Is Randy Gregory A Lock for Cowboys 53-Man Roster?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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