The Dallas Cowboys are now 1-1 after last night’s victory over the New York Giants. Despite the record, though, their defense has put in two winning efforts. This young group, already viewed as an emerging entity before the season, appears to have officially arrived.
After two weeks, the Cowboys defense ranks third in yards (274 per game) and points (14.5 per game) allowed. They currently the lead the NFL with nine team sacks, though Chicago and Seattle still have to play tonight.
There are still some situational issues, such as the team’s difficulty stopping short-yardage runs. But overall, the Dallas defense has already emerged as one of top units in the league.
The premise of this article was inspired by a tweet from one of my Inside The Star colleagues last night:
Week one vs Jacksonville Odell Beckham Jr. 11 catches on 15 targets for 111 yards. Week to vs the #DallasCowboys 4 catches on 9 targets for 51 yards. Jacksonville allowed 15 points to the #Giants. Dallas allowed 13 points. Jacksonville had two sacks. Dallas 6.
The comparative analysis of how the Giants fared against the Jaguars defense, arguably the best in the NFL, and the Cowboys is strong evidence. Granted, they were on the road in Dallas and at home against Jacksonville. But doesn’t account for all of the statistical disparity.
Along with the stats provided by John, you can look at the difference rushing yards. Dallas gave up just 35 total yards on the ground, not allowing Saquon Barkley to follow up last week’s big game. The Jaguars surrendered 114 rushing yards last week, although 68 did come on a single big play.
In total offensive yardage, the Giants had 324 against Jacksonville and just 255 in Dallas. If that wasn’t enough, 108 of last night’s yards came in garbage time against soft, prevent-style coverage.
Granted, outside of Barkley, this Giants offense is very familiar to the Cowboys. They should be better versed in how to deal with it. But keep in mind that New York has a new offensive-minded head coach in Pat Shurmur and a new OC in Mike Shula.
In fact, the familiarity argument goes out the window when you look at how Dallas’ Week 1 opponent performed yesterday.
The Carolina Panthers fell 31-24 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday after beating Dallas 16-8 a week ago. They scored eight more points on the road against a division rival than they had at home against the Cowboys.
The Panthers amassed 439 offensive yards against the Falcons yesterday. They had just 293 yards against Dallas. The Cowboys sacked Cam Newton three times and allowed an 82.4 passer rating. Atlanta had two sacks and Newton’s passer rating rose to 105.3.
Of course, two games don’t make a season. Dallas’ defensive performance may not hold by the end of December, either due to injuries or teams figuring things out from film study.
But so far, so great.
The really exciting thing is how much better this team could get. Xavier Woods’ return should be an upgrade at safety, which would also allow Jeff Heath to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Randy Gregory should be back next week after sitting out yesterday from concussion issues.
And then there’s David Irving. If he comes back from suspension in Week 5 as the same player we saw last year, the dynamic capability of the defensive front goes up dramatically.
Along with those talented players returning, just the general growth and development of young talent across the defense should yield results. Chidobe Awuzie, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and others should all be better players by December they are now.
Dallas should be 2-0 right now based on their defensive play. The offense did its part last night, as opposed to Week 1, to avoid wasting the effort. As long as that continues, the Cowboys defense could carry this team into the postseason.