It’s very easy to focus on the offensive side of the ball when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys when you have stars like All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, and Amari Cooper on the roster. Prescott and Cooper are both on pace to have the best seasons of their respective careers and Elliott is firmly in the mix for his third rushing title in four years. Quietly, however, the Cowboys defense is having another good season. Maybe not quite to the level of the 7th ranked unit they were a year ago, but a good year so far nonetheless.
When you can stop the run as a defense it makes life much easier for the entire unit while simultaneously forcing the opposing offense to be one-dimensional. The Cowboys have been one of the NFL’s best since 2016 at stopping the run finishing 8th, 1st, and 5th over that span. Currently, the Cowboys are 13th vs the run, still putting them in the top half of the league. Their ranking would be a lot higher without 100-yard performances from Saquon Barkley and Aaron Jones, considering no other running back has gained more than 69 yards against them. The Cowboys defense may have taken a slight step back vs the run but they are still very good.
In a passing league, it’s paramount to have a defense that can compete at a high-level vs the pass even with all the rules that make it difficult to do so. The Cowboys defense is currently ranked 9th vs the pass. They have only allowed two quarterbacks to pass for over 300 yards in their first seven games. While the ability to create turnovers in the secondary still needs improvement with only three interceptions they have been one of the best in the NFL as far as giving up yardage.
In 2018, the Cowboys finished 7th in total defense. Fast forward to 2019, they are on pace to be one of the leagues best again. They are 8th in total defense so far this season and seem to be hitting their stride only allowing 13 points in their last six quarters of play. Also, they have held four of their seven opponents under 300 yards of offense, which is hard to do in today’s NFL.
The most important statistic on defense isn’t yards allowed, sacks or interceptions, it’s points allowed. Going into Week 9 the Cowboys are allowing 17.7 points per game, which ranks 7th in the NFL. This is a continuation of last season when they finished tied for 6th in the same category. A big reason for this the fact that this defense has held four of it’s seven opponents to 17 points or less. If your defense can hold teams under 20 points you’re going to win a lot of ball games.
Lastly, there’s the red zone category. Offenses in today’s NFL are too talented to consistently stop them from getting inside the 20. Having said that, it’s important for your defense to rise to the occasion in these situations, and the Cowboys are doing just that. They are only allowing touchdowns on 45.8% of the red zone drives they face, good for 5th best in the NFL. They may bend a little but they very seldom break which is exactly what you want from your defense.
The Cowboys defense may not have produced some of the splash plays from a year ago so far but make no mistake about it they are still one of the leagues best. Elliott, Prescott, and Cooper may grab most of the headlines but if the Cowboys want to make a second consecutive playoff appearance this defense needs to continue and even elevate the level it’s playing at going forward.