Defense wins championships. A saying all too familiar in the sport of football. The star power for the Dallas Cowboys may be on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense is what will take them to the next level. Coming off a season in which they finished as the 7th ranked unit overall, 2019 is looking very positive defensively.
The big boys up front are where it all begins and games are won and lost.
DeMarcus Lawrence has established himself as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Racking up 25 sacks over the last two seasons, more than Khalil Mack and Von Miller, the 105 million dollar man is the cornerstone of the Cowboys defensive line. Drawing constant double teams allows his teammates in the trenches to take advantage of one-on-one opportunities pretty frequently. His own elite play combined with making life easier for others is a high plus.
Robert Quinn will be lined up opposite Lawrence. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro during his days with the Rams from 2011 to 2017, where he totaled 62.5 sacks. Coming off a 6.5 sack season in Miami, Quinn makes the defensive end position a major strength of the Cowboys. Him playing at or even close to an elite level gives this defense multiple threats coming off the edge, which can’t be undervalued.
Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, Tyrone Crawford, Joe Jackson, Jalen Jelks, and Taco Charlton will all be in the mix for playing time at defensive end. The more bodies you have at your disposal the greater your chances are of having success.
The interior is where quarterbacks hate getting pressured from the most. The Cowboys have a few bullets in the chamber to attack from the inside.
Antwaun Woods is your starter and anchor at the 1 technique (left of center). The big man made his presence known in 2018 as a very good run stopper, as evident by the Cowboys fifth overall ranking in that category. There are only 18 games of NFL tread on these tires so you can expect plenty more out of Woods going forward.
Trysten Hill has the inside track to be the man at the 3 technique (right of center). The rookie will have to take his lumps of course, but the ceiling for his talent is unlimited. Even with the safety position being at the top of the team’s needs going into 2019, they selected Hill in the second round. You can bet the 273 rushing yards allowed by the Cowboys in the playoffs against the Rams had something to do with his draft card being turned in, it starts up front.
Maliek Collins, Daniel Ross, and Christian Covington give the interior nice depth going into the new season, but don’t expect them to make life easy for the guys in front of them.
The linebackers make up your second line of defense, and the Cowboys have as good of a stable as anyone league-wide.
Jaylon Smith is your starter at middle linebacker. 2018 saw him rack up 121 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. Big, strong, fast, and great awareness, he has it all. Sideline to sideline he’s one of the best in the game and he’s just getting started.
Leighton Vander Esch blew the doors off of AT&T Stadium in 2018. While his first-round selection was much maligned by fans and experts, it didn’t last very long. He would finish with 140 tackles (team record for rookies), 7 passes defended and 2 interceptions in 11 starts. Good enough to garner Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in his first year of action. The weakside linebacker position is in good hands.
Sean Lee is switching roles and moving over to strongside linebacker. This will work wonders for him and his body this season. Why? The Cowboys run mostly out of the nickel package, with two linebackers, those will be Smith and Vander Esch. Now, Lee doesn’t have to take the pounding he normally would playing either the middle or weakside positions. With limited snaps, and hopefully health, 2019 could see a rejuvenation of the career of one of the best linebackers in football.
Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard and Chris Covington are a few names to watch on the depth chart at linebacker as well.
In today’s NFL, you better have good players on the back end of your defense. Heading into the new season, the Cowboys aren’t doing too bad in that department.
Byron Jones is coming off his best season in the NFL. The former Connecticut Huskie set a career high with 14 passes defended in 2018, as well as his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections. The switch from safety to corner has worked wonders for him, he’s a lock as a starter at corner.
Opposite him is Chido Awuzie. The former second-round pick firmly established himself last season as the other starter at corner. Increasing his tackle numbers from 25 to 71, and his passes defended from 7 to 11 from his rookie year in 2017.
At nickel corner, Anthony Brown currently holds the top spot, but that’s not set in stone just yet. Rookie Michael Jackson is already impressing during the offseason program. Plus, you can’t forget Jourdan Lewis, who will be essentially fighting for his spot on the team.
C.J. Goodwin, Donovan Olumba, and Chris Westry make up the remaining bodies at the corner position looking to earn their way on the field.
Xavier Woods has the free safety spot in a choke hold. His high motor and ability to separate receivers from the ball are making a lot of teams look foolish passing on him for the first five rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Jeff Heath currently is the starter at strong safety, much to the dismay of most of the fan base, but that’s not a given. George Iloka was brought in during free agency to push for a starting role. Also, rookie Donovan Wilson and Kavon Frazier will be in the mix, a very interesting battle going into training camp.
Darian Thompson, Jameill Showers, Kyle Quiero, and Treston DeCoud round out the depth chart at safety.
Experience, depth, and youth are all on the defensive side of the ball in Dallas. There are established All-Pro level talents on multiple levels of this defense. They were a top 7 unit last season, and that’s before certain pieces were added in the draft and free agency. All the ingredients are there, now all Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard have to do is whip up this top 5 defensive gumbo and lead the Cowboys back to the playoffs in 2019.