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    Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

    Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL — a win away from the — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion , who of course were expected to reach yet another game, thanks to Tom Brady and .

    Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the . The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

    On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the .

    It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team's , but 's unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of 's at times through this 9-7 campaign.

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    This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB , S (now with the Jaguars), and S go in .

    Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?
    Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB , S (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

    For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire in a division featuring , Eli Manning, and as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

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    The Cowboys' bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

    With two young starters at , the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they'll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

    As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

    Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1
    Dallas Cowboys DE

    Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their was laughable until recently. Whether it's with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

    A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

    The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there's hope for the likes of , Charles Tapper, and to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

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    With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

    Tyrone Crawford wasn't the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

    Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

    He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn't have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

    This leaves the Cowboys corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

    Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on on this side of the ball.

    Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

    , an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

    Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2
    Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

    Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

    A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

    The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel's staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

    With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

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    Sean Martin
    Sean Martinhttp://wmscradio.com/show/upon-further-review/
    Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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    16 COMMENTS

    16 Comments
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    jglousa210

    Our defense sucks. What a wasted pick in jaylon smith. He may be good someday but right now he sucks. And i doubt he’ll ever be what everyone thinks he will.

    Joshua Blue Killion

    Only thing that “sucks” is your attitude.

    Timothy Zackery

    Tell him again bruh.

    Sean Martin

    I was one of Jaylon’s biggest critics earlier in this season (my most read article from the year was about protecting him from himself by placing him on IR), but I encourage you to watch his play at the end of the season. If you didn’t know there was a medical red flag before the draft, you would have never been able to tell by seeing him as he progressed.

    Timothy Zackery

    Don’t waste your time telling that man. Some of these fan just don’t understand how the game work. They only know win and loses which cool everybody would what it take be good player. Plus some just run with whatever the media tell them. Like i said on this other site that Dallas need a backup to Ezekiel Ellicott that can put fear unto team as he do that at all time we can run our at full force. I don’t think we get that from Rod Smith now yes i want on the team in he will get his playing. We can be in the position that we almost Zeke on the every play even when tired.

    Quavion Harris

    We are just missing Derwin James then all will be well.

    Sean Martin

    Good name to keep in mind for pick #19, no doubt.

    EverybodyTalks

    Hitchens needs to be resigned. He is to versatile or flexible or just darn good to be allowed to walk away. We also need to draft a good one. Trumaine Edmunds or Josey Jewell come to mind.

    Sean Martin

    Great names, think Edmunds costs you pick #19 but Jewell may hang around a bit longer. Both fantastic players that would fit this scheme exceptionally well. Agree on Hitchens too, not devastating if he leaves but even more so exciting if the Cowboys can keep him long-term.

    Thank you for reading and commenting!

    Timothy Zackery

    It will come down to money how much he want

    EverybodyTalks

    Always does. I believe you have the money by letting go of Mayowa and Hanna. Plus I can justify it. Hutchins has been a better player than those two combined.

    Keith Jones

    Yes I believe we are doing so but this upcoming draft is crucial to the attempt in doing so we still have holes to fill plus not to mention finding byron jones natural spot I believe it’s cornerback not safety and Maliek Collins progress if he can make the next step forward all the pieces are there so only two first round picks and a lot of second round picks but major talent but one thing holding us back what to do with aging players that you no more use for like Scandrick maybe even Crawford he may be expendable because of the depth at the position I say that because of the need to resign certain players Lawrence, Irving, Martin & Hitchens the latter I would let walk ( Hitchens)

    Timothy Zackery

    This what i know if we release these players we can save 8.7 millons

    James Hannah 2.750 million

    Tyrone Crawford 1.800 million

    Orlando Scandrick 1.400 million

    Benson Mayowa 2.750 million

    These are free Agents that i don’t think coming back
    Brice Butler
    Bene Benewikere
    Byron Bell
    Alfred Morris
    Kellen Moore Retired maybe assistance coach who knows
    Kyle Wilber not sure about him probably gone

    These guys could be coming back

    Demarcus Lawrence
    David Irving put at least a 2nd round tinder on him
    Anthony Hitchens depend on how much money he want if he be back or not
    Jonathan Cooper probably coming back unless they someone better in free agency
    Keith Smith mostly coming back
    L.P Ladouceur coming back
    Joey Looney coming back
    Brian Price ccoming back

    Timothy Zackery

    I think we are well on our way to that been a true statement. We got to draft a lb in the first or second round thst good enough to come in in play very well if something happen to Sean Lee. I hope Sean Lee go a full year next without injuries but you sure can’t count on it. The guy they pick need to know how to read play like like Sean does. So this another pick that got to be one of the early picks. Linebacker and Receiver and then Defensive Tackle or Free Safety in the third round. Which ever one that we don’t get need to be pick up in the fourth round plus we got at two compensatory pick in the fourth i would add a back like Sony Michel to this team to go with Ezekiel Ellicott and Rod Smith. Theother comp pick would be on a offensive lineman. Then with the 2 fifth round comp pick plus the six round i would go with Defensive End and another Linebackers.

    xander

    I would love to get Sony Michel, but he will be gone in the second round, deservedly so… Imo.

    dallas1966

    Sean as a die hard Cowboys fan since 1966, I think the Cowboys are headed in the right direction, regarding the defense. I think the Cowboys defense needs some fresh, thinking outside of the box, with innovation scheme, to keep the opposition offense from dictating from the outset of a series.
    Hopefully, with Horton, and maybe Kris Richards, from the Seahawks coming in, will bring the added ingredients to making the Cowboys defense, a Top 5 defense, for the next 10 seasons, with the youthful talent at their disposal, to reach those goals. But Marinell must be willing to adapt. With him being an ex-marine, I don’t see him changing, just for the sake of change, in his defensive schemes, with his age, He’s too set in his ways, to be making major adjustments. It will only happen, after HIS retirement, then it will be to late, because there will be a new s coaching staff in 2019. Due to Marinelli stubbornness.