The Dallas Cowboys have had an up and down season, to say the least. One minute they look like one of the best teams in the NFL, and the next, they look as if they just started playing football a week ago.
A lot of that can be attributed to the inconsistent play of their defense. The numbers say they have one of the best units of it’s kind in the league. They rank 14th vs the run, sixth vs the pass, and seventh overall while only allowing 18.9 points per game. The problem is, their performance from game to game hasn’t always matched these numbers.
In Week 5 when the Green Bay Packers came to town they had the difficult task of dealing with their biggest nemesis the last half-decade in Aaron Rodgers. His primary target Davante Adams was out because of a toe issue. The Cowboys were only allowing 14 points per game at the time, however, this game would see the scoreboard light up with regularity for the Packers.
Another Aaron would be the star of this game, Running Back Aaron Jones that is. He picked up nine of the Packers 24 first downs by himself on the ground and in the passing game. This helped the Packers control the clock for almost 37 minutes which kept the Cowboys playing a game of catch up.
He finished with 182 all-purpose yards and scored four rushing touchdowns, a record for a Cowboys opponent. What made this particular game a head-scratcher was the fact that the Packers were without their number one receiver and Rodgers failed to throw a single touchdown pass, and the Packers still scored 34 points. Not an ideal outing for the Cowboys defense.
In Week 6 the Cowboys visited Metlife Stadium to take on the New York Jets. At the time, they were 0-4 and arguably the worst team in the NFL. Also, Quarterback Sam Darnold was making his return after being out five weeks due to mononucleosis. All signs pointed to a dominant performance by the Cowboys defense. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.
If Darnold had any effects of his illness he didn’t show it. He surgically dissected the Cowboys defense all game long to the tune of 338 yards (career-high) and two touchdowns. The Jets jumped out to a 21-3 lead and never looked back, holding on to win 24-22.
The most mind-blowing thing in this game was the fact that Running Back Le’Veon Bell was held to only 50 yards rushing. Even with the Jets being pretty much one dimensional all game they still managed to move the ball up and down the field. Inexcusable performance by a defense as talented as the Cowboys vs one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
Last Sunday’s matchup vs the Minnesota Vikings presented a big challenge for the Cowboys defense. Not only did they have to deal with league-leading rusher Dalvin Cook but also Stefon Diggs who came into the game eighth in receiving yards.
Tight End Kyle Rudolph, who only had two touchdowns all year prior to this game, reached the end zone on back to back drives putting the Vikings up 14-0 entering the second quarter.
The star of this game, however, was the aforementioned Cook. The Cowboys had no answer for him as he gashed them continuously in the screen game as well as on the ground. Cook finished with 183 all-purpose yards (97 rushing, 86 receiving) and a touchdown on 33 touches. Yes, Cook is dynamic and the Vikings offense is formidable but the lack of discipline on assignments and poor tackling wasn’t exactly a pleasant sight to see by this defense at home.
This is not to say that the Cowboys haven’t had good performances defensively this season. In Week 4 they held the New Orleans Saints, albeit without Drew Brees, to just 12 points in a tough two-point loss. Three weeks ago, they held the Philadelphia Eagles to 283 yards of offense and forced four turnovers in a blowout 37-10 victory. Their second trip to Metlife Stadium was dominant as they registered five sacks and forced three turnovers in a 37-18 beat down of the New York Giants.
The inconsistency of this unit has been frustrating and downright confusing at times. There’s too much talent on this defense to be so up and down. If this doesn’t change, and quickly, this defense could be the reason the Cowboys find themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.