Former Dallas Cowboys Safety Darren Woodson was named a semifinalist for the 2021 Hall of Fame class last month. With 1,350 career tackles, an all-time franchise record, it’s obvious that he knows a lot about tackling and the effort it takes to play defense on the professional level.
The three-time Super Bowl champion and four-time All-Pro was recently on a promotional tour for Crown Royal’s “Stay Hydrated” holiday campaign. In a brutally honest critique, Woodson ripped the defensive effort of the 2020 Cowboys defense.
“The way they play, it makes the competitor in you cringe,” Woodson told CowboysSI.com. “It was my job to hit people. To punish quarterbacks. To have my teammate’s back.
“But these guys … I don’t know. They’re helping up runners. Giving love taps on helmets. After the game, sure, it’s a brotherhood. But between the lines, where’s the animosity? We just don’t see anger in this defense’s veins. We see tackling like they’re playing flag football. That’s why all season they’ve been gashed.”
Woodson was drafted in the second round of the 1992 NFL Draft. Facing Hall of Fame wide receivers like Jerry Rice, Andre Reed, and Cris Carter, his mentality is “old school” when it comes to being physical on the defensive side of the ball, and he doesn’t see that with the Cowboy’s defensive unit this season.
“Our old special-teams coach used to say ‘Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you’,” Woodson said. “At safety, you might not always win the physical battle. And make no mistake, this isn’t a physical football team. But if you’re outmanned, you have to win the mental battles. You don’t do either of those – you get run over on one play and blow an assignment the next – that’s when the bear gets you. With this team, there’s just too many mental errors, too much ‘hero ball’.”
The quickest way an offense can establish their will against any defense and control the pace of the game is to have major success running the football. As a defense, it’s the ultimate test of manhood and heart, and the Cowboys haven’t shown any of that against the run in 2020. They yield a league-worst 162.7 yards per game on the ground which is a big reason they allow a dreadful 30.8 points per game, which is also ranked dead last this season.
Those numbers for this defensive unit might not be all that surprising if you take to heart what current starting Free Safety Xavier Woods said back in October after the Cowboys gave up 307 yards rushing in a loss to the Cleveland Browns.
“On certain plays, some guys – I mean, me included – there may be a lack,” Woods said. “But overall, the effort is there. We’re in the NFL. You don’t expect guys to go full speed for 70 plays. That’s not possible.”
Yikes. Not only is that statement alarming but it’s also contradictory. If there’s a “lack” then the effort can’t be there. That’s not what you want to hear from a four-year starter, and especially at a position like safety which the Cowboys have struggled to get right since Woodson retired after the 2003 season.
The bottom line is that the Cowboys are putrid on defense, and something needs to change if this organization is going to be competitive for the foreseeable future.