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How Close is the Dallas Defense to the Super Bowl Broncos?

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Blog - How Close is the Dallas Defense to the Super Bowl Broncos?

The Denver Broncos captured the historic Super Bowl 50 title thanks to a defense that absolutely dominated the Carolina Panthers - led by MVP Von Miller who recorded 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

The Broncos forced 7 turnovers this postseason, which translates to 7 extra possessions for Peyton Manning - a QB that desperately needed these extra chances on some short fields.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys 2015 defense was completely starved of turnovers. Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel very rarely saw the luxury of a short-field off an extra possession provided by the Dallas defense.

The 12-4 Cowboys of 2014 had a field day on short fields generated by 31 takeaways. In 2015, the team saw just 11 takeaways.

However, throughout the season, the Cowboys defensive unit did show some very positive signs for the future. While the impact play makers weren't there like they were for the Broncos, the Dallas defense ranked fifth in passing yards allowed per game and 22nd against the rush.

It is important to note that, with that rushing defense, the Cowboys saw the 7th most rushing attempts against them this year due to opposing offenses playing with the lead against the Cowboys. Even still, they gave up fewer yards than three teams who saw more attempts against them - one of which being the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was pointed out throughout the season that Rod Marinelli's defensive scheme is better suited to be on the field with the Cowboys ahead in the game. Assuming we see plenty of that upon the return of Tony Romo, let's examine just how close this Dallas defense could be in 2016 to the intimidating, game-wrecking force that was the Denver Broncos in 2015.

Defensive Line

The Broncos defense starts and ends with their bookend pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. The two of them combined for 8.5 sacks this postseason.

The same can be said about the Cowboys defensive front. We spent much of the time leading up to this season hyping up a defensive line that could terrorize quarterbacks with the likes of Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, rookie Randy Gregory, free-agent acquisition Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey and Nick Hayden.

The unit was a massive disappointment overall, recording just 31 sacks - three more than the team had in 2014.

However, Randy Gregory missed four games early in the season and was never the same after returning from his ankle injury. For an edge rusher, the ability to turn on that ankle comfortably is so important. Without that, Gregory's rookie campaign was essentially derailed before it could truly get started.

DeMarcus Lawrence equally appeared to be heading towards a disappointing season, recording just three sacks through the first 12 weeks of the season before finishing the year strong with 5 sacks in his final 5 games.

While no tandem currently in the league compares to Ware and Miller, a refreshed Gregory paired with a surging Lawrence could be the makings of something special around the edges for the Cowboys defensive line.

In the middle, Tyrone Crawford will hope to see a healthy 2016 after playing through immense pain all this season, and David Irving should find a role next to him at defensive tackle as well.

Whether the team decides to resign Greg Hardy or not, the Cowboys defensive line could be a much-improved unit in 2016.

Linebackers

The Broncos defensive domination does not stop along the line. Linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan make a formidable duo, with Trevathan leading the team with 109 tackles, and Marshall not far behind with 102.

The Cowboys found their own dynamic duo at this position with Sean Lee and Rolando McClain. There is no question that this defense is a different unit with and without "The General" Lee on the field, and getting him back for 15 games was a refreshing site.

McClain benefited greatly from having Lee out there, as he put together a very solid season after serving his initial four game suspension. Anthony Hitchens took another step forward, while Damien Wilson went from a training camp star to a player that barely saw the field in 2015.

If McClain returns alongside Lee in 2016, the Cowboys have their foundation at this position. Hitchens will only see more and more playing time, while Wilson can aim to once again put together a great training camp and earn some more playing time.

There is also the strong possibility that the team will use the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft at this position, by selecting Myles Jack out of UCLA. Jack would add even more speed and athleticism to the Dallas front seven.

Secondary

The Cowboys' secondary has been a relative sore spot for a long time now. Yet, perhaps the best thing this entire team gave us in 2015 was rookie safety Byron Jones. With that said, Dallas has a long way to go to make this secondary a championship caliber unit.

Morris Claiborne put together his best season as a Cowboy in 2015, but it is uncertain as to if it was good enough to earn him another contract. The free agent corner will likely test the market, and likely encounter teams desperate enough at the position to offer much more than the Cowboys are willing to.

Across from Claiborne is Brandon Carr, who essentially needs no further introduction. Anyone following the Cowboys has known about Carr's struggles since joining the team. While he put together some solid performances this season down the stretch, the Cowboys may finally be preparing to move on from Carr.

Cowboys Blog - How Close is the Dallas Defense to the Super Bowl Broncos? 1

However, Dallas does welcome back Orlando Scandrick from a torn ACL in 2016. Scandrick is the team's best cover corner, so he will certainly provide a nice boost. Assuming they find a way to bring back Claiborne, and the pass rush is as improved as it could be, the two of them could start the makings of a solid secondary.

Backing them up would be Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell, who both looked impressive near the end of this season. Byron Jones and Barry Church can lock down the safety positions, while an upgrade to the secondary could also come in the draft - as high as fourth overall.

The buzz around Jalen Ramsey out of Florida State has been enormous, and the prospect of playing him alongside Jones (or moving Jones down to corner) certainly adds an element of excitement to a Cowboys secondary that could desperately use it.

So, how close is the Cowboys defense to replicating what the Broncos just put together?

Not far off. While the answer will surprise some people, I feel that this team is one more elite pass rusher away from being very similar to Denver's unit.

The Broncos secondary is very solid, but not an all-world secondary by any stretch. They did get the luxury of playing behind a defensive front that was constantly forcing rushed throws - much like the Cowboys secondary could be doing in 2016. With the front seven leading the way, I think a resurgence from Orlando Scandrick can go a long way in turning this Dallas defense into a unit that can single handily win games.

Obviously, elite pass rushers don't grow on trees in Jerry Jones' backyard, but there are some interesting names available through free agency and the draft. If the Cowboys can find whatever it takes to add that final piece along the defensive line, we could be talking about a team that plays in Houston for Super Bowl 51 - thanks to it's defense.


Upon Further Review on WMSCRadio.com

So, what do YOU expect from the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2016? More turnovers, sacks? Let me know by leaving a comment below! Also be sure to tune into "Upon Further Review" tomorrow at 1 ET! (Click the banner above for more info).

Tell us what you think about "How Close is the Dallas Defense to the Super Bowl Broncos?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. jaime

    February 10, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Get rid of Carr, pick up a corner in the draft (not necessarily 1st round) and keep building that pass rush through FA/draft. #SB51

  2. Sean Martin

    Sean Martin

    February 10, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Where they decide to build the pass rush from will be interesting. There's a lot of options in the draft, but if they feel that they don't have many other areas to spend in they could sign a splashier free agent rusher and focus the draft on the secondary. I would probably prefer a new rookie corner to a free agent. Too many busts at that position through free agency, and we don't even have a secondary coach yet.

  3. RJ Ochoa

    RJ Ochoa

    February 10, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    I'm nervous about putting too much expectation on a rookie corner. Because it will likely be somebody taken in the 2nd round or later. Even 1st rounders have difficulty adjusting to that position from college.

    Sent from my iPhone using Pigskin Hub – Pro Football Forums mobile app

  4. Jess Haynie

    Jess Haynie

    February 11, 2016 at 6:59 am

    What the Cowboys lack on defense are a few catalytic players. They have a lot of solid guys and one great one in Sean Lee, but they need a few more who can dominate a matchup. Tyrone Crawford was a big disappointment this year and may not have that gear as we hoped. DeMarcus Lawrence was starting to put it together late last year and can perhaps get there. Byron Jones looks like he has the potential but it may be another year or two before he's figured it out.

    They've got a good foundation but a need a few truly elite guys to join Lee take it to championship level.

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Star Blog

What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?

Kevin Brady

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Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.

Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.

They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?

Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.

Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.

Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.

Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.

Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.

This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.

The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.



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Star Blog

3 Things We Learned About The Dallas Cowboys In 2018

Kevin Brady

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Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

Coming into the 2018 season, loads of questions surrounded the Dallas Cowboys and the future of their roster.

Could their defense stay intact when the annual Sean Lee injury occurred? Was Kris Richard going to lead the Cowboys young secondary to places we thought they could be? And would Dak Prescott earn a contact extension and become the official franchise quarterback of America's Team.

Of course, there are tons of other questions that may have gone unanswered, but these three critical areas seem to find clarity in 2018.

Leighton Vander Esch And Jaylon Smith Are Legit

The Dallas Cowboys caught a lot of flack for their selection both of these linebackers, each for different reasons.

When they snagged Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was still unknown to the public if Smith could ever even play football again. When they took Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall last April, fans questioned how valuable an off-ball linebacker would be on a defense that already had Sean Lee.

Well, after their first full season together, it's easy to say that both Vander Esch and Smith are the linebacker options of the future in Dallas. Named to the Pro Bowl during his rookie season, Vander Esch took the world by storm in 2018. When Lee went down, he was there to not only fill his shoes, but to outplay the veteran all year long.

What is fun to consider is that as good as Vander Esch was this season, Jaylon Smith might be even better. Both posses insane sideline to sideline pursuit ability, and are some of the surest tacklers in all of football.

Watching these two grow together will be a pleasure over the coming seasons.

Their Young Secondary Is Coming Together

Like their linebackers, the Dallas Cowboys secondary is a young group, who fans are excited to watch grow throughout the years. It seemed like more pressure sat on the shoulders of young cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie than of Smith and Vander Esch, however.

With Kris Richard joining the staff and making the decision to move Jones to cornerback full time, it was do-or-die for the former first round pick. Byron Jones answered all the doubters, earning not only a Pro Bowl selection but also First Team All Pro honors for his performance.

Opposite him, Awuzie had a rough start to his sophomore campaign. While typically right there in coverage, wide outs too often made contested catches over him. Over the final few weeks of the year, however, that changed and Awuzie played some of the best football yet.

Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis (in much fewer snaps) all had fantastic seasons as well, giving the Cowboys great hope and confidence in their secondary moving forward. They may need to add another safety during the offseason, however, though Jeff Heath remains more than just a viable option.

Dak Prescott Is Here To Stay

Whether or not you think it's justified, Dak Prescott is the quarterback of the future in Dallas. And he earned that right the back-half of 2018 and during the postseason. After a shaky start to his 3rd season, Prescott turned things around nicely, leading the Cowboys to a 7-1 finish to the regular season.

Prescott played the best football of his young career down the stretch, and showed just how valuable he is both on the field and in the locker room. It seemed like every game he made 2-3 winning plays that put the Cowboys over the top that afternoon.

Dak is going to get a contract extension, and will be locked in as a Cowboy for the foreseeable future, and with the way he played the final 10 games of his season, I can't second guess this decision much at all.



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Star Blog

Jason Garrett Can’t be Serious About Retaining Scott Linehan, Can He?

Brian Martin

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Jason Garrett Can't be Serious About Retaining Scott Linehan, Can He?

One of the few positives most of us were looking forward to after the Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams was the fact that Scott Linehan would no longer be the offensive coordinator for America's Team. Everything was pointing to his dismissal, but that may not be the case according to Head Coach Jason Garrett.

Todd Archer on Twitter

Jason Garrett said on 105.3 The Fan that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will return in 2019. "We don't anticipate any significant changes on our staff," Garrett said.

I can't say that I was happy upon learning Jason Garrett plans on retaining Scott Linehan as the Cowboys OC in 2019. In fact, my first thought was… Well, something better left unsaid. I'm sure many of you can kind of read my mind, because I'm pretty positive you had all that the same thoughts running through your head as well.

In all honesty, I didn't think there was a snowball chance in hell Scott Linehan would return to Dallas after the conclusion of the 2018 season. After all, the Cowboys nearly fired him during the bye week earlier this season, meaning his job security was already on thin ice. He didn't do anything to improve things in my opinion.

I know Jason Garrett has said Scott Linehan will return as the OC in 2019, but not for a second do I believe it. We are less than 72 hours hours removed from the Cowboys exit from the playoffs and I highly doubt any of Dallas' decision-makers has had the time to sit down and discuss who stays and who goes. In fact, I know they haven't.

Jeff Cavanaugh on Twitter

Stephen Jones says they won't comment on anything with coaching staff but that they need to take a deep look at why they fell short. Says it a little early to speculate about players or coaches. They haven't had a meeting about it yet.

I think once the Cowboys brass sits down and reevaluates the 2018 season, they will come to the conclusion they can do better than Scott Linehan as their offensive coordinator. There were just too many times throughout the season where the playcalling was a problem just. It's just time to move on, despite the vote of confidence by Jason Garrett.

Of course, this could just be me trying to read between the lines hoping and praying Scott Linehan is finally fired. Like many of you, I've grown way too tired of his predictable and dated playcalling. It's time to move on and find someone more innovative who can maximize the talent the Dallas Cowboys have on the roster, much like Kris Richard did with the defense.

You can either choose to believe Jason Garrett or not. I for one have a hard time seeing the Dallas Cowboys staying status quo with their coaching staff, especially their offensive coordinator. But, only time will tell.

Do you think it's time for the Dallas Cowboys to fire Scott Linehan?



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