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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
QB Dak Prescott Continues To Come Through In Clutch Situations
Dak Prescott is possibly the most criticized quarterback in all of football.
Of course, this comes with the territory of being the Cowboys starting quarterback, but each throw Prescott attempts is placed under an intense microscope, even by NFL standards. We analyze every snap of every game, looking to find where Dak was right or wrong with this reads.
There's no question, though, that Prescott has been inconsistent throughout his young career. Week to week, drive to drive, and even play to play, we seemingly have no gauge on just how Dak Prescott will perform.
One scenario where we can say with confidence he will come through, however, is when it matters most. Last Sunday, in yet another must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott orchestrated a game winning drive to lead his team over the favored Atlanta Falcons.
The Cowboys offense was pedestrian for much of the afternoon, but when Prescott got the ball in a tied game, I felt confident he would give Brett Maher a chance to win the game. Even on the road, and even after the offense had struggled a bit through the air all day.
Prescott got the ball late in the fourth quarter, looking to answer former NFL MVP Matt Ryan's game tying touchdown strike to Julio Jones. Dak went for it all on the first play, looking for Michael Gallup deep down the sideline, but the ball fell incomplete. After that throw, Prescott went 4/5 for 45 yards, including a huge completion to Cole Beasley, putting Dallas in game winning field goal range.
This confidence in Dak Prescott is justified, as is shown by his numbers in late game situations. Prescott now has 12 game winning drives, tying him for the league lead over the last three seasons. For comparison sake, Eagles starter Carson Wentz has just 3 game winning drives over that same stretch.
Overall the box score shows a rather quiet day for Prescott, but it was exactly the kind of Sunday they need from him. He completed over 60% of his passes, ran for a touchdown, and avoided the key turnover which could have sung this close game.
He played efficient football, and gave the Cowboys a chance to win it late. Then, he did what he does best, making plays in clutch situations and coming through in the 2 minute drill.
For all of Dak Prescott's flaws, those end-of-half and end-of-game situations have been a clear strength for the young quarterback, and continued to be this week.
Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración
Entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, pocas cosas son criticadas tan frecuentemente como la administración de la franquicia que no ha ganado ningún Super Bowl en más de dos décadas. Se ha convertido en un equipo que, a pesar de ser el más valioso en el mundo deportivo, no ha sido nada relevante en el emparrillado. Lo que alguna vez fue una dinastía se ha convertido en una unidad que rompe frecuentemente los corazones de los fans.
Jerry Jones y Stephen Jones, siendo los operadores del ámbito deportivo del negocio familiar, son criticados semana tras semana y en gran parte por justa razón. Pero en gran parte, por cosas no muy válidas.
Cambios de Coach
A mi parecer, lo más criticable para la administración de este equipo viene cuando hablamos de los coaches. Muchos se burlan de los Cincinnati Bengals y de la manera en la que están atascados con el Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Con Jason Garrett al volante, la situación para los Cowboys no es nada diferente.
A mediados de la temporada 2018, no parece que esta narrativa vaya a cambiar. Una vez más, los Cowboys arrancaron de una manera muy inconsistente y ya no sabemos que esperar de ellos. Gran parte de las derrotas, la mayor parte, es el coacheo.
Sin duda el equipo no será exactamente el mismo en 2019, pero ¿serán suficientes los cambios como para decidir quedarse con el mismo capitán que no ha podido mantener el barco navegando por años?
A diferencia de como se manejan muchos equipos en la liga, los Jones fungen como general managers de su propio equipo. Con la ayuda de Will McClay han logrado superar varios de los fracasos de los Jones de antaño, pero actualmente, siendo sinceros no han hecho un mal trabajo.
A pesar de las critícas de Abril, Leighton Vander Esch está probando haber valido más que la pena. Siendo objetivos, aparte de Taco Charlton en el 2017, todas las selecciones de primera ronda de los Cowboys han sido valiosas. La línea ofensiva, el corredor, un cornerback que por fin se está perfilando como uno de los mejores en la liga.
En cuanto a la segunda ronda, ha habido varias críticas, muchas con razón. Pero el mejor caza cabezas del equipo, DeMarcus Lawrence, el linebacker Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory y más están teniendo un impacto muy fuerte en el equipo.
La administración se ha visto en la necesidad de tomar decisiones bastante difíciles después de una temporada de nueve victorias en 2017. El LB Anthony Hitchens fue liberado, Dan Bailey se fue inesperadamente, se confió en Byron Jones para tomar su opción de quinto año.
Hasta ahora, pura decisión digna de aplaudirse. Pero ninguna como la más reciente de todas: Amari Cooper.
Por más caro que haya salido, los Cowboys merecen bastante crédito por haber mejorado muchísimo su posición de WR. Si el equipo llega a tener una oportunidad esta temporada, será en gran parte por él.
No cabe ninguna duda en mi cabeza de que los Jones han cometido errores a lo largo de los años, el más evidente siendo la resistencia de dejar ir a Jason Garrett. Pero a pesar de esto, la administración ha tomado excelentes decisiones y ha realizado el draft muy bien. En ese aspecto en específico, les aplaudo.
Sack Numbers Don’t Tell DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2018 Story
Coming off of a career year in 2017, many fans expected DeMarcus Lawrence to continue his ridiculous sack production this season. After all, he is once again in a "contract year" due to the franchise tag, and fans are hoping the Cowboys can secure him longterm this offseason.
Through the first four games of 2018, Lawrence looked as ridiculous and unstoppable as ever. He had 5.5 sacks, tied for the league lead, and was dictating the pass protection schemes of every offense the Cowboys were facing.
Since that hot start, though, DeMarcus Lawrence has recorded just 1 sack, falling behind some of the league leaders he was once ahead of. This has some people scratching their heads and wondering if Lawrence's career year in 2017 was just that, a career year. One which he will never replicate again, and one which the Cowboys should factor out when talking contract extensions.
Here's why those people are wrong.
Let's first talk about what makes DeMarcus Lawrence so good, and then we'll get into the full context of the Cowboys defense and how that explains some of the drop in sacks.
Lawrence, unlike some of the league's other top pass rushers, is a complete 4-3 defensive end. He is one of, if not the best run defending defensive ends in football, as shown by his 12 tackles for loss on the season (only Aaron Donald and Danielle Hunter have more).
Much of the year, the Cowboys run defense has boiled down to Lawrence making splash plays, as we saw against the Washington Redskins. Adrian Peterson was gashing the Cowboys during that game, and the only one who did anything to stop him was DeMarcus Lawrence, as indicated by his 3 tackles for loss that Sunday.
There's also the point that 6.5 sacks through half the season is, well, good. It's really good! And when you couple his sack numbers with his solid pressure and QB hit stats, you can see that Lawrence is having a very good season.
Then there is the context of this entire Cowboys defense, specifically their defensive line and pass rush. To put it bluntly, DeMarcus Lawrence has been their only consistent rusher this season. Though we came into the year with high hopes for Randy Gregory, and cautious optimism about first round pick Taco Charlton, neither have been all that impressive this season.
Somebody, anybody, has to step up and become a threat opposite of Lawrence. David Irving could help matters with his interior pass rush ability, but he has been unavailable for basically the entire season.
Without another pass rusher for offense's to even think twice about, Lawrence is getting double teamed and/or chipped by a tight end or running back on just about every rush. It's becoming rare that Lawrence is in a true one-on-one pass rush situation.
Of course, if you are elite, offenses are going to shift protections to you in this way and you still have to find ways to be productive.
And thus far in 2018, DeMarcus Lawrence is doing just that.
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