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).
Is Kavon Frazier Fighting a Losing Battle With the Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys Safety Kavon Frazier has one year remaining on his rookie contract, but may not see the end of it with the same team who drafted him. In fact, it really looks as if he is already fighting a losing battle in Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Free Agent George Iloka and drafted Donavan Wilson out of Texas A&M in the sixth-round of the 2019 NFL Draft in the hopes of upgrading the safety position. That doesn't bode well for Kavon Frazier, especially after seeing his defensive snaps take hit in 2018.
After the arrival of Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, Frazier saw his playing time on defense go from 21.24% in 2017 to 18.07% in 2018. It's not a huge difference, but it's pretty obvious the Cowboys value his special-teams ability, not his defensive play.
The way I see things, Kavon Frazier is a longshot to make the Cowboys final 53-man roster this year. At best, I have him fifth or sixth on the depth chart right now. Since Dallas typically only carries four safeties on the roster, it's looking as if Frazier could inevitably be the odd man out.
I personally have Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, and George Iloka ahead of Kavon Frazier right now on the depth chart. That means he's competing with Darian Thompson, who is also playing on a one-year deal, and rookie Donovan Wilson for that fourth and final roster spot at the safety position. Unfortunately for Frazier, it looks as if the odds are against him.
Donovan Wilson has already had to step into Frazier's shoes while he was out in OTA's after having his knee scoped, and has been pretty impressive doing so. He has supposedly picked up the defensive scheme pretty quickly and is becoming a vocal leader on the backend. Being a younger, cheaper option, Wilson has a better chance of sticking around on the final 53-man roster over Frazier.
As you can see, Kavon Frazier is fighting an uphill battle with the Dallas Cowboys. It of course is nothing new for him. He's had to fight his way onto the roster ever since he joined the Cowboys, but this year just seems a little different in my opinion. It just looks as if the odds are more against him this time around.
I have no doubts Frazier will continue to fight with every ounce of his being, but if I'm being completely honest I think he's fighting a losing battle. It's going to be really interesting to see how this roster battle at the safety position plays out in training camp and preseason.
Do you think Kavon Frazier is fighting a losing battle with the Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys: The Case For Regression In 2019
It's been a few years since things around the Dallas Cowboys felt this good prior to a season. Coming off a 10-6 year in which Dallas won both the NFC East and a home playoff game before losing a one possession road game to the future NFC champions, Cowboys Nation is expecting some big things in 2019.
After all, the Cowboys went out and improved their roster in multiple ways this offseason and brought in some new blood on their offensive coaching staff. Spirits are high among Cowboys Nation, and just about everyone is anticipating a two team race for the NFC East.
But some numbers indicate we should be thinking "not so fast."
The details of the 2018 season are not as pretty as the total picture. Rarely are they ever, of course, but these particular details point towards possible regression for the Cowboys in 2019.
Basically, their point differential a year ago spells out impending doom. (That was dramatic, but let's discuss).
The Cowboys were +15 in 2018, and by pythagorean wins expectation, they were about as strong as an 8-8 team (8.53 wins to be exact). This means they won nearly 2 more games (1.47) than would be expected, fourth most in the entire NFL.
This point is furthered when looking at their record in one possession games. Dallas went 8-2 when the game was decided by 7 points or less, winning close games at a rate that is simply not sustainable year to year.
These numbers make the Cowboys a prime candidate for regression in 2019, as they were in 2017.
Back in 2016, the Cowboys outperformed their pythagorean expectation by a whole 2 wins. The following season? Dallas finished the year 9-7. The model also indicated that the 7-9 Eagles performed 2 wins under expectations in 2016, meaning they would get back on track in 2017. As we know, they ended up winning 13 games and the Super Bowl the following season.
Of course, this isn't set-in-stone, and the Cowboys very well could outperform these expectations and avoid regression. This would mainly hinge on their coaching staff and quarterback performing at an elite level, carrying them through close games and winning more games by greater than one possession.
Newly Acquired DE Robert Quinn Brings High Expectations
Winning games in the NFL typically comes down to accomplishing two goals. One, being successful when passing on offense. And, two, stopping the opposing team's passing game.
The Cowboys set out to accomplish that second goal this offseason, re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and trading for veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn. Quinn, who tallied 6.5 sacks last season for the Miami Dolphins, is one of the leagues more feared rushers when at his best. The former All Pro has multiple 10+ sack seasons under his belt, including a whopping 19 in 2013.
And, as expected, the Cowboys coaching staff is ecstatic to have such a respected pass rushing specialist on their roster.
“He’s got that first step. He’s an established pass rusher in this league, so he’s going to bring some good stuff for us.” - Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The Cowboys acquired Robert Quinn for a 2020 6th round pick, which could end up being the steal of the offseason. Quinn has played with some top-notch pass rushers in the past, and each time they have brought out the best in his own game.
Back with the Rams in 2017, when Aaron Donald was on the same defensive line, Quinn got to the quarterback 8.5 times. And, last season, he remained consistent in his sack totals playing alongside Cameron Wake. Now he joins a DeMarcus Lawrence who has 25 sacks over the last 2 seasons.
"I think it was kind of one of those where I get to have fun, pin my ears back and just disrupt the backfield, which is what they want us to do." - Robert Quinn told NFL.com.
Quinn and the always dominant Lawrence will form an impressive defensive end duo on passing downs, with the potential to be one of the best in all of football. Dallas is also hoping to add Randy Gregory into this mix, a piece which could prove vital late in football games if he is able to return from his current indefinite suspension.
Whether or not Gregory finds his way back onto the field, though, this defensive front will be in good hands. The edge combo of Quinn and Lawrence, combined with a plethora of skilled interior rushers such as Maliek Collins, gives the Cowboys a fearsome defensive line which should keep quarterbacks uncomfortable every Sunday.
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