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Jaylon Smith Holds Defense Accountable for Cowboys Early Season Struggles

The Dallas Cowboys were a disaster on the defensive side of the ball in 2020. They finished 28th in points, 31st against the run, and 23rd overall. Injuries to key contributors like Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, and rookie Trevon Diggs were crippling and combined with the difficulty of implementing former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s hybrid scheme, the Cowboys defense never found a consistent rhythm.

One of the biggest names on the Cowboys defense, Jaylon Smith, made an appearance on FS1’s Speak For Yourself on Tuesday. The former second-round pick blamed the Cowboy’s 1-3 start while Dak Prescott was healthy on himself and the entire defensive unit.

“Heavily part of it is definitely the defense,” Smith said. “We weren’t clicking. From an execution standpoint. We weren’t playing together as a team.”

“You’ve got a bunch of dominant, elite players individually. Got to be able to come together as a team and understand the scheme. Understand where we supposed to be. And then go out and execute. So definitely early in the season you see that.”

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Cowboys linebacker @TheJaylonSmith answers what led to Cowboys 1-3 start when Dak was healthy. pic.twitter.com/2Gs9soOkB0

The Cowboys defense gave up 146 points (36.5 per game) and 430 yards per game in the first four weeks and only forced two turnovers. The team as a whole continued to struggle all year, however, in the last month of the season, the defense started to click and showed some promise.

“And then if you look at games later in the season. Gelling together, excitement for each other, causing turnovers, celebrating, having fun,” Smith said. “That’s really what led to the change of what you’ve seen later in the season from our defense that can obviously help an elite offense.”

Although they were still giving up nearly 400 yards, the defense forced 12 turnovers and only allowed 20 points per game, and the team finished 3-1 in the final month.

Even though it was a season to forget defensively, there were some bright spots. DeMarcus Lawrence was one of the highest-rated edge rushers all season according to Pro Football Focus. Rookie defensive tackle Neville Gallimore had some growing pains but showed several flashes that he can be an anchor on the interior. Randy Gregory, after missing all of 2019, registered 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 10 games.

Two young studs in the secondary also made a name for themselves. Cornerback Trevon Diggs missed four games with a broken foot, but still managed to become the first rookie defender in team history to lead the team in pass breakups (14) and interceptions (3) outright. Second-year safety Donovan Wilson played in 14 games (10 starts) and recorded 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions.

The Cowboys hired Dan Quinn as its new defensive coordinator last month, and he brings with him a pedigree of producing top-notch defenses from his days with the Seattle Seahawks. With an infusion of talent in free agency and the NFL draft, mixed with the promising pieces already on the roster, the Cowboys defense should be significantly better in 2021 under Quinn.

What do you think?

Matthew Lenix

Written by Matthew Lenix

I write dope stuff about the Dallas Cowboys and what not.

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  1. Yeah i saw this live on TV , AND I HAD NO CLUE THAT J SMITH WAS 3RD IN THE LEAGUE IN TACKLES , must’ve been tackling guys when they 7 yards down the field cuz HE SURE AS HELL WASN’T TACKLING THEM BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE

  2. Jaylon Smith played completely undisciplined football. Tombs of obvious unsportsmanlike penalties, bad angles, missed tackles, and no game awareness. He cannot change direction which makes him useless as a linebacker. Worse still, the stupid coaches put him at middle linebacker. When there was only one LB on the field, it was Jaylon. Jerry Jones is making those decisions and that killed our playoff chances last year. Jaylon is a leader, in salary, that led the defense in the worst possible direction. He has to go and go now.

  3. Timefor6- u nailed it on the assessment of Smith. Many have made excuses it was the scheme and lack of off season. I look at that the same way I look at Zeke. Ur eye ball test tells u when a player just doesn’t have it and those two were both horrible this season. U rely on ur so called best players (and highest pd) to make plays and be game changers and sadly the cowboys just didn’t get that this year.

  4. Smith is capable of having a rebound year. I like him less as a defensive spokesperson than as a defensive player. His media exchanges have gotten extremely stale and lack genuine leadership traits. Personally, I’ve tuned him out and wouldn’t be surprised if some teammates have as well. Not even sure why he’s a media target, to be honest. I guess because beyond Tank, there is no leader on this defense (especially if Crawford goes away), so they just hunt down the next highest contract?

    He’s a good dude and I appreciate his off-field actions, which I hold in higher regard than a person’s ability between-the-lines, so I’ll always root for him!

  5. Ghost- I agree that Smith and his poor season was affected somewhat by the overall defensive deficiencies. How much though is debatable. Crawford was a leader in previous years but not so much last year when his impact was minimal.

    I always appreciate a player that is a great teammate and a classy individual. Something people brush off with Dak by the way. Some don’t care about character at all as long as they produce on the field. I’m not one of those people.

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