The 2016 Dallas Cowboys season has been epic.
Seven straight victories, one of the top offenses in the NFL, two unprecedentedly great rookies, the best offensive line in football, and the top record in the NFC.
Nobody saw this coming. Not a single person. Sure, I thought the Cowboys could win the NFC East if Tony Romo played in at least 13 of the team’s 16 games. I thought they could eke out 10 wins this year, maybe 11 if they stole one against the Packers.
Boy, was I wrong. And I am so happy that I was so wrong.
As great as the offense has been, and as impressive as both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have been, the most important man to the Cowboys success has nothing to do with the offense. In fact, he is not even a player on the Cowboys roster.
The most important man to the Cowboys success is defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
And if you don’t believe me let’s revisit the Cowboys off-season.
Three, I repeat three of the Cowboys projected defensive starters began the season suspended. Of the three, only one of them has returned. The other two, Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory, aren’t even expected to return at all this year by many around the organization. At best, they’ll get Gregory back in late December, but they have somehow been successful without him.
Arguably the three most talented players on this defense, aren’t even on the defense this season. Linebacker Jaylon Smith has been out since day one in Dallas, and there is no anticipation of his return any time soon. Plus, as mentioned earlier, McClain and Gregory have been out as well.
And yet, the Cowboys are 7-1.
16. The number of career sacks Cowboys defensive ends had before week one.
18. The number of sacks the Cowboys have accumulated as a team in 2016.
Yeah, this is a big deal.
We all knew creating a pass rush with just four down linemen was going to be difficult for the Cowboys to do this year, but Rod Marinelli has found ways to draw up pressures for his defense to put on opposing quarterbacks.
The sacks have been timely, such as Orlando Scandrick’s huge third down sack against the Eagles. This defense makes plays when it matters most, and that is a reflection of their defensive coordinator.
Young guys have emerged as good players, such as Maliek Collins and Davis Irving, but Marinelli’s ability to develop their talent and the talent of everyone on this defense has to be credited.
Somehow, this under-talented and much maligned Cowboys defense is in the top 15 against the pass, has allowed just 17.5 points per game, and has forced 10 turnovers through 8 games. No, the numbers aren’t great, but they are much better than anyone expected. And they have been good enough to win 7 straight games.
The most impressive stat from this defense, is that which was tweeted out by Cowboys Nation yesterday.
The Cowboys are the only team in the NFL that still has not allowed an opposing 100 yard rusher or receiver.
That’s right, the only team which is yet to allow a 100 yard rusher or receiver. The season is halfway over and this is a real stat! This is incredible.
For perspective, the Cowboys allowed both their first 100 yard rusher and receiver week 3 of last year against Atlanta, when Julio Jones went for 164 yards and Devonta Freeman ran for 141. Through 8 games this year, performances like these have been completely stopped.
Of course, arguments can be made that others are more important to the Cowboys success. Dak Prescott, the rookie 4th round quarterback who has been damn near perfect, comes to mind, as well as head coach Jason Garrett.
Regardless, the impact and importance of what Marinelli is doing with this defense should be no discounted. The man has been an absolute wizard so far, and is a huge reason for the Cowboys 7-1 record.