Previewing A Much Improved Dallas Cowboys Defense


In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys faced lots of criticism for having one of the worst defenses the league has ever seen. It was rated last in the NFL as they gave up 6645 yards that season including 415.3 yards a game and 27.0 points a game. It was no secret that experts around the league downplayed them going into the 2014 season. However, they finished with a 12-4 record and ended up winning the NFC East. Along the way, they suffered through many injuries including a torn ACL from Sean Lee which had the most impact.

So how did they end up with only 4 losses in the regular season? Despite having the 19th ranked defense in the NFL, they came together and played like they were in the top 10. They allowed more than 28 points only twice in the season and held their Playoff opponents (Lions, Packers) to 20 and 26. Thats not something that a historically bad defensive team is supposed to do. Now don’t get me wrong, their defense was not good, it was only average and the offense covered up many flaws.

With that being said, they may not need any cover-ups in the upcoming season because their defense is starting to come together due to free agent signings and draft choices. Let’s take a look at what their projected starting defensive line-up should look like as long as there are no injuries.

Defensive Line

  • Greg Hardy – The first, and arguably most important, piece of the defensive line is Greg Hardy. Hardy was signed this offseason as a guy that they knew might not get to play much due to his troubles off the field. That became a reality a few months ago when news broke that the NFL had suspended Hardy for the first 10 games of the season for a domestic violence incident. He has already said he will appeal the suspension and that process should start soon, however if it is not reduced, his first game would be on Thanksgiving day against his former team. If Hardy can come back and have an impact on the game like he did back in 2013, the Cowboys might have gotten a steal in free agency this summer.
  • Nick Hayden – As one of the fixtures on the defensive line last season, Nick Hayden will most likely get to start there this year. He had a solid year in 2014 and his veteran experience can go a long way with the young players on the team.
  • Tyrone Crawford – After a breakout season, Tyrone Crawford will be looking for more improvement. He played a key part in the Cowboys defense late in the season when injuries had taken a toll on the team. At the young age of 25, he has the size and physical power to make a big impact in the upcoming season.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence – This is the guy that everyone wants to see have a healthy season. He came in as a rookie last season and fractured his foot in training camp which kept him out until week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals. His brightest moment of the season was in the Cowboys first Playoff game against the Lions. He stripped Matthew Stafford late in the game which helped the Cowboys seal the victory. He is a young man that is overflowing with confidence and he can be a big time defensive contributor for the Cowboys in the future.
  • Other notable defensive line members – Jeremy Mincey was another bright spot and will obviously play a big role this season too. One other intriguing player is rookie Randy Gregory who is a defensive end and has plenty of upside to his game.

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  • Sean Lee – He is obviously the best defensive player on the Cowboys roster when he is healthy and some argue he is the best middle linebacker in the entire NFL. After missing the 2014 season due to a torn ACL, the Cowboys will look to keep him as healthy as possible so he can utilize his incredible playmaking skills. When Lee is plugging holes on the field, it’s hard for any team to get going.
  • Anthony Hitchens – He played in his first NFL season last year and is known for the controversial no-call against the Lions in the Playoffs last season, but he is way beyond that. Hitchens was an immediate impact player and he should have a pretty good year learning from the veteran linebackers already on the team.
  • Rolando McClain – What a story for Rolando McClain! After leaving the NFL multiple times, the Cowboys took a chance and brought McClain in. He was easily the best linebacker for Dallas all season long in 2014 and if not for late season injuries, we could’ve seen him make a real impact in the Playoffs. His biggest moment came when he sealed a win against the Seattle Seahawks with a late interception. The Cowboys were able to sign him back this summer and he should complete the incredible linebacker trio that the Cowboys now have.
  • Other notable linebackers – Kyle Wilber is a nice piece to have around in case injury strikes again along with other notable free agent signings like Jasper Brinkley and Keith Rivers.


  • Orlando Scandrick – Being a corner for the Dallas Cowboys has been hard but as a corner/safety hybrid, Orlando Scandrick thrives. It took them a little while to get him back with the team during the offseason but all is well now and he is the Cowboys number one option when it comes to defending big time wide receivers. He’s played with the Cowboys since he was drafted in 2008 and he is definitely a favorite for most fans out there. It’s always fun to watch him go head to head with some of the best offensive players in the game.
  • Brandon Carr – This is where things get tricky for the Cowboys. He played pretty bad in 2014 despite a few good games but has been unwilling to take a pay cut so far in the offseason and that has really hurt the Cowboys in the financial aspect of things. A lot of fans may not like him starting but the fact is that he is the next best corner behind Scandrick and he can make big plays when he needs to.
  • Other notable corners – The Cowboys picked up former Saint Corey White during the offseason and they still have guys like Morris Claiborne and Tyler Patmon. The real excitement is coming in the form of athletic-freak Byron Jones who the Cowboys picked with the 27th pick in the 2015 Draft. He will be eased into the system this season and I expect him to have a very successful future in Dallas.

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  • Barry Church – He’s one of the best secondary players the Cowboys have and he can deliver some pretty explosive hits at times. He had 2 interceptions last season and played most of the season with Orlando Scandrick and J.J. Wilcox. He did a really nice job holding down the fort when the offense unleashed long passes. As an important piece that the Cowboys need for success, he will continue to make big plays again this year.
  • J.J. Wilcox – Last year was just his second season and he did well playing with a limited amount of secondary players. Wilcox played every game last year and made a few key interceptions late which ultimately helped the Cowboys win games. He should be ready for a bigger role now.
  • Other notable safeties – The Cowboys recently signed former-Cowboy Danny McCray back and while most of his work will come on special teams, he can be a valuable player for the defense. Jeff Heath, another special teams player can also play safety at times.

Putting It All Together

I expect this list to change throughout the season due to injuries and suspensions (Hardy) but this is the best starting line-up you can go with on the defensive end of the ball. By looking at this roster, plus all the back-ups and players that will substitute in and out during drives, you can tell that this defense has gotten better and deeper. This feels like the first year in a while that the Cowboys might actually have a pretty good defense to match an elite offense. They’re going to be a lot of fun to watch come September!

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