Dallas Cowboys Pass Defense Success is Misleading


The Dallas Cowboys have the fourth ranked passing defense but sometimes statistics can be misleading.

It was only a year ago the Dallas Cowboys had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. According to teamrankings.com, the Cowboys allowed an embarrassing 257.5 yards per game last season, ranking them 28th in the NFL.

This offseason the Dallas Cowboys dedicated themselves to improving their secondary. They added Greg Hardy to improve the pass-rush (a defensive back’s best friend) and invested a first round draft pick in cornerback/ safety extraordinaire, Byron Jones.

At face value, the investment seemed to pay off as Dallas Cowboys now have the fourth ranked pass defense only allowing 221.1 yards per game through the air. Only Denver, Chicago, and Houston boast better numbers as the Cowboys have seemingly fixed their issues in the secondary.

But looks can be deceiving and the Cowboys may not be quite as improved as the numbers here indicate.

The Dallas Cowboys, as a whole, are a very different team this year compared to last. The 2014 offense was ranked #8 raking up an average of 376 yards per game. This season the Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray deficient offense ranks 28th only gathering 285.5 yards per game. What does this have to do with the defense?

Well, pretty much everything.

The impotence of the Cowboys’ offense this season means the Cowboys aren’t getting into shootouts like they were last season. Opponents know the Cowboys aren’t likely to score much so they take a conservative approach against the Cowboys defense.

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The numbers tell the story:

Last season, opponents attempted 35.3 attempts per game against the reeling Cowboys secondary. That made the Cowboys the 10th most pass-attacked defense in the NFL. This season, the Cowboys are attacked 32.5 times per game making them the 5th least-pass-attacked secondary in the league.

The only teams that are passed against less than the Dallas Cowboys are the Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions, and Cleveland Browns. Notice anything common between those teams?

Yeah, they all stink.

All of these teams appear destined for a top-10 draft pick in May and all have experienced major struggles on offense this year. You see, inept offenses have a way of taking pressure off of the defense. Why launch a full-bore attack when a simple game-plan will do the job?

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When looking at opponent completion percentage, we can see more of the same story. The Dallas Cowboys have been allowing a 64.30 completion percentage to opposing QBs this season. While that’s clearly an improvement over last year’s 66.1%, it’s not anywhere near the top half of the league. So the Cowboys may not be giving up many yards per game, but most of that appears to based on their opponents willingness to attack, and not the ability of the Cowboys to stop the attack.

With all of that said, the Dallas Cowboys secondary did clearly improve this season.

Morris Claiborne has posted his best season as a pro, and Brandon Carrhis best as a Cowboy. The rookie Byron Jones has been excellent in his many roles and Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox have essentially maintained their performance (kinda expected an improvement in Wilcox this season but you can’t win ‘em all, I suppose).

Statistically, the Dallas Cowboys have become very strong in opponent 3rd down passing percentage. Last season, they were ranked #24, allowing a passing conversation percentage of 63.03. This season, they are #2 in the NFL, only allowing 53.67%.

As Dallas Cowboys fans know all too well, converting 3rd downs through the air is extremely important – as is stopping them. This improvement speaks to the mental toughness, technique, and complementary pass-rush of the Dallas Cowboys’ defense.

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The Dallas Cowboys have a few areas in their game that are clearly trending up, and it’s hard to argue that the passing defense is one of those areas. But we need to keep everything in perspective and admit that those rankings might not be telling the whole story and this secondary is far from a finished product.