If the Dallas Cowboys can improve in this one specific area on defense, they have a shot at making some serious noise in 2016.
The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2016 season with questions abound on the defense. Will the defense be able to handle the loss of their suspended starters? Will the long-disappointing secondary improve with the return of Orlando Scandrick? Can Sean Lee lead the linebackers by himself? Where in the “H-E-double hockey sticks” will the pass-rush come from? And oh yeah, how about a turnover every so often?
The worst part is – all of these questions went largely undressed in the offseason and are now without any definitive answers. The Dallas Cowboys did little in the offseason to mechanically fix their plentiful and well-known issues. They’re apparently praying for an organic fix – development from within – to remedy the defensive situation.
While it’s a longshot for any of these to suddenly improve in 2016, one area of concern isn’t such a longshot to improve if the coaching plays it right. And that area may be the most important area of them all…
Stopping teams on third downs is one of the highest priorities of every defense. It stops drives, prevents scoring, and best of all, it pushes opponents to resort to desperate measures. Last season the Dallas Cowboys appear to have done respectable in this area, only allowing 39.19 percent in third down conversions.
Their percentage ranked them #18 in the league, and while that places them in the bottom half, it’s better than what many probably expected. But it’s absolutely paramount the Dallas Cowboys don’t take this for granted.
Only one season before, the Dallas Cowboys’ defense ranked #29 in the NFL in 3rd down conversion percentage. While there is rampant speculation as to the cause of the improvement in 2015, most agree the Cowboys offense had much to do with it.
Last season, the Dallas Cowboys offense was so impotent, opponents played more conservatively. Knowing it wouldn’t take much to outscore the Cowboys offense had as much to do with the statistical defensive improvement than anything.
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Some fans completely despise this idea, choosing instead to believe the Cowboys just improved. There’s evidence to support that as well. In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys defense allowed 6.1 yards per play. In 2014 they improved to 5.8 yards per play. And in 2015 they improved again to 5.6 yards per play. That’s steady improvement under the guidance of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
At the end of the day both camps are partially right. You cannot ignore the power of consistency and development, just like you cannot discount the very polarized situations the offense placed the defense in over the years.
Regardless, third downs need to remain a priority for this defense in 2016. Rod Marinelli needs to disguise his coverage better on third downs. They worked on it in training camp but showed very little in games. Blitzing needs to be strategically used as well. Sometimes that means pretending to do it and sometimes it means to pretend NOT to do it.
It all comes down to disguising intentions on 3rd downs. In previous seasons the Cowboys have been fairly transparent on defense. Given the current talent level (and suspensions) that may not cut it this year. Not with a team that’s missing their starting QB and has postseason aspirations.
The number #1 thing the Dallas Cowboys can reasonably improve defensively in 2016 is their 3rd down defense. It’s that one thing that can make all the difference in a tightly matched NFC East race.