The Dallas Cowboys are on verge of letting cornerback Byron Jones walk in free agency all while trying to re-sign edge rusher Robert Quinn. Is that the right move?
The Dallas Cowboys are at a franchise crossroads this offseason. With nearly half their roster set to hit some form a free agency, they have a litany of decisions to make and those decisions will likely set them on an ineluctable path into the future. One of those decisions revolves around Dallas’ utter neglect of the secondary.
Instead of eagerly locking down free-agent-to-be, Byron Jones (far and away their best cornerback), the Dallas Cowboys are planning to double-down on pass-rush. In a capped league, it’s understood teams need to make concessions here and there. They can’t afford to employ market-setters at every position, after all. But in this case it seems the Cowboys are clearly neglecting coverage in favor of a pass-rush, and that could be a catastrophic mistake.
What wins in the NFL, great pressure on the QB or great coverage?
Before we talk about “undervaluing” and “overvaluing” we need to first understand the actual comparative value, right? Last offseason, Pro Football Focus did a study on pass-rush vs coverage, trying to determine which element led to wins more often.
the team with elite coverage was more likely to succeed than the team with the elite pass-rush
While they found pass-rushers to be more stable year-to-year in their performances, elite coverage grades were a better predictor of defensive success. That’s right, the team with elite coverage was more likely to succeed than the team with the elite pass-rush. So contrary to popular belief, coverage is more important than pressure.
This is true for a variety of reasons (seriously, give it a read if you haven’t already). One of which is an offense’s ability to avoid the pass rush. If the defense is dominating with pressure, the QB can just throw the ball quicker. PFF mentioned the playoffs in 2019: The Chargers and Chiefs were amongst the best in the NFL in pressure rate within 2.5 seconds. Their edges were eating the Pats O-line up, but Tom Brady just delivered the ball before they could crash on him (2.18 seconds). Both defenses over-invested in pass-rush and under-invested in coverage, and they paid for it.
All of this makes sense when you consider the best pass-rushes in the NFL only actually apply pressure roughly 35% of the time. And even when they do, the opportunity is still there for the offense to succeed (unless it results in a sack). Great coverage impacts every single play.
It’s easier for a QB to beat a blitz than to beat coverage.
And while good coverage doesn’t guarantee success, it puts the defenders in place to take advantage of those inevitable less-than-perfect passes. That’s because good coverage provides smaller windows and less margin of error. There’s a reason passing numbers against the blitz are considerably better than passing numbers with no blitz – It’s easier for a QB to beat a blitz than to beat coverage.
Pass-rush and coverage work together
Teams with elite coverage (but poor pass-rush) won more than teams with an elite pass-rush (but poor coverage). So if you’re forced to pick, coverage is more important. But that doesn’t mean investing only in coverage is the answer. Teams that are poor in either area are going to get exposed. That’s why the Dallas Cowboys need to invest in both areas because neglecting either one makes the defense vulnerable.
Dallas already invested in a top-end pass-rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence. But now they’re talking about letting their only top-end cornerback leave all while trying to re-sign ANOTHER expensive pass-rusher? It’s gross negligence.
Byron Jones may not have many interceptions on his stat sheet but he’s one of the most avoided cornerbacks in the NFL for a reason – QBs are afraid to target him. For more on this check out: Byron Jones is better than his INTs indicate and To Keep Byron Jones or not…
Interceptions are largely a product of the system. Jones was a ballhawk in college so it stands to reason in a non-Kris Richard scheme he’d rediscover his interception ways. Even if he doesn’t, he’s producing as one of the best covermen in the NFL. Dink Kearney talked about this all just yesterday:
The Dallas Cowboys appear to be content letting Byron walk in free agency all while making an effort to re-sign another edge rusher at over $10 per season. They should be spreading the wealth between coverage and pass-rush, instead they are doubling down in one area and completely neglecting the most important area.
- Published on 03/06/2020 at 12:01 PM
- Last updated at 03/06/2020 at 11:52 AM