On paper, the Dallas Cowboys defense did NOT improve

Byron Jones #31 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Byron Jones #31 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Seeing an improvement from the Dallas Cowboys defense this season seems like a forgone conclusion, but on paper, it’s not so clear.

The 2019 Dallas Cowboys arguably had the NFL’s best offense. They lead the league in yards (the traditional method of ranking offenses) and finished second in DVOA (Football Outsiders highly respected metric).  This offseason they seemed to amp up that strength by adding CeeDee Lamb, promoting Blake Jarwin, and adding a competent coach.

Defense didn’t see quite the same investment. Despite ranking 19th in DVOA last season, the Dallas Cowboys did little to address their weakness this offseason. Dallas lost their undisputed top cornerback Byron Jones and their leading sack-getter Robert Quinn to free agency.

Replacing those two standouts is a collection of has-beens, journeymen, and reclamation projects. Sure, Dallas upgraded at safety when they replaced Jeff Heath with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but that hardly makes up for the other two loses and even at safety, expectations should be tempered (Ha Ha is a very frustrating player to watch).

What we’re banking on is improvement from current players and rebounds from new additions.

The biggest addition made on defense is arguably Mike Nolan as the new coordinator. Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli’s defense was crazy-predictable and often ill-suited, while Nolan and his scheme are fluid and ever-changing.

The problem is 2020 is about the worst possible year you can try to install a new defense. With limited camp and no preseason, “vanilla” is the name of the game this year and this defense is sure to make some extraordinarily stupid mistakes early in the season.

That’s why on paper, the Dallas Cowboys did not improve on defense.

What we’re banking on is improvement from current players and rebounds from new additions. We’re hoping Gerald McCoy can be the guy he was in Tampa rather than the one in Carolina. We’re hoping Aldon Smith can be the guy from five years ago and not the guy who’s been out of football through his prime years.

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We’re hoping Leighton Vander Esch can be the guy from 2018 rather than the guy with neck issues – who even when he played last season, was utterly terrible. We’re hoping a position change for Jaylon Smith and/or Chidobe Awuzie can highlight their respective strengths while covering their weaknesses. We’re hoping DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas’ best pass-rusher, can improve on his paltry numbers from last year.

The good news is none of this internal improvement is unreasonable to expect. Obviously it ain’t all going to turn out aces and the Cowboys will have struggles in some areas, but if the Cowboys can just regress to the mean on defensive turnovers, they’ll be in much better shape than they were last season.

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There’s plenty of reason for optimism but let’s pump the breaks on our sky-rocketing expectations for this defense. On paper, they really didn’t improve, it’s going to take internal improvement with carryover pieces for this defense to be legit in 2020.

  • Published on 08/11/2020 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 08/11/2020 at 07:30 AM