Dallas Cowboys: 3 comprehensive steps to rebuild the defense

Gerald McCoy, DT, Free Agent Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Gerald McCoy, DT, Free Agent Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /
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Will McClay, VP Player Personnel, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: James D. Smith via USA TODAY Sports
Will McClay, VP Player Personnel, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: James D. Smith via USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys started the season with a historically bad defense, however, as the season has progressed the defense has gotten better, albeit marginally.

A couple of months ago, I penned a piece on how the Cowboys could improve their defense in the lead up to the home game against the New York Giants. To highlight just how drastic things have changed since then, these were the four points I made:

1. Play Everson Griffen at 3 Technique

2. Don’t play Dontari Poe and Trysten Hill together

3. Play Daryl Worley at Safety

4. Take out Jaylon Smith on Passing Downs

Three of the five names on this list don’t play for the Dallas Cowboys anymore and one was lost to a season-ending injury the weekend I wrote this piece. It’s funny to think about all that has occurred in 2020 because all these developments transpiring in the last two months feel relatively normal as a result.

They also feel relatively normal because, in the same span, Dallas has seemingly lost all of their team. The loss of starting QB Dak Prescott to a compound fracture in his ankle started a large downward spiral for the team as everyone caught the injury bug.

Starting OT Tyron Smith was put on injured reserve after having surgery on his neck. His backup Cam Erving hurt his leg in the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, which meant swing tackle Brandon Knight got the start at LT. However, Knight proceeded to get injured the following week.

Shortly after, Terrence Steele’s poor play at RT forced the team to move All-Pro guard Zach Martin outside and brought in Connor McGovern to fill his hole at RG. Now Zach Martin seems to have a calf injury which could potentially sideline him for the rest of the season. Oh yeah, rookie center Tyler Biadasz is now on injured reserve with a hamstring injury in case you were keeping count of all the offensive line injuries.

I haven’t even discussed the fact that Andy Dalton found himself in concussion protocol and the Reserve/Covid-19 list two weeks after he was asked to relieve Prescott which meant the Cowboys had to temporarily rely on 7th-round rookie Ben DiNucci and long-time veteran Garrett Gilbert to fill that void.

Defensively, as mentioned the team lost Trysten Hill to an ACL tear against the New York Giants. Not too long after, highly coveted rookie Trevon Diggs broke his foot and Anthony Brown returned to the field only for him to leave again with a rib injury. At least Chidobe Awuzie returned but that meant Awuzie was CB1 alongside Rashard Robinson and Jourdan Lewis.

Give me five minutes while I cry in pain…

Of course, with all the injuries and transactions the standard of play is likely to fall explaining the Cowboys’ 3-8 record, however, these moves have allowed several players to step up in their expanded roles. EDGE Randy Gregory has arrived from his suspension looking as explosive and fluid as ever while putting on more mass.

The play of SAF Donovan Wilson finally has Cowboys fans optimistic that the team has lucked into a safety with range to cover the deep 1/3 of the field while also laying the boom on ball carriers in the box. He’s seemingly become everything the team and fans hoped Xavier Woods would be in the league. (Woods’ box play has been largely adequate but at least he’s still solid in the deep areas of the field!)

The progression of these players and rookies like Neville Gallimore, Bradlee Anae, and Reggie Robinson will be integral to how the team plays in the future and also how they go about their teambuilding process for the next few years.

While Anae and Robinson haven’t garnered much playing time, they were highly touted coming out of the draft for one reason or another and seem to be using their first season as a “redshirt developmental” year. (Weird considering how much Dorance Armstrong is playing and how little he is impacting the game.)

With the team in last place in the NFC East odds are the team likely secures a top five pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you feel about the team winning, the Cowboys are in a position to win at least one game to end the season. Regardless if they win more games, the focus heading into the offseason will be the same regardless.

For that reason, I decided to put my teambuilding hat on and created a three-point plan to build the team’s defense for the future.