The Dallas Cowboys need to protect their offense AND improve their defense
The Dallas Cowboys need to get better on defense. That’s true. But before we get to that, let’s first admit this…
Offense is more important than defense
As most of us already know, that whole, “defense wins championships” adage, is outdated and fully debunked. Nearly a decade ago freakonomics showed us in today’s NFL, having either a stellar offense or stellar defense is the way to win the modern day game (and if you can have both that’s even better). The key word in their findings was “either”. Something needed to be dominant. It didn’t matter which.
The “Defense WinZ” crowd will point to specific examples of defense beating offense, but cherry picking anecdotal evidence ignores outside variables (see also KC’s injured O-line) and doesn’t exactly consider the big picture like the many big case studies we’ve seen from sources like Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, and Freakonomics (to just name a few).
We’ve also seen how hard it is to build a dominant defense. Defenses are single-point failure systems so one weak link can be all the difference between stellar and mere mortal.
Defenses are single-point failure systems so one weak link can be all the difference between stellar and mere mortal.
And in the age of free agency, keeping a stellar defense together is almost impossible from a financial perspective. And even if you do, we see that defenses are unstable year to year (and to a lesser degree, week to week). If you catch lightening in a bottle it can be amazing for you, but it’s hard to build, impossible to keep intact, and wildly inconsistent.
Offensive passing attacks are the most consistent and influential part of today’s game. We see the most stability in passing attacks and that’s why teams are smart to build the passing offense above all else.
If we expand the sample size to a responsible number and not just SB wins, we can see that offense overwhelmingly wins more games than defense. So the defense wins thing is just a wives tale at this point.
The Dallas Cowboys have to get better on defense
None of this is meant to say that the Dallas Cowboys defense is a lost cause and we must abandon all hope and effort. The Cowboys were utterly destroyed last season against the run and only later in the year did they seem to get a handle on it. The best offense in the NFL couldn’t have overcome what the Dallas D allowed most weeks.
But they did get better and even bounced up to 23rd in defensive DVOA by the end of the year. That’s not too bad considering how poorly they were at the start of the season. And it was only one spot below Kansas City, arguably the best team in the NFL last year (give them two healthy offensive tackles in the Super Bowl and I’ll show you a completely different game).
In 2019, when Kansas City won the Super Bowl, their defense was just the 14th ranked. That’s not far off from what the Dallas Cowboys played down the stretch last year. Kansas City has been consistently successful because they’ve invested big in drafting offensive weapons and fielding a stellar offensive team. That’s why, regardless of what happens on their defense, we expect them back in the mix again in 2021.
Picking a pass-catcher at 10 isn’t a luxury pick. One only needs to look a little down the road to see how much it makes sense for both the Dallas Cowboys offense and the defense.
Dallas needs to improve their defense, yes, but they only need to be average. And the last quarter of 2020, they were just that. Add in a familiar scheme change with competent coaching, along with an upgraded defensive line and safety corps, and you have reason to believe the Cowboys will be an average unit even without the draft taken into consideration. If they make some good picks in the second and third rounds, they could even fall on the good side of average right away in 2021.
The point is the defense isn’t as bad today as they seemed midway through 2020. Even with the CB2 yet to be determined, they look like 20-15 ranked unit. They need more investment, but they don’t require it all right now.
There’s one more thing to consider…