The Dallas Cowboys failed to fix their biggest defensive weakness

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

A controversial topic we’ve been hitting all offseason has been regarding the Dallas Cowboys biggest weakness of 2020. Coming off a highly disappointing season in which our beloved football team went 6-10, missed the playoffs, and landed a top-10 pick, it’s safe to say there are multiple candidates in this depressing debate.

But by the numbers, things are actually quite clear: One weakness stands out above all else and it appears the Dallas Cowboys didn’t appear to do much about it this offseason…

The Dallas Cowboys coverage issues are their most concerning issue heading into 2021.

The Dallas Cowboys were low-key terrible in coverage last season. They were the worst team in the NFL against WR2s and nearly in the bottom-5 for coverage against WR1s. This ugly combination was made worse by their linebacker issues and uncertainty at safety, all making a pretty compelling argument for why coverage was their weakest link in 2020.

Also making a compelling case was their inability to stop the run. Dallas began the season on a historic pace defensively – and not the good kind of historic. Dallas’ run-D was setting records for ineptitude and even after recovering mid-season, they still finished in the bottom-3 of the NFL last year in run-stop over expectation.

But the expected points given up by the run defense compared to the expected points given up by the pass defense shows there’s no comparison. Dallas pass-D gave up far more per play at a much higher success rate against than the run-D. Teams just built such a quick lead they rarely had to exploit this weakness for very long.

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If Dak Prescott had been healthy all season and the Dallas Cowboys were putting up 40-points per game, it’s pretty safe to say opponents would have been tearing the secondary up on a historic pace as well. Dallas’ coverage was just that bad and the consequences were 10x as severe. When teams needed to find success through the air – they usually always did.

The bad news is the Cowboys didn’t do much to correct said issue. Dallas’ CB1 entering the season was Chidobe Awuzie. Their CB2 was a fairly green rookie picked up in the second round, Trevon Diggs. It’s not surprising they struggled last year.

As we know, Diggs turned it on late in the season. He finished 2020 with one of the best second-half coverage grades in the NFL and saved an otherwise embarrassing unit. But in a single-point failure unit like the secondary, one man could not make up for the struggles of everyone else. And let’s be clear – everyone else struggled.

What did the Dallas Cowboys do this offseason to correct it? They thankfully replaced Chido in the starting lineup. Unfortunately they replaced him with someone who was already on the roster and someone who struggled himself last season, Anthony Brown.

And instead of brining in a veteran free agent to stabilize the position group, they drafted two Day Two kids in Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright. For anyone who thought Diggs was too green to start as a rookie, his greenness pales in comparison to Wright’s and Joseph’s.

While the hope is that both rookies develop into upgrades at the position, history is not their side early. Rookie CBs inevitably struggle and even first round picks are rarely above average players in their first year. Improvement at CB is going to have to come from the veterans this year.

The good news is Diggs looks like a pretty decent CB1 here in his second year. He’s going to give up plays but he’s also going to make some. Brown also looks a little better than last seen. He’s been healthy this preseason (something he wasn’t the past two years) and should be a slight improvement over Chido on the boundary this year (we hope, at least).

Jourdan Lewis and Maurice Canady round out the depth and while Lewis simply is what he is, Canady has the potential to be nice addition for this secondary. Canady is built like an outside CB (6-foot-1 190lbs) but able to play inside as well.

The potential is there for this CB unit to be better than last year, but that’s far from a given and they could just as easily be worse.

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The biggest thing working in the Dallas Cowboys favor is their situation at safety. Donovan Wilson looks like he’s ready to take that next step as a pro and could be a playmaker for this defense, provided he can get healthy. Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker also look like bona fide playmakers, provided they can stay healthy.

And based on practices and preseason, Dan Quinn looks willing to do more split safety looks than he has in the past. He’s also known to play more than two safeties at a time. This bodes well for a suspect cornerback unit.

So while I’m not here to sell sunshine and rainbows, I’m also not necessarily selling doom and gloom, either. The point is the Dallas Cowboys gambled with their minimal upgrades to the cornerback position. Most of their moves were focused on long-term health (the two rookies) and things can go a number of different ways in the short term.

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This obviously wasn’t the plan because we know Dallas was targeting one of those two elite CBs in the first round of the draft this year. Like us, they saw the problem. And like us, they are hoping what they did is just good enough to get the job done.

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The Dallas Cowboys need Anthony Brown to be the Brown of 2018 for this unit to be better. On paper they did very little to upgrade their biggest weakness on the team.