Dallas Cowboys secondary is a bigger issue than you think

Nfl Dallas Cowboys At Green Bay Packers
Nfl Dallas Cowboys At Green Bay Packers /

In recent games, the Dallas Cowboys defense has given up more runs than the New York Stock Exchange. 240 rushing yards yielded to Chicago and 207 to Green Bay, the 2022 Cowboys have been the antithesis of physical football.

A sudden rash of here-we-go-again-itis has now befallen Cowboys Nation, as fans harken back to the past two postseason exits and the role their porous Dallas run defense played in such losses.

The Dallas Cowboys run defense is concerning but the issues in the secondary might be even worse.

Lost in the fallout of Dallas’ embarrassing loss to Green Bay, was how much damage Aaron Rodgers was able to do with just 14 completions. While the running game made up the bulk of the play-calls and applied the majority of the bruises, it was the Packers passing game that provided the real knockout punches.

Rodgers passed for 224 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 20 throws. His 146.7 passer rating and his 11.2 yards/attempt were both season highs. Rodger boasted an EPA/play (expected points added) of 0.34, his aDoT (average distance of target) was a whopping 11.7 yards, and his completion percentage over expectation was 11.0 (1st in the NFL last week).

This is all impressive in it’s own right, but when looking at the actual impact of the Green Bay passing game, it becomes even more apparent. The Cowboys pass defense must remain the priority.

As we can see above, the Dallas Cowboys pass defense was far more damaging than their run defense. It’s a great illustration as to why teams often beg opponents to run and are willing to give up long and plodding drives on the ground rather than open themselves up to a death blow through the air. The passing game, almost universally, is still king.

While a dominant running game will play a part in opening things up for the passing game, it’s usually because defenses overreact and move players from coverage in to stop the run. For the Cowboys, this a mistake.

It felt like Green Bay had their way with Dallas on the ground. But the realty is they were only successful on 41 percent of their runs (compared to 56 percent of their passes). Some of those Green Bay run-heavy drives would have died out on their own had the Cowboys not overcommitted to stopping it.

The Dallas secondary must be protected. The run defense is a concern, we all see that, but it’s poor coverage that kills and stopping explosive plays has to be Priority No. 1

Early down runs against Dallas, specifically, were even less effective, with the Packers only running successfully 38 percent of the time. So while the running game probably added to the effectiveness of the passing game, the running game wasn’t quite as impactful as it seemed and the Packers passing game nearly tripled the amount of expected points the running game did.

Long, plodding drives on the ground have a way of puttering out, which is why explosive passing plays often dictate winners and losers. That’s exactly what happened in Green Bay.

To make matters worse, those explosive plays started to balloon when Anthony Brown, the Dallas Cowboys CB2, fell to injury. With Jourdan Lewis already on IR, the Cowboys didn’t have many viable options behind Brown. Replacing him on Sunday was second year man, Kelvin Joseph, and that…did not go well.

In the 2020 and 2021 NFL Drafts, the Dallas Cowboys used a total of three top-100 draft picks to address the cornerback position. From those picks they’ve netted one All Pro (Trevon Diggs) and two borderline “busts.”

Batting .333 in the draft may sound acceptable, generally speaking, especially when that one becomes an All Pro. But when you’re talking top-100 draft picks, three-for-three is the expectation. Teams expect to find starters, or at the very least, high-usage rotation players, with Day 1 and Day 2 picks. From a roster planning perspective, teams cannot afford to miss on these picks.

Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright have missed.

This isn’t to say both are destined to be busts eternally. In their rookie year, both had the opportunity to start and as someone who broke down their film I can say, both offered glimpses of hope.

Related Story. Kelvin Joseph's impressive first start (film breakdown). light

But since then, things have not gone well for the two sophomore CBs. Getting Anthony Brown back is important, but it isn’t going to solve everything either. Brown has been pretty terrible this season. He’s long been considered a chronically underrated player, but this season has been straight up bad for the 28-year-old veteran. His return will be better than what KJ showed us, but CB2 is still a concern and a position to be protected.

The key for the Dallas Cowboys going forward is to resist the urge to pack the box and over commit to stopping the run. The run defense is bad, there’s no question, but it isn’t causing as much damage as it feels.

Teams are going to employ the same strategy the Cowboys offense has been using against opponents this year and it’s up to Dan Quinn to resist (use play-action when the defense moves up and packs the box).

The Dallas Cowboys have to resist the urge to pack the box. Let offenses try that “death by one thousand cuts” strategy. The Cowboys run defense isn’t as damaging as it seems and the Cowboys pass defense isn’t good enough to leave exposed.

Off-tackle runs specifically have been an issue. As Sport DFW’s Dan Ruppert breaks down, this is an execution and disciple issue that can be corrected. The Cowboys have the talent to improve in this area without pulling from the secondary.

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The Dallas Cowboys secondary must be protected. The run defense is a concern, we all see that, but it’s poor coverage that kills and stopping explosive plays has to be Priority No. 1