Look for a Significant Defensive Improvement in 2012

Right up front, I have to tell you that I was for going all in on offense. It wasn't that a didn't think the defense could be improved. It's just that there were so many problems on the defense, I thought we're be better off placing our immediate bets on the offense. My rationale?

1. Romo was an elite QB the last 3/4 of the season;

2. Romo will not play at his current level forever;

3. The Cowboys could move from pretty good to elite in one season on offense.

My thought had been to go after Carl Nick in free agency and David DeCastro as a first rounder. Then, re-sign Laurent Robinson and pick up a tight end in the second.

Hard to imagine the offense not being as good as that of Green Bay and New Orleans.

But it didn't happen that way. Instead, Garrett and company went defense. So let's look at the likely changes and their potential impact, after the good old jump.

I actually see significant improvements in several areas.

Here's last year's starters and key reserves on defense, along with an admittedly subjective assessment of strengths and weaknesses by position, on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being as good as it gets:

Position Starter Last Year Reserves Last Year Individual
L DE Kenyon Coleman Sean Lissemore 5.0
NT Jay Ratliff Josh Brent 7.0
R DE Jayson Hatcher Marcus Spears 5.0
L OLB Anthony Spencer Victor Butler 7.0
L ILB Brady James Bruce Carter 3.0
R ILB Sean Lee Keith Brookings 7.0
R OLB Demarcus Ware Alex Albright 9.5
L CB Terrence Newman Orlando Scandrick 3.0
SS Abram Elam Barry Chuch 4.0
FS Gerland Sensabaugh Danny McCray 6.0
R CB Michael Jenkins Alan Ball 4.5
Totals 61.0

So now let's look at the same rating system for this year, with projected ratings in each area:

Position Starter This Year Reserves This Year Position Rate
L DE Sean Lissemore Tyrone Crawford 6.50
NT Jay Ratliff Josh Brent 7.50
R DE Jayson Hatcher Marcus Spears 5.00
L OLB Anthony Spencer Kyle Wilber, Alex Albright 7.50
L ILB Bruce Carter Dan Connor 7.00
R ILB Sean Lee Dan Connor, Orie Lemon 9.00
R OLB Demarcus Ware Victor Butler 9.50
L CB Brandon Carr Orlando Scandrick 9.00
SS Brodney Pool Barry Chuch 5.00
FS Gerland Sensabaugh Danny McCray, Matt Johnson 6.50
R CB Morris Claiborne Michael Jenkins 8.00
Totals 80.50

I'll walk through the rational of these two comparisons momentarily. But first, let's look at the defense in more of an aggregate view, again using the same subjective 1-10 scale:

Area 2011 2012
Pass Rush 6.5 7.5
Secondary Defense 3.5 8.0
Run Defense 6.0 7.5
16.0 23.0

Seen in aggregate, where the pass rush can help the secondary and vice versa, I see improvements all around.

Interior linebackers. Keith Brooking and Brady James were good, back in the day. But time had caught up with both of them, especially if either of them needed to drop into coverage.

That problem was further exploited because we had Elam as one of our safeties, a banged up Jenkins as one corner and an old Terrence Newman at the other. These guys made running easier because you they had to play back and Newman in particular was no longer an effective tackler.

Now, Bruce Carter will have had a partial season last season and a full off-season this year. Plus, the Cowboys wisely brought in Dan Connor. These guys are much better than what we had last year. Plus, Lee is a year older and will get even better.

Outside Linebackers. The OLBs were already the strength of the defense. And you can't rule out a guy like Kyle Wilbur from making a contrition in this area. The big thing here is that with an improved secondary and the potential for more exotic blitzes, I'm guessing that our outside linebackers will have more sacks. pressures, and forced-fumbles than last year.

Defensive Line. I see modest improvement along the line. Lissemore should crack the starting lineup and be an upgrade. Tyrone Crawford should see time in nickle packages from the outset and may very well replace someone like Hatcher as the year wears on. With more depth, hopefully Hatcher won't wear down as much. Again, you can't discount the benefit of better players in the secondary and the interior linebackers for improvement in the line.

Cornerbacks. Maybe not in game one, but very quickly, this has the potential to be the strength of the team. Jenkins was a Pro Bowler a couple years ago and played hurt last year. Now, he's your third or fourth CB and he's in a contract year so don't discount him having a big year and forcing his way on the field, one way or the other. Of course, Carr and Claiborne are such an improvement over Alan Ball and an old TNewman, it's not worth writing about.

Safeties. I see a modest improvement here, with either Pool, Church, Johnson or McCray becoming a new starter. Something tells me Johnson might be the surprise of the draft, especially as the year wears on.

For many quarterbacks, especially as the season wore on, Ryan's exotic blitz packages got tucked between the legs of the secondary. I don't think that will be true this year. Others have written about safety blitzes and blitzes from slot cornerbacks being dialed up. I wouldn't be surprised the see the corners blitz from time to time. All that blitzing is going lead to interceptions and sacks and a lot of third and longs.

The run defense will be better, too, because the secondary won't have to play so far off the line. All together, much to my surprise, the Dallas Cowboys could very well become a top 5 defense. I don't think they will be the best in the NFL, but it's not hard seeing this group win games for the offense.

Now if one of those receivers emerges, Dez steps up, Miles stays healthy, and the offensive line give Romo time and finds holes for Murray and Jones . . .

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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