Nick Eatman of Dallas Cowboys.com wrote an article yesterday about the new Cowboys facility in Frisco. At the end of the article, almost as an afterthought, he adds that when Stephen Jones was asked if the defense can get "markedly better" in 2014, Jones cited the number of players in uniform at the end of the season who aren't on the roster this year as a reason why the defense will be better.
"They were playing games and we were counting on them to beat Philadelphia and now they’re [not] good enough to make the 90 (man roster)," Jones said. "I think that tells you a little bit where we were."
That's an interesting statement by Jones because it seems to imply that a large number of players who suited up for the Cowboys that day are no longer on the roster. And that in turn implies that the Cowboys will be a lot better on defense because the Cowboys replaced a whole bunch of players on defense who wouldn't be good enough for this year's roster.
It's a good thing the NFL publishes gamebooks for every NFL game, because this will allow us to look at exactly who played in that Week 17 game against the Eagles, and for how many snaps.
Here's a look at the starters, the backups and the non-active defensive players on the roster for that final Week 17 game. The players remaining on the 2014 roster are marked in green, players no longer on the roster are marked in yellow, Sean Lee is amrked in red because he probably won't play this season. "ST" denotes players who played on special teams but did not record a defensive snap.
|Cowboys defensive snapcounts vs. Eagles, Week 17, 2013|
|LDE 99 G.Selvie||44||S 27 J.Wilcox||31||S 23 J.Hamilton|
|DT 96 N.Hayden||45||DE 51 K.Wilber||28||LB 50 S.Lee|
|DT 97 J.Hatcher||42||DT 69 C.Irvin||25||LB 56 M.Wilson|
|RDE 94 D.Ware||49||DT 70 F.Kearse||22||CB 20 B.Webb|
|MLB 57 D.Holloman||67||DE 92 J.Wynn||22||LB 98 O.Lemon|
|WLB B.Carter||67||DE 71 E.Brown||19||LB 59 E.Sims|
|LCB B.Carr||67||LB 53 C.Lawrence||ST|
|RCB 32 O.Scandrick||66||CB 26 S.Moore||ST|
|FS 42 B.Church||61||S 40 D.McCray||ST|
|SS 38 J.Heath||42||DE 55 E.Jones||ST|
|CB 24 M.Claiborne||40|
- Of the 27 defensive players on the roster for the Eagles game, 19 remain with the Cowboys to this day.
- Nine of the 11 starters are returning this year, and while not all of those nine players will get a starting spot in 2014, all nine will be competing for one.
- Outside of Hatcher and Ware, players no longer on the roster contributed just 88 of 737 total defensive snaps, about 12%. If we include Hatcher and Ware, that number climbs to 179 snaps or 24%.
Overall, this doesn't look like there were a truckload of players on last year's roster who are not "good enough" for this year's roster. Sure, the backup D-line is probably going to be a lot better. And perhaps they'll find somebody better than Nick Hayden for the one-technique spot. But replacing Ware and Hatcher is no small task, and simply penciling in some new names at those spots won't improve your roster one bit.
At linebacker, Wilber, Holloman and Carter could very well be the starters this year, and they all played in last year's season finale. All three starting corners are returning. And at safety Wilcox looks likely to start over Heath, but if we include Jakar Hamilton in the mix, even last year's four safeties are likely going to be this year's four safeties.
Sure, the backups for the front seven are likely going to be better than last year's backups. But while there are many reasons to believe that the Cowboys defense will be better in 2014, new personnel is probably not one of them. If the Cowboys want an improved defensive performance, they are going to have to get it from their returning players, not from the new guys.