It's on the record. The Dallas Cowboys defense from the 2013 season was one of the worst defenses seen anywhere. I don't think anyone will deny that. The question is - was that a one-time fluke, or is this particular defense fundamentally broken?
Logically it makes sense that this year the defense could be even worse. The 2014 unit will be playing without three of its best players from the 2013 season. Peter King illustrates this school of thought.
I think it’s easy to say Sean Lee is injury-prone and leave his latest bit of terrible news—he suffered a torn ACL last week when he was jarred by rookie offensive lineman Zack Martin at a non-padded Dallas workout—at that. But with DeMarcus Ware and Lee gone for 2014 (Ware was cut in a cap move), and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher not re-signed, I cannot see any way new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can make a strong defense out of what he has left in Dallas. Talk about pressure on Tony Romo. He certainly was looking forward to not having to outscore every team he played this fall. Now, the Cowboys’ only real chance for the playoffs seems to rest on just how high-scoring the offense can be. The defense will be one of the worst in the league.
That is a rational position. There's no way we, as Cowboys fans, can say that is ridiculous. But, we can say, we don't think that will be the case. Here's a few reasons why.
1. Without tempting the gods too much, I'll go on record as saying the Cowboys can't suffer the number of injuries along the defensive line that they did in 2013. The rotating door along the defensive line meant players were learning the scheme on a Thursday and playing on a Sunday. They also had no depth, so when the best that we did have (Ware, Hatcher, Selvie) got tired, there was nothing behind them. The Cowboys defensive line may not be as talented as it was, but it should be healthier and more prepared.
2. Anybody who thinks that DeMarcus Ware in 2013 was anywhere close to previous editions of DeMarcus Ware wasn't really watching the games. As great as Ware was, and maybe will be once again, in 2013 he just wasn't that good, injuries robbed him of almost all his skills for that one season. So saying losing Ware for 2014 will make us worse than we were in 2013 just doesn't make sense, because Ware was part of the problem in 2013. That's not to say he won't rebound in Denver, but for one year (2013), Ware struggled.
3. A healthy Henry Melton is an even trade-off for Jason Hatcher.
4. Sean Lee may be gone, but at least he's gone way before the season has even begun. Over the last few years, the Cowboys have had to sub in middle linebackers mid-season when Lee goes down. This year at least someone will be fully-prepared and will go into the season knowing he's going to play. Of course he won't be as talented as Lee, but at least he'll be prepared this year. And it's unlikely we'll run through 3-4 linebackers in the middle due to injury. It just can't happen again! (Gods be not tempted).
5. Monte Kiffin has a long history of great defenses, but it just may have been the game has passed him by. Rod Marinelli had great defenses in Chicago as recently as a few years ago. The move to Marinelli will strengthen the defense.
6. Two wild cards who could stabilize things. If Bruce Carter has the light bulb go on and lets his athleticism take over because the scheme has become second-nature, that could change everything. His position is one of the most important in this scheme, and if he unleashes his talent, game-changer. If J.J. Wilcox comes through and fulfills the praise the coaches have heaped on him, that will stabilize the back end of the defense.
I'm not saying these things are all definitely going to happen, but some, if not most, are conceivable, even likely in some cases, to happen. The Cowboys talent level overall may not be as good as it was, but if they can stay relatively healthy, and understand the scheme better in their second year, then it's not out of the realm of possibility that they become a decent defense.