The verdict seems to be in. The Dallas Cowboys defense will be at least as bad as it was last season, and probably worse.
Cowboys have worst defensive depth chart (1st 4 games) I've seen since I entered NFL in 2001. I'm serious.— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) August 13, 2014
I think we have to consider possibility that Cowboys will have worst defense in NFL history— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) August 13, 2014
@robphillips3 @JJT_ESPNDallas i will answer that...nope not since 1997— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) August 14, 2014
@robphillips3 @JJT_ESPNDallas i been on beat since 1997..never seen it this bad— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) August 14, 2014
From an ESPN Insider post ranking all 32 NFL teams' defenses, based on Pro Football Focus' ratings of players:
32. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas had statistically one of the league's worst defenses in 2013. Then they lost their three best players this offseason. Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware left for greener pastures, while Sean Lee suffered another injury and was shut down practically before a pad had been strapped on. The average team has 4.5 good starters or better on the defense, but the Cowboys currently have just one.
If there is hope for this defense, it comes on the defensive line. They added Henry Melton, who was one of the best pass-rushing interior linemen in 2012 before he got hurt in 2013. Defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey will also serve as an upgrade. Anthony Spencer sets the edge well and is a quality player when healthy. There are just too many question marks here overall, though.
So there you have it. Hang it up. It doesn't matter how good the offense is. The defense is terrible, historically, miserably, unfixably bad. The latest bad news to hit the D involved the suspension of Orlando Scandrick and surgery for a shoulder injury that will put Ben Gardner on injured reserve. Plus the usual spate of nicks and dings in practice against the Oakland Raiders.
Of course, we haven't really seen the defense. Just bits and pieces. George Selvie hasn't played against anyone else. Or Henry Melton. Brandon Carr is just getting into the swing of things.
Do we really know that this is such a bad defense? Or do we just not know what we have?
I'm not going to make a case that this is going to be a good defense, especially to start the season. I am just saying that the judgments seem a bit premature. We haven't seen some of these players on the field at all. There are several rookies the team is depending on. Other players are looking to rebound.
Perhaps this will turn out to be as bad as many people think. However, you cannot make a final call on this bunch after three weeks of training camp. And you surely cannot base the evaluation of this unit on the play of 2013, given how much changeover there has been.
Another factor that is not often brought up is the fact that this defense may get better players as time goes on. Orlando Scancrick will be back in week 5. Anthony Spencer seems to be on track to return about then. Josh Brent might be available in a few weeks. DeMarcus Lawrence may get on the field by late in the season.
It does make you hope that this maligned bunch will surprise people. You know that a lot of this stuff is going to go up on bulletin boards, or in lockers, or on iPads (I'm not really sure how they do this in the digital age). There are some proud men who want to show that they can do more than people think, and there are a lot of players who are not currently at 100% who still will have a thing or two to say about this.
Even if they wind up making a very poor showing, the indications coming out of Oxnard are that this bunch will not go down without a fight. I don't know how much that will accomplish, but it does help you find some rooting interest. If you like to pull for the underdogs, then the Cowboys' defense is the biggest underdog in the league for 2014. No one expects them to be able to stop a halfway decent high school team. Drew Brees is expected to set every known single-game passing record in the league when he and the Saints play the Cowboys on September 28th - by halftime.
We'll see. It may be just as bad as so many are saying. But maybe, just maybe, it won't. The next two pre-season games will give a much clearer picture. After them, we can talk about just how bad thing are - or aren't.