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Cowboys Defense Relying More On Linebackers To Make Tackles

One statistic shows that Dallas' defense is doing one thing better this year.

Dilip Vishwanat

There is an axiom in football that if your secondary is having to make most of your tackles, then the defense is giving up too many yards. In 2013, this was one of the many problems that plagued the Dallas Cowboys. The leading tackler for the season was safety Barry Church, and it wasn't close. He had 105 solo tackles, and 133 total. That was far more than any other player.

The logic is easy to figure out. Cornerbacks, of course, are going to normally be deeper than linebackers. The safety is normally the last line of defense, and if he is making the tackle, it often is because the ballcarrier has gotten past the linemen and linebackers.

In 2013, three of the top five tacklers for the Cowboys were from the secondary. That was far too many tackles that were taking place too far down the field, which is something that falls pretty much in line with how bad the defense performed.

It is, of course, still early, but 2014 shows some hope that the trend is changing. Here is a look at the top five tacklers from all of 2013 and the five leaders so far this season.

Player (2013) Total Tackles Solo Tackles Player (2014) Total Tackles Solo Tackles
Barry Church (S) 133 105 Bruce Carter (LB) 18 13
Sean Lee (LB) 99 68 Barry Church (S) 16 11
Bruce Carter (LB) 96 73 Anthony Hitchens (LB) 16 11
Brandon Carr (CB) 71 50 Rolando McClain (LB) 15 12
Orlando Scandrick (CB) 64 59 J.J. Wilcox (S) 13 12

The rank order of names shows that linebackers are now taking a larger role in the defense. There are some other factors that play into the numbers, however.

First, Sean Lee only played in 11 games because of injury. He was on track to be the leading tackler for the season - but you can't count play that never happened.

But by the same logic, both Hitchens and McClain would have higher numbers if they had been starting for all three games. Hitchens did not start until week three, and McClain was sitting out that week due to injury. If both had been starting all three games, their totals would have been higher.

The trend seems to be very positive. There is still a lot of season to play, of course, but it looks like the linebackers are now getting the bulk of the tackles, which is how the defense should work. That means more stops are happening closer to the line, not in the secondary. The last line of defense is not being reached as often.

This is in line with how the linebackers have been showing up more and more this season. Despite the loss of Lee, the linebacking corps is arguably the strongest unit on the team, despite the constant shuffling due to injuries to McClain and Justin Durant. With Carter starting to find his game and Htichens having a very good debut as the Mike, the unit is not only strong, but showing some depth as well. The linebackers are, to date, also providing sacks and interceptions.

Three weeks data is not conclusive. Nor are three games. But the start to this year provides hope, and the linebackers are a big part of that. It is starting to look like 2014 will be a very exciting and unpredictable ride for Cowboys fans.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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