Jason Garrett always talks about single-minded focus on the task at hand, well the Cowboys certainly came into this offseason with that type of focus. Dallas didn't lose that cold day in Green Bay because of that highly-controversial call. They lost because in the second half of that game, they had no answer for a hobbled Aaron Rodgers. The defense couldn't stop a guy on one leg.
Last season the Cowboys were able to mask their deficiencies with other positive aspects such as their dynamic offense and dominant running game. However, often times your Achilles heel finds a way to creep back up when it hurts the most. So naturally, the Dallas Cowboys knew exactly what they needed to fix in order to take the next step; the defense. For now, at least on paper, the Cowboys should be better on defense. With that said, let's look at the guys that will benefit most from this defensive overhaul.
Tyrone Crawford, DT
He basically just played Pro Bowler Henry Melton out of a job in Dallas. What Crawford brought to the table should only intensify in 2015 now that he's got some guys around him. Last season, Crawford had journeymen like Jeremy Mincey and George Selvie as his primary help on the outside. Nothing against Jeremy Mincey, who was the best lineman they had last year. Now, Crawford will have DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy by his side. If Crawford is going to develop into the quick-twitch pass rushing three-tech tackle, he's going to have to get home more often. It's hard to do so without those threats on the outside. Crawford's numbers should increase significantly this coming year. Tyrone had only four sacks last season but graded out with a staggering +20.4 according to PFF. He finished 13th in the defensive tackle rating but 8th in pressure. Though he sort of broke out last year, expect an even bigger jump this season.
Tony Romo, QB
Of course anytime you have a better defense the quarterback will get some relief coming his way. Look at what good defenses have done for quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson and even Tom Brady when he was younger. A good defense allows you to get away with a little more. It's been a while since Romo could feel that his defense will get him the ball back. This year should be different though for the 35-year-old quarterback. Last year it was Tony who was taking the pressure off the defense with the long-winded drives. Hopefully this defensive unit is finally in position to return the favor. The Cowboys offense knows how to put up points having scored 30+ in ten games last season, however it will be nice for them to hang on to more leads. A better defense should certainly spell an even better Romo in 2015.
Jeremy Mincey, DE/DT
Mincey has been his best as a role player. He led the Cowboys in sacks last season with seven and cracked the top 10 of PFF pass rushing 4-3 ends. However, Mincey spoke about moving inside as a defensive tackle and loving that position:
"Oh, yeah. That’s one of my strong suits anyway," Mincey said. "I love taking on guards one-on-one. I mean, it’s less running than being at end anyway."
Mincey should benefit more from a numbers game on the outside and will have the opportunity to be part of a solid rotation. At 280 lbs, Mincey should be able to fit nicely on the inside and be effective when the Cowboys deploy their NASCAR package. That package is of course the same as the New York Giants used in their Super Bowl days a few years back. It allows for all the skilled rushers to hit the field at once and speed rush the quarterback.
Byron Jones, CB
I can't remember a time where a first-round selection had this low of pressure around him. However, because the Cowboys have such high-profile guys such as Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory and La'El Collins around, Jones has sort of flown under the radar. Although just about everything you hear about Jones in practice is exciting to the ears. The Cowboys upgraded their pass rush which in-turn will help out the secondary. Yet, the reason Jones makes the list is because he's got Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, and Barry Church around him. It's not like the secondary was atrocious last season. They often struggled because they were asked to cover way too long. The entire secondary should improve this season and Jones will be a big help, while also not being forced to start immediately. Not saying that he shouldn't start because being out there with Carr and Scandrick could be pretty enticing. While the majority are focused on the defensive line, Jones will quietly be allowed to emerge when nobody's necessarily looking.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
When Dallas traded up in the second round for Lawrence, the pressure was immediately on him. Which is something he probably was used to as a pass rusher. Yet, after breaking his foot in training camp the realization that Lawrence would not be available for eight games sent the pass rushing hopes down the drain. Then Lawrence returned late in the season and experienced a surge in the playoffs. The hopes were once agin placed upon his shoulders. The Cowboys decided though that it may be unfair to put all this hope into just one man. After signing Hardy and drafting Gregory, Lawrence must have breathed a sigh of relief. Lawrence has been working out all offseason and it shows in his frame as he looks absolutely beastly. Lawrence should benefit tremendously from this newly-transformed defense. Hopefully his numbers will skyrocket in his sophomore campaign.
Sean Lee, WLB
Lee has seen one unfortunate injury after another but the hope is that with his ACL finally being repaired, that the best is yet to come for him. He will get the benefit of playing the weakside linebacker instead of having to take all the punishment the middle linebacker does. With Rolando McClain entrenched as the MIKE and and the benefit of more depth in the position, Lee will get to play his more natural position. Sean Lee's instincts are unlike any linebacker on the roster and few in the league. The WILL position is very important in the 4-3 as it requires a great tackler and quick diagnosis of the offense. He has been the leader of the defense ever since coming to the Cowboys in 2010. Lee also has a knack for interceptions and as the WILL, he should get plenty of opportunities. The hope is that by upgrading the defense as a whole, it will only help Lee stay on the field and produce. Lee is one of the best in the league...when he's healthy.
The Cowboys added plenty of playmakers and depth to a defense that really needed a face-lift after only producing 28 sacks in 2014. Now they look to unleash a newer, formidable defense onto the league that can withstand the rigorous NFL schedule and turn a few bunts into some home-runs. Led by guys with nicknames like "Tank", "The Kraken" and even "Golden Cock", hopefully Marinelli's Madness will be a force to reckon with.