A lot has been made about the Cowboys' moves this offseason and why they will be successful. We have all spoken in agreeance with the Ezekiel Elliott pick as being one with the most significant impact. Though it hurt to see my favorite player Jalen Ramsey go one pick after the Cowboys, it would have hurt a lot worse to see Elliott fall into the laps of the New York "Football" Giants. Elliott coming to the Cowboys does a heck of a lot more than just improve the running game.
As we saw in 2014, establishing a dominant running attack led to many good things for the Cowboys. One of the areas that really stood out was the fact that Dallas ranked second in takeaways with 31, behind only the Houston Texans at 34. That statistic drastically decreased last season and needs to come back up for the Cowboys to take the next step. Dropping from 31 takeaways to 11 in one offseason is just a little bit more than concerning. How did that even happen?
Some say that turnover ratio is all about luck, well, I remember a famous line from Billy Zane in Titanic that said: "a real man makes his own luck." When it comes to the Cowboys of 2014, they made their own luck with a rushing attack that wore people out. It allowed for the Cowboys defense to remain fresh and for the opposing offense to have to take chances to beat them. When you have a running game that is so dynamic, it forces the defense to stack the box. When they stack the box, it then allows Tony Romo to have a field day with his receivers, especially Dez Bryant. The running game wins in Dallas, everybody is better by association.
It's easy to think that the Cowboys can return to that type of production on both sides of the ball. They have many of the same players and in some ways are a lot better in other areas. There is a huge concern about what the pass rush is going to look like but if you remember 2014 was the first year without DeMarcus Ware. The pass rush has been an issue for quite a while but does that mean that nobody on this roster has what it takes to make a jump?
Tyrone Crawford is finally healthy and he'll pair up next to an athletic 1-tech in Cedric Thornton. DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory will return from their suspensions having spent the entire offseason in preparation. David Irving, Charles Tapper, Maliek Collins, Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford will all look to be factors early in the season. I would venture in saying that this defensive line has just as many question marks as the starting lineup in 2014 had.
The secondary should be better by the addition Orlando Scandrick, the team's best cornerback. He is recovering from ACL and MCL tears but is feeling better by the day. Speaking of health, the two starting corners from last season, Morris Claiborne, and Brandon Carr are ready to go. Despite some of our laments, I can think of a few less appealing cornerback tandems. Those two guys also rightfully feel like they have an ax to grind after not recording a single turnover last season.
The linebackers played well last season and the Sean Lee-Rolando McClain tandem looked pretty nice in quite a few games in 2015. It may be hard to see now but this defense may be a lot better than what it currently looks like on paper. If a Jeremey Mincey leads the team in sacks in 2014, it's not too far-fetched to think a younger defense can do a lot better than what we've grown accustomed to seeing.
Last year was just a disaster for a lack of a better word. When you lose the starting quarterback, don't have a healthy All-Pro receiver, can't find your running back until week six and he doesn't really fit your system, can't score points, see where this is heading? Sure most of the issues were on the offensive side, but all these things are relative.
Mickey Spagnola wrote a column a two weeks ago about just how relative this stuff all is. In fact, the Cowboys defense of 2015 gave up 23.4 points per game, only 1.4 points per game more than what they gave up in 2014. The Cowboys also had a Top-5 passing defense in 2015 giving up only 227 passing yards per game. The point of all this is that when the offense self-destructed, so did the Dallas Cowboys. They only scored 24 touchdowns in 2015, that's quite a bit less than the 53 touchdowns they scored in 2014.
When the Cowboys offense was humming and firing on all cylinders, the entire team benefited from that. What's the best way to get the most out of a very young defense (27 years old is old on this team.)? You got to keep the defense fresh and how do you do it? You run the football and preferably into the end zone. Spagnola threw out another stat in that column. Did you know that the Cowboys have never had a winning season when scoring less than 10 rushing touchdowns? They had only eight rushing touchdowns is 2015. Elliott runs the ball into the end zone, something the starter from last year didn't do often enough.
You see, this is all relative. If the Cowboys offense can get back to what they do best, it will force the hand of opposing coaches. When they force the issue, it plays right into the hands of Rod Marinelli and his opportunistic teachings. The potent and powerful offense will lead to a defense being more available to taking care of business. They tried last season, boy did they ever try. It just didn't work out in most cases, I mean, they fought toe-to-toe with Seattle and lost by a single point.
Running the football, wearing down the opposition, keeping your defense fresh and creating turnovers all relate to one another. It all starts with the running back, Ezekiel Elliott. If the defense improves drastically from 2015 to 2016, it'll be because the offense returned to dominance. Everyone wins with Zeke.