Though Babe Laufenberg doesn't like hearing this, Ezekiel Elliott does help alleviate the stress that is on this defense and also helps the Cowboys' offense become more effective. One thing where we agree is that the Cowboys need to allocate better resources to the defense. At some point in time, the only way for the Cowboys to improve their defense is going to be spending resources on it.
Is there something we may be missing here? Some elaborate plan for their defense that we can't see right now? Sure, there could be some breakout performances on the horizon, but we probably shouldn't be holding our breath. We have come to find out this offseason that finding pass rushers is a bit harder than expected.
Think about it, one of the best free agent pass rushers (Greg Hardy) was one that you didn't want anywhere near your team again. Olivier Vernon was a nice target but the production doesn't match the $85 million dollars he got from an NFC East rival. Then you take a look at the draft and find that there isn't a guy you find yourself in love with. Couple that with the probability being against rookie pass rushers making a huge difference and you end up waiting to pull the trigger in the fourth round. Let us not forget that two of your very best skilled rushers are facing suspensions and that puts you in the exact spot that the Cowboys are in now. Knowing all this, why aren't they panicking? It's because panicking is what bad teams with poor decision makers do.
The Cowboys situation may not be as bad as we all think. They didn't walk into this draft and pull the trigger based on suspensions or anything else short-term. Admittedly, there has been criticism of Rod Marinelli's "I can coach anyone" attitude. He's a heck of a coach but you got to have the talent sometimes to get the production. Some guys can take well to coaching but still struggle to give you consistent effort. With all that said, what the Cowboys did defensively may surprise us. They really stuck to the "athleticism wins out" mantra. There is a good chance that it may work. When in doubt, usually the stronger, faster, and bigger win the battle.
We already mentioned how Ezekiel Elliott is going to help the team in general. Elliott makes them a better team immediately and returns them to rushing dominance. In fact, Marinelli had this to say:
That running back [Elliott] we’ve got, that’s like another defender," Marinelli said. "It’s so important. It’s not just keeping us off the field, but there’s a certain physical element to a football team. It’s not fantasy football. The team that we play more than anybody else is our offense and they harden you up on a defense."
Now we need to touch on where the defensive players fit in. Where the Cowboys got good value is in Charles Tapper and Maliek Collins. Both of these players were playing out of position in college and both of them flashed why they could become effective at the NFL level. Also, these two were drafted later based on their 2015 tape, but their 2014 tapes would indicate differently.
In regards to Tapper, he's got great length that you wouldn't believe with 34 3/8th inch arms on a 6' 3" 270 lbs frame. Where he gets you excited is in his ability to run at a 4.59 speed. Tapper will be thrust into a role early in sort of a baptism by fire method. Sure, rookies don't always have huge impacts but Tapper's athletic traits will allow for him to make his presence felt. He's also got 11.5-inch hands and they are hammers.
Anytime you can run down Amari Cooper from behind and way out of the field of play to begin with, I have a spot for you on the depth chart. Tapper will be important for Rod Marinelli to bring up to speed quickly and could easily become a force down the road. In 2016, he can still be an asset to this defense because his measurables and skills fit what Hot Rod does. His athleticism and speed alone just scream his worth to the defense. Marinelli tends to think Tapper will be able to contribute immediately on the right side.
Collins was told by Marinelli how he "fits their scheme to a T" and when you put on that tape from 2014, he jumps out at you. 2014 was Bo Pelini's last year as the head coach and their last in a scheme that runs similar things to what the Cowboys do. That season, Collins was outstanding with 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 13 quarterback hurries. It's his motor and get-off speed that is intriguing. In Rod's eyes, you have to get off the ball quickly and Collins can do that. When Nebraska changed schemes on him, they changed his ability to be productive and had him playing 3-4 defensive end. Collins will likely play quite a bit in the early stages of this season, especially if rumors are true that Tyrone Crawford could be flirting with position flex possibilities at defensive end. Either way, Marinelli has stood his ground on players that he wants, these two were guys he liked a lot.
The Cowboys also drafted two defensive backs in Anthony Brown and Kavon Frazier. Brown, a cornerback from Purdue, is very fast at 4.35 and has some good length to him as well. The Cowboys see a guy who makes a lot of tackles with 110 in the past two years. That can be hard to ask sometimes of corners, but Brown plays with physicality and the Cowboys graded him in the fourth round, selecting him in the sixth. Frazier is the most intriguing pick because he could be an eventual replacement for Barry Church. Kavon is a strong hitter but will earn his chops on special teams quite quickly where he has shown to be an effective contributor.
When you look at this defense as a whole, it may not be grabbing our attention. However, a very underrated Cowboys' defense in 2014 was second in the league in turnovers though pass rush ultimately ended their season. This may be different as the Cowboys will eventually get their better pass rushers back and have added younger talent to the rotation. They certainly seem strong at defensive tackle right now and have a lot of guys with versatility. It's not out of the realm of possibility to believe that they may actually have all they need right now. It looks worse without Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, but it certainly will not stay that way. It's difficult to have patience but just maybe this coaching staff and front office believe they currently have what they need at their disposal. One thing is certain, it's time to saddle up for the new blood Cowboys and it starts now in rookie mini camps.