A couple of days ago, we took a look at Pro Football Focus' rankings of the Cowboys offensive units. As we noted in that article, they took a decidedly middle of the road approach to what many expect to be a unit loaded with firepower, capable of putting points up on the board. Their take on the skill positions left some Cowboys fans understandably baffled.
Their take on the two defensive units, the front seven and the secondary, are likely not to be as controversial. The Cowboys defense is definitely the weaker side of the ball for the team, and the one that creates the most worry. They are roundly criticized by the experts and the pundits, but our own OCC has shown they are not as bad as many would have you believe. According to some important rankings, they are a middle-of-the-pack unit. But as you'll see below, PFF doesn't see them that way.
24. Dallas Cowboys
Projected starters: DT Cedric Thornton, DT Tyrone Crawford; DE Randy Gregory, DE DeMarcus Lawrence; LB Sean Lee, MLB Anthony Hitchens, LB Andrew Gachkar
Other names to know: DT Jack Crawford, DT Maliek Collins, DT David Irving; DE Benson Mayowa, DE Charles Tapper; LB Kyle Wilber
Key stat: Dallas recorded a pressure on 33.8 percent of passing plays in sub-packages last season, the 23rd-best mark in the NFL.
Suspensions are going to weaken an already thin Dallas front-seven for the start of this season, with their expected middle linebacker gone for 10 weeks and their top two defensive ends missing the first four weeks of the season. Those suspensions expose inexperience at defensive end and the underwhelming Anthony Hitchens at linebacker for an extended period of time. The Cowboys will look to lean on Sean Lee at the second level as one of the league's best coverage linebackers, but if an unheralded star can't emerge at defensive end, then too much will be asked of Tyrone Crawford to power Dallas' pass-rush for the first month of the season.
I have to admit, this ranking actually came out better than I expected. The Cowboys have no top-line pass rusher, and the guys they hope will rise up to fill that void will be suspended for four games. Dallas has a rotation of guys along the line who might be able to impact games, but no real vets to count on except for Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton.
At linebacker, there is Sean Lee and then...who? This ranking was made before they signed Justin Durant, but it's unlikely that transaction would have moved the needle too much. Durant, Anthony Hitchens and a bunch of other guys will be counted on to hold it down with Lee. Just like the defensive line, things are sketchy, especially because of the suspensions.
30. Dallas Cowboys
Projected starters: CB Brandon Carr, CB Morris Claiborne, SCB Orlando Scandrick, S Byron Jones, S Barry Church
Other names to know: CB Josh Thomas, CB Anthony Brown, S J.J. Wilcox, S Jeff Heath, S Kavon Frazier
Key stat: The Cowboys' returning starters above allowed a combined 14 touchdowns in 2014, and did not intercept a single pass.
Getting Scandrick back following his knee injury should provide a boost for the Dallas defense if he can play at the same level he was at in 2014, when he earned the NFL's eighth-highest coverage grade. Byron Jones lived up to his first-round draft pick as a rookie, and proved to be a valuable addition. We will need to see if he can sustain that level of play as he transitions to safety full-time, though. It remains status quo for the rest of the secondary. Over the past three seasons, Carr, Claiborne, and Church have combined for just one full-season coverage grade that was not below-average.
Wow, almost at the bottom of the league. With Orlando Scandrick back and Byron Jones in the fold, this group should be better than this ranking. But there is no denying that Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have bounced between average play to poor play over the last few seasons.And Barry Church does some things well, others not so well (coverage).
I guess you can't argue too much with these rankings, but I believe the Cowboys defense has been better collectively than its parts are rated. Having an offense to help it out is also key, something Dallas should have this season. The coaching of Rod Marinelli and others have kept the unit afloat even with the many holes.
What's your take BTB, should the Cowboys defensive units be ranked this low, or is there more here than what the outsiders are seeing?