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Cowboys going to extremes on defense, which unit will show up this week?

It was 2013 all over again...well, at least for a week.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to recall such a contrasting performance from the Cowboys defense from one week to the next. After a dominating display against the New York Giants in Week 1 that held them to just three points, the defense decided to take the day off against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. It’s as if they managed to travel back in time and play a football game before tackling was ever invented. Normally, you can identify a player or two that really struggled to where we can blame some bad plays on them, but no can do in this game. It was collective effort of awfulness.

Against the Giants, the Cowboys did a great job of having several hats around the ball. And once they were there, they would wrap up the ball-carrier immediately. Against the Broncos, Dallas not only struggled getting to the ball, but once they were there, it was as if they were all greased up and let him slip through their fingers.

After allowing only 35 rushing yards to the Giants, the Cowboys would surrender 178 yards on the ground to the Broncos. It wasn’t just the running game that they had trouble stopping. It was tackling in general, in all facets.

The Cowboys bread and butter of their pass defense in week one was wrapping up Giants receivers as soon as they caught the ball. This constantly forced the punting team on the field. Eli Manning would throw short all game and the Cowboys would make him pay for it.

Trevor Siemian would throw a lot of short passes as well, but the Broncos would gain way too many yards after the catch. Here is a breakdown of his throw chart courtesy of Bob Sturm’s Marinelli Report:

This is where you want the quarterback to be throwing the ball, but when you have defenders playing like they’re wearing roller skates, it’s going to lead to big gains. Time and time again a short pass would turn into a big gain.

On the Broncos first drive, Demaryius Thomas turned a short pass into a 27-yard gain after Nolan Carroll just couldn’t put his foot in the ground and make the cut.

On a 3rd and 11 play, C.J. Anderson would take a screen pass and run the length of the field horizontally, until he got he yardage needed for the first down. Several defenders had a shot at him, but just didn’t have the right angle to wrap him up.

And on this play, Emmanuel Sanders would catch the ball short of the first down, but the Cowboys defenders just spun their wheels as he ran right around them. Again, the Cowboys defense just bounced off each other

Carroll would again get beat after he was unable to make a cut to make the play, but to add insult to injury - he obstructed his teammates from making it too. It was like watching the Three Stooges play football.

Good news

DeMarcus Lawrence is flat out ball’n. After a nice start to his season last week in a two-sack performance, he delivered again for a second straight week. Check out his resume against the Broncos:

  • QB hurry forcing Siemian to throw the ball away
  • QB sack that also stripped the ball away and led to a Cowboys TD
  • QB sack when he shoe-string tackled Siemian on third down
  • Stopped C.J. Anderson for no gain

For the season, Tank has 8.5 splash plays already. The next closest defender is at three. He’s the defense’s best performer so far.

The Cowboys showed quite a bit of weakness after three of their top four corners went down. That left them lean in the secondary and the Broncos exposed them. Getting some of these players back on the field will help, but they better bring with them a stronger effort tackling receivers than what they displayed on Sunday.

Damontre Moore returns after his two-game suspension and the team will soon get David Irving back. When you combine that with how well Lawrence and Maliek Collins are playing, the team has to feel better about what they have on the defensive line.

Jaylon Smith played in 68 snaps on Sunday, equating to 88% of the defensive plays. Only four defenders played more snaps than Smith. This is a positive sign that he is becoming more and more comfortable moving around out there and showing no lingering effects of his injury.

Bad news

Byron Jones and Jeff Heath struggled at safety. I don’t remember seeing Jones play this poorly before. He allowed the tight end, Virgil Green, to have an uncontested touchdown catch after Jones over-pursued the run. Then, he got locked up with Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas and allowed C.J. Anderson to just blow right by him.

Jeff Heath looked like he belongs exclusively on special teams. He made a great play on a kickoff where he stripped the ball away from the Broncos returner, but that was the only thing good we saw from Heath. Between slipping, not being able to shed blockers, and an atrocious attempt at tackling, he was a total liability on the field. Maybe it’s time to see more of Kavon Frazier.

While Sunday brought back some ugly memories of that historically bad 2013 defense, right now this game can be treated like an outlier. The Cowboys have better pieces in place and should be able to regroup. They are not as good as they were in Week 1, but they are also not as bad as they were in Week 2. We may have just experienced the two extremes.

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