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Cowboys loss to Rams sobering lesson for the “Hot Boyz” defense that was ‘ice cold’

The Cowboys defense may have been good for portions of this season but they’re not ready to carry elite label.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys’ divisional playoff loss to the Rams was a humbling experience for a prideful young defense. To have been one of the best defenses in the NFL and then get eliminated like that would make anyone sick in the aftermath. The Rams dismantled a Dallas defense that was, statistically-speaking, the best unit left in the playoffs.

It was clear that all the swagger this defense typically brings with them stayed on the tarmac in Dallas. It’s that attitude this defense brought on Sundays that made the Cowboys so fun to watch. Without a doubt, that confidence was a product of a new voice on the sidelines in first-year secondary coach, Kris Richard.

Richard’s aggressive style and charismatic demeanor was so infectious that it practically became the identity of that side of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence, the leader of the defense started harvesting his own bravado with refreshingly blunt and animated interviews. Lawrence even helped popularize a nickname that he and his teammates carried through the year.

Though “Hot Boyz” wasn’t a popular name with everyone, teammates dug it. Still, when you self-manufacture a moniker like that and promote it through the media, it creates hype and expectations. This defense had to carry a struggling offense that varied week-to-week all over the spectrum. You can argue that this Cowboys defense was way ahead of the learning curve to carry the team when the age, on average, is just 24-years-old per player.

Through the first eight games of the season, the defense was the only bright spot during a rough 3-5 start.

GMs 1-8 Yds Pass Yds/Att Sacks Rush Yds/Att. 1st DN TD/Gm TO/GM
Per Game 317 217 6.9 2.9 99.8 3.55 18.4 2 1
Rank 3 4 4 10 10 2 7 3 22

The defense kept them in games that could have been blowouts and they ranked near the top in every category except forcing turnovers. Every week, it was positive pieces about the defense and negatives about every thing the Cowboys offense wasn’t doing. During that time, the Cowboys offense was producing just over 300 yards per game and less than two touchdowns per game.

After that bye week trade for Amari Cooper, in addition to some other changes, we know that the offense finally started producing at a much higher level. Dak Prescott made a quick rise up to one of the better quarterbacks in the final eight games. Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper were threatening defenses all over the field. The unsung Cowboys’ heroes like Cole Beasley and Blake Jarwin were also making big contributions as was rookie receiver Michael Gallup.

The offensive rebound stole the show but it also may have caused us to miss a few things that were happening on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, the linebackers were having a time, the team was winning, but outside of shutting down the Saints, which is praise-worthy, this defense was starting to crack.

9-16 Yds Pass Yds/Att. Sacks Rush Yds/Att. 1st DN TD/Gm TO/Gm
Per Game 342 252 7 2 89.2 4.1 20 2.3 1.5
Rank 14 27 27 28 6 9 17 11 11

The defense did start to get a few takeaways but they also starting allowing more yards, points, and fell off the cliff in the sacks department. The lack of pressure and the fact that they allowed 50+ explosive plays from opposing offenses should have hurt much more than it did, if not, for the Cowboys offense stepping up.

During those last eight games where Dallas went 7-1, the Cowboys offense was rolling:

  • 53 Explosive plays, 25-yards per play average, 11 touchdowns (1st in the NFL)
  • Cowboys offense averaged 371 yards per game with 2.5 touchdowns per game

The Cowboys defense was still playing well but think back to a few of these games where Dallas was up by two scores. The defense played a big role in all these one-possession wins too:

  • Led Falcons by 10 inside fourth quarter, allowed 10 points in 10 minutes, Dallas kicked game-winner with :03 seconds left.
  • Led Washington 31-13 inside fourth quarter, allowed 10 points in 10 minutes, Cowboys win by a possession 31-23
  • Led Saints 13-0 at the half, allowed 10 unanswered points in third quarter, sealed win with a red zone interception at 2:16 left in the fourth
  • Led Buccaneers 27-13 up until just over four minutes in the fourth quarter, Bucs scored a TD before the two-minute warning, onside kick fails
  • Led by 10 vs. Seahawks at 2:08 to play with Seattle out of timeouts, Seahawks cut the lead to two points with a four-play, 75-yard drive in just over a minute, onside kick fails

When you get to the playoffs, you find out how good you really are vs. how good you think you are. The Cowboys defense was one of the best in the regular season but a team like the Rams force you to be disciplined or you have no shot.

Though they played well against the Seahawks, the Rams exposed the Cowboys top-rated playoff defense for all their deficiencies. Of 10 teams to play in the playoffs so far, Dallas is near the bottom in defense, almost all due to one historically terrible performance:

Playoffs TMs Only Yds Pass Yds/Att. Sacks Rush Yds/Att. 1st DN TD TO
Per Game 379 235 7.5 0.5 173 4.81 21 2.5 0
RK (Of 10 TMs to Play) 10th 9th 9th 9th 10th 6th 9th 10th 10th

The Cowboys allowed only three running backs to reach 100-yards on them in the regular season:

Week 3- Chris Carson

Week 15- Marlon Mack

Week 17- Saquon Barkley

They allowed two in the last three games of the season and just allowed two more in one playoff game. Allowing four backs in three of the last four games to run for 100+ on you is not a great look for Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard. The “Hot Boyz” were anything but hot to close out this season, and they were ice cold vs. the Rams, You can bet that this last loss will stew inside of them all offseason.

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