One of the biggest reasons that the Dallas Cowboys stormed back last season to win the NFC East, and a playoff game, was a defense that showed up and dominated teams. Perhaps the biggest win of last season was a huge defensive showing, a lockdown performance of the New Orleans Saints on the Thursday after Thanksgiving Day that shocked the world.
The Cowboys defense of 2018 was aided by then-rookie Leighton Vander Esch, surging Jaylon Smith, and the transcendent DeMarcus Lawrence. With all of them coming back this season, and Robert Quinn joining the party, there were many people that expected the defense to take it to the next level.
The Cowboys defense has been disappointing to this point
If you asked any Cowboys fan they would tell you that the defense is a huge problem. After all the Cowboys trailed 31-3 to the Packers, 21-3 to the Jets, 14-0 to the Vikings, and most recently were down a touchdown to the Detroit Lions. Surrendering big leads early is hardly ideal.
The linebacker position was supposed to be established on this team for the near future and while it’s totally possible for Vander Esch and Smith to regain their 2018 form, they’ve been disappointing so far this season. That’s perhaps the biggest reason for the overall low performance from the defense as the Cowboys are absolutely getting pressure from both Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence.
Double team rate as an edge rusher (x) by pass rush win rate as an edge rusher (y).— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) November 18, 2019
PRWR = rate at which pass rusher beats his blocker within 2.5 seconds.
(ESPN metric, Next Gen Stats data) pic.twitter.com/7TrubcE0t3
So how is it that the defense is not as good, you ask? With outside pressure you’d imagine things would be easier for the defense. After all the Cowboys drafted a promising defensive tackle with their first pick and he’s dominating, right? Oh, my bad.
In spite of Trysten Hill’s struggles, the Cowboys have actually gotten decent play in the interior from Maliek Collins at times. Antwaun Woods has dealt with injury, but overall this area continues to be a general weakness for the Cowboys.
The 2019 defense is actually statistically better than the 2018 one, though
NFL researcher Careen Falcone was recently a guest on The Ocho and she dropped a nugget that surprised me. Did you know that this year’s Cowboys defense is actually statistically better than last year’s? Seriously.
How many times do you think the Cowboys defense has surrendered more than 30 points in a game this season? When you first think about it you’d say a lot, right? The answer is actually only once and it was against Aaron Rodgers of all people.
I’m not trying to paint the picture that the Cowboys defense is elite or has been a strength of the team, but consider certain statistics in comparison to last season.
2018 Cowboys Defense
- 20.3 points per game allowed
- 329.3 total yards per game allowed
- 42.3 third-down percentage allowed
2019 Cowboys Defense
- 19.7 points per game allowed
- 322.1 total yards per game allowed
- 32.5 third-down percentage allowed
Isn’t this shocking? Not “oh my gosh that’s the most wild thing ever “shocking, but it definitely doesn’t feel like that’s been the case, right?
It’s almost as if the Cowboys defense has only been bad in the exact worst case moments for them to be bad which has translated to four losses on the season. Hopefully the defense can in fact return to the form that we all remember, even if they’re playing better than that right now.