Over the first half of the 2019 season, the defense of the Dallas Cowboys only had one game where they allowed more than 24 points (Week 5 against Green Bay). Since then; however, the defense has been open for business, and opposing teams are cashing in. In the five games since the midpoint of the season, the defense has surrendered more than 24 points in four of those games. And the only game where they didn’t give up that many points was that rainy game in New England. Let’s face it, it just hasn’t being going great for this Cowboys defense.
Their latest game against the Chicago Bears shows the defense trending in the wrong direction. Revisiting all of Thursday’s action reveals that this defense is failing across the board, but what exactly is going wrong for them?
It’s hard to be critical of the defensive line as this group remains the strongest unit of the defense. Led by DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, Michael Bennett, and Maliek Collins - this group is getting pressure, and on many instances making plays behind the line of scrimmage. But they do have a weakness that is hurting the team - lack of discipline.
The defensive line is so intent on getting in the backfield that they aren’t keeping their focus. For starters, it’s absolutely ridiculous for them to be jumping offsides on a regular basis. Lawrence and Bennett are savvy veterans so there is just no excuse for it to be happening so much. Against the Bears, the defensive line jumped offsides twice on third down that ultimately led to a first down.
Once believed to be the strongest position group on the team, this unit is now a liability. Of course, they are without their All-Pro linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, but even when he was on the field, he just wasn’t the same player as he was a year ago. Speaking of not being the same player, Jaylon Smith looks more like the 2017 version where his lateral movement was always being questioned due to him coming off major knee surgery in college. He runs with a high center of gravity and just doesn’t possess the start/stop movement we were seeing last year. And Sean Lee has been okay, but when he guesses wrong, he just doesn’t have the speed to recover and often times gets washed out of the play.
The coverage hasn’t been terrible as the defensive backs are still usually right with their man on passing plays. They can be grabby at times, and won’t get their head turned around to save their lives. As a result, they don’t take the ball away, and their physical presence in tackling has taken a step backwards. Byron Jones remains the team’s top corner, and although he don’t get the picks, he’s one of the most reliable coverage corners in the game. He’ll have a fat wallet soon as he’s earned himself a pricey second contract.
The problems this defense has comes from a lack of focus as players are far too often biting on plays and putting themselves in vulnerable positions. Most recently, they are having trouble with mobile quarterbacks as the defense has allowed an opposing quarterback to rush for 40+ yards in four of their last six games. Let’s take a look at the tape and see where it’s all going wrong.
Xavier Woods is coming off his worst game of the season. Against the Bears, he was missing tackles and very ineffective in coverage. Reviewing the game film won’t be a fun time for the Cowboys third-year safety.
While Woods’ tackling was poor, he certainly shouldn’t be singled out for his performance. Everyone was terrible. Defenders were taking bad angles, losing their balance far too often, and even when they seemed to be squared up on their man, still managed to whiff on the tackle. The collective ineptitude of this team’s tackling ability is just mind boggling.
For a defense that relies so heavily on being fundamentally sound, they are severely hampering the team by how they’ve been playing. The coaches feel that being more disciplined will fix their problem, and maybe it will. But nothing seems to be changing right now, and the Cowboys are running out of time to get this fixed.