Though the Cowboys are 3-0 and among the best teams in football, there are a few whispers of concern about a slow start for the Dallas defense. Has the Cowboys defense started slow? This defense has faced three of the worst teams in football and have absolutely dominated them. What it comes down to for this defense is missed opportunities at interceptions, fumble recoveries, and not getting enough pressure on the quarterback.
Those are certainly a few areas where they need to improve but let’s look at a few areas where the Cowboys defense has been pretty good.
Dallas may be 15th in terms of total passing yards given up at 738, but that’s not the entire story. The Cowboys are 11th in completion percentage at 62.7% and their opponent passer rating of 87.8 is 13th best in the NFL.
Though the Cowboys have surrendered a few big pass plays, they only allow a touchdown percentage of 2.4, tied with the Broncos for third-best in the league. The Cowboys have also have 18 pass breakups, which is tied for fifth-best. Opposing quarterbacks are only getting 6.1 yards per pass attempt (fifth in NFL) and are gaining just 9.8 yards per completion (fourth in the NFL).
Dallas is the 10th-ranked rushing defense, allowing 90 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys have only allowed two rushing touchdowns thus far, which is third-best in the NFL. The New York Jets rank right above Dallas is terms of rush defense per game but have allowed twice as many touchdowns.
Saquon Barkley had a big day in week one with 120 yards on 11 carries but was aided by one huge 59-yard run. Outside of that performance, the Cowboys kept Washington in check with 17 carries for 47 yards, and Miami was held to 72 yards on 24 carries.
THIRD DOWN DEFENSE
The Cowboys rank second behind the Patriots in third down conversions, allowing just 20%. New England has faced 39 third down attempts to Dallas’ 35 attempts. Only three NFL teams have allowed less than 10 conversions on third down: The Patriots (5), the Cowboys (7), and the Bears (8).
The Cowboys defense will only face two of the current Top-10 third down offenses in the Eagles and Patriots. It’s possible that the Cowboys will remain one of the best third-down defenses in the NFL this season which is extremely important in the postseason.
Despite being 18th in net yards allowed per drive, the Cowboys defense is eighth in scoring percentage, allowing just 26.7% of all drives to end with points. Speaking of points, the Cowboys allow 14.7 points per game, the fourth-best in the NFL this season.
Dallas has only allowed touchdowns on 16.7% of their opponent’s drives, which is seventh-best in the league. The Cowboys force punts of 43.3% of their opponent’s drives, that’s ninth-best in the NFL through the first three games.
So what are the concerns for the Cowboys defense?
Big Plays Given Up
It makes people nervous to see Josh Rosen and the Miami Dolphins give this defense a little fight and even hitting three explosive plays of 20+ yards but Miami had six whole points. Saquon Barkley gashed Dallas for a 50+ yard explosive run in week one, Eli Manning got a couple of big completions out of Cody Latimer, but the Cowboys only allowed 17 points. Washington gave the most fight of all but the Cowboys had a 31-14 lead until right before the two-minute warning.
Keep in mind, the Cowboys have given up nine plays of 20+ yards or more in three games. As concerning as three per game might be, the Cowboys have allowed zero explosive scores. Only three NFL teams join the Cowboys on that list and it’s the Patriots, Bears, and Rams.
Pressure on the Quarterback
It’s true, the Cowboys have not racked up the sack numbers many envisioned when this defensive line depth was assembled. The Cowboys only have five sacks through three games and are only sacking the opposing quarterback on 3.8% of the attempts (30th). Dallas has dealt with a few injuries and absences but you would hope that the depth could give them more than what they have through three games.
On the bright side, the Cowboys have 19 quarterback hits, tied for eighth-most in the league this season. Also, three of the five sacks the Cowboys have came in this past game against the Dolphins with Robert Quinn returning to right end. If nothing else, Quinn’s speed off the edge might be the juice the Cowboys needed in the pass rush:
Robert Quinn was 1 of 4 edge defenders to earn an elite pass-rush grade in Week 3 (90.0).— Connor Price (@PFF_ConnorPrice) September 25, 2019
He was a HUGE reason why Dallas' D-Line was one of @PFF's highest-graded units last week: https://t.co/4nr6vqGwDC
Speed kills. pic.twitter.com/maf8YRqbPP
Overall, the Cowboys had their best performance yet but it was against a really bad football team.
Not Enough Takeaways
Lastly, the Cowboys just haven’t been able to take the ball away enough and will need to improve there because the toughest portion of their schedule is here. Dallas has zero interceptions and have only recovered three of the five fumbles they have forced on defense.
It’s not as though guys haven’t been in position to make plays, several starters such as Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods have dropped would-be picks. Make no mistake, the Cowboys must improve their takeaway numbers, it’s been their Achilles heel for quite some time.
Overall, the defense does have a few areas to improve but it is only week four.