There is no shame in players like Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt running for quality yards on your defense. Those guys have shown they can run on the best defenses around. So when the Cleveland Browns racked up and enormous 307 yards on the ground on 40 carries, the first instinct might be to say that’s what the Browns do, and that’s what they should do with Chubb and Hunt in the backfield.
But Chubb wasn’t the Browns leading rusher. Neither was Hunt. Not even Odell Beckham, Jr. was the leading rusher even though he had 73 yards on just two carries. No, the Browns leading rusher was D’Ernest Johnson. Who? No disrespect to Mr. Johnson. He had a day.
But when your defense is torched by a second-year player who has had all of six career rushes in the NFL for a total of 31 yards, you might have to consider your defense broken. Johnson had 13 carries in the game for 95 yards, ripping the Cowboys for an average of 7.3 yards per carry.
The Dallas defense certainly has a lot of name players on it, but they are not getting the job done. This goes beyond the run defense that was atrocious against the Browns. The secondary is equally inept. Baker Mayfield didn’t have to throw a whole lot, but the Browns converted 14 first downs using the pass. Mayfield had two touchdown passes, Jarvis Landry had one. The Cowboys were equal opportunity gift-givers.
The Cowboys trendline on defense is going in the wrong direction. In Week 1 they gave up 20 points, Week 2 saw them give up 39 points and Week 3 38 points. Now in Week 4 they gave up 49. Things appear to be getting worse instead of better. It’s true they have had to defend some short fields because of the offensive turnovers. But the defense is also not doing the offense any favors by only recording two turnovers on the year.
This was supposed to be a more aggressive defense with an eye toward turnovers and tough, pressing coverage. None of that has materialized. The defensive line was supposed to represent an improved pass rush. That hasn’t materialized except for brief spurts from Aldon Smith. It has to be said that Demarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen are not producing the pass rush needed.
In the secondary, the Cowboys are realizing that their safety tandem is not getting the job done. They replaced Darian Thompson with Donovan Wilson, but that hardly instills confidence that they have the answer. Injuries are a problem, but they also seemed to have over-believed in their talent. And at linebacker Jaylon Smith is looking like a bad investment.
At this point, the Cowboys need to try to bring in some help. The old line of “we believe in what we have” is wearing thin. At safety there are guys like Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, and Eric Reid. On the defensive line they could add Damon Harrison or Marcell Dareus. The point is there are plenty of free agents they could bring in for a tryout and they could add a few at a relative bargain price.
They can no longer just roll out this same unit. Maybe when Chidobe Awuzie returns and Anthony Brown comes back, thing sill stabilize some in the secondary. Maybe Leighton Vander Esch could change the dynamic a month from now.
The Cowboys could win with this offense, even with all their turnovers and slow starts. They could win with a semi-bumbling special teams. If only they had a defense that could play a middling game.
Mike Nolan needs to do some true self-scouting. He needs to determine if the scheme is an issue, if the players are making mistakes, or if the talent just isn’t lining up for what they want to do. Sometimes you need to make moves just to shake up things up. A couple of additions, a few benchings, whatever it takes.
The season is starting to slip away. Time to act.