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Point-counterpoint: The defense is letting the Cowboys down - or maybe not

The offense is cooking, but a lot of people are down on the other side of the ball for Dallas.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys got their first 40-burger of the season against the Atlanta Falcons. Of course, they had to get there to win, because their defense let those pesky birds hang 39 on them. So obviously the Dallas D is the real problem.

Well, our Terence Watson thinks so. But Tom Ryle is in the “not so fast” camp.

Terence: We knew this secondary was going to need help from their defensive line if they were going to have any kind of success this season. The past two games are a clear indication of that with the secondary giving up a total of 536 yards through the air and four touchdowns. It could have been worse if receivers on the opposing teams didn’t drop wide open passes. But that isn’t where my concern really lies, it’s actually with the defensive line.

When you’ve brought in as much talent along the defensive line as the Dallas Cowboys have, it’s easy to see how this defense is letting this team down. Yes, I understand that they are still learning a new defensive scheme under Mike Nolan but that can’t always be an excuse. You have defenders like DeMarcus Lawrence, Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen rotating in to rush the passer on the edges along with defensive tackles Trysten Hill and Dontari Poe who are both quick on off the ball for men of their size. You should have more than two sacks on the season. Instead, you had two games where the opposing quarterback was pretty comfortable in the pocket and able to pick apart this secondary.

Tom: While I’ll agree that the defense is still a work in progress, that was pretty much inevitable. The offense had good continuity, while all but one coach on defense is new, and in the Falcons win, only five starters from last year took the field. Logic tells us that the defense will have a harder time getting it all working.

And the defense was not the problem in either of the first two games. Everyone looks at the 39 points the Falcons hung on Dallas, and the 20 point lead at the end of the first quarter. Well, those 20 first quarter points were all on the offense. This was covered in detail in an earlier article this week, but it comes down to this: If your offense gives the other team the ball four times at midfield or closer, the defense really can’t be blamed if points are scored. Holding Atlanta to field goals on two of those possessions was actually a win for the defense.

Take away that quarter and the gimme points the offense handed away, and the Cowboys’ defense only gave up 19. And they yielded just 20 all game against the Rams a week ago, while that offense was sputtering to just 17.

Yes, there are still breakdowns. But the first week’s loss and the huge hole Dallas dug for themselves were really on the offense.

Terence: The turnovers may have been on the offense and yes they gave the defense a shortened field to defend, but it’s still their job to defend it regardless of where the other team gets the ball. We seem to always give this defense a pass every season. They are learning a new scheme, or too many injuries happen, but that goes for the offense as well, and they continue to get hammered by the media.

No matter what season we talk about the defense ends up being the reason we can’t get over the hump for one reason or another. This season people made a big deal about the secondary needing time to get their feet under them, but that’s the same for every defense in the league with new players and new coaches as they’ve all been effected by COVID-19 in the way they run their camps and teach their players.

Everyone also was hyping up this defensive line but the big plays haven’t been there from them. They’ve surrendered 266 yards on the ground and only two sacks so far this season.

Everyone knows defense wins championships in this league. No matter how good your offense is at putting up points if your defense can’t get teams off the field you can’t win. And right now, even though it’s early in the season, it’s looking like this defense will be the reason we are let down again.

Tom: Here’s something that also makes me tap the brakes on the defensive letdown thing. Everyone is decrying how the Cowboys can’t get any sacks. Now, remember that our own offensive tackle situation is pretty serious. La’el Collins was out for both games, and Tyron Smith missed last Sunday. With Cameron Erving also injured and unavailable, that had Terence Steele starting both weeks, and Brandon Knight joining him against Atlanta. It had the makings of some real sack fests for the opposing defenses.

But it was anything but. Dak Prescott was sacked three times against the Rams, and just once against the Falcons, a team that absolutely traumatized him in 2017. If those two teams, with some pretty good pass rushers, including one Aaron Donald, were not getting to him excessively, then we might have the expectations set a bit too high. Now factor in that Everson Griffen is planning on going back to a three-point stance, and DeMarcus Lawrence should also be doing the same once he’s back from his paternity time off, and things may pick up. Meanwhile, Trysten Hill was regularly in the Atlanta backfield on Sunday, even without it showing up on the stat sheet. I think the pass rush will come along, and their not getting a lot of sacks is more about the quarterbacks getting the ball out and avoiding the rush. Meanwhile, Joe Thomas was very good filling in for Leighton Vander Esch, so the linebackers are not in as bad a shape as could be.

The secondary is potential trouble as Anthony Brown is on IR, Chidobe Awuzie is expected to miss more than one week, and Trevon Diggs popped up on the injury report Wednesday and did not practice, either. But the offense needs to keep up the pace it maintained for the last three quarters against the Falcons, when they amassed 40 points after their sputtering start to the game. With the weapons they have, they should take the responsibility for letting the team down over the first five quarters of the season. The defense did a lot more than they are getting credit for.

Terence: Fair points, but like I said in the playoffs or when making a run to the playoffs, defenses are the key to success. If the Dallas Cowboys offense is able to carry the load like many are hoping they can, we will still run into teams like the New Orleans Saints, the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers and the Los Angeles Rams. All of these teams have high-powered offenses that will be able to keep pace with the Cowboys offensive attack. It will be up to the defense to come out and get stops, and right now it doesn’t look like they will be able to, especially against teams with the amount of firepower to keep pace with Dak Prescott and this offense.