The Dallas Cowboys had a lot of problems in 2020 and obviously injuries were a big part of them. Losing important contributors is never an easy thing to overcome, especially when one of them is your starting quarterback.
While Dak Prescott unquestionably gives the Cowboys the largest chance of victory as possible the reality is that the team was 1-3 in games that he finished earlier this season. Of course, this isn’t entirely on Prescott as he was operating with one of the NFL’s worst defenses. It is is true that the Cowboys were rather poor defensively, but they did show a bit of promise near the end of the season (trying to be kind here). They began to generate turnovers at a high frequency, although none of it was enough to keep defensive coordinator Mike Nolan around as he was replaced by Dan Quinn this offseason.
Jaylon Smith put blame for the Cowboys’ early season woes on the defensive side of the ball
There was never a point in the 2020 season for the Cowboys where the defense felt good, but it did seem somewhat stable near the end of the year. A lot of this had to do with the fact that the Cowboys were playing some lower-quality teams. After the bye they played the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Football Team (and still lost), Baltimore Ravens, but then things really picked up for them with games against the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, and Philadelphia Eagles... three of the worst teams in the league when Dallas played them.
Was it simply inferior opponents that led to the Cowboys bouncing back a bit near the end of the year, though? Jaylon Smith appeared on FS1’s Speak For Yourself on Tuesday, and in addition to putting accountability for the early part of the season’s struggles on the defense, he noted that the team gelled together near the end which is why they hit the strides that they did.
“Heavily part of it is definitely the defense. We weren’t clicking. From an execution standpoint. We weren’t playing together as a team.”
“You’ve got a bunch of dominant, elite players individually. Got to be able to come together as a team and understand the scheme. Understand where we supposed to be. And then go out and execute. So definitely early in the season you see that.”
“And then if you look at games later in the season. Gelling together, excitement for each other, causing turnovers, celebrating, having fun. That’s really what led to the change of what you’ve seen later in the season from our defense that can obviously help an elite offense.”
People will point to Smith’s mention of celebrating as his reputation in that particular department is not one that people hold all too highly in regard, but honestly there isn’t much of an issue with what he said. It makes sense that a spirit of camaraderie helped the team play better, albeit against lesser teams, which is a level of confidence that they were clearly lacking early on when they didn’t totally line up with the scheme.
There have been a number of things that Jaylon Smith has said that have been rather questionable over the last year or so. This doesn’t seem to be one of them. Whether that impacts how the Cowboys handle him over the offseason (as in whether they address his contract situation) remains to be seen, but with them anything is possible.