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Determining the most problematic area on defense for the 2021 Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have plenty of work to do on one side of the ball.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Minicamp Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody is denying that the Dallas Cowboys have a ton of work to do on their defense if they are going to be considered a contender in 2021. The offense and the special teams look ready to hold up their side of the bargain, especially the offense which could be a monster. If the defense continues to falter, though, it could all be for naught.

The Cowboys have made their initial moves to make the defense a competitive unit. They hired Dan Quinn to be the defensive coordinator and overhaul the scheme. They went out in free agency and added some pieces, especially along the defensive line, then they spent a whole lot of draft capital on new rookies for that side of the ball. It’s very apparent they recognized the problem and made strides in fixing it.

But where do they stand today, a few weeks out from beginning training camp? Todd Archer took a look at that in a recent article, one that everybody should check out. We’re going to piggy-back off the concept and take a poll to find out what you, the BTB readers, think is the most problematic area on the defense.

Dan Quinn has already said he will use multiple looks on defense including 3-4 looks, and he will move players around to positions that might not correspond with their roster designations. Right now, it’s hard to guess exactly how all that will shake out. So for the purposes of this article, we’ll slot players into their estimated roster spots using a general 4-3 look.


Defensive end/EDGE - The unquestioned star of the Cowboys defense is found here in DeMarcus Lawrence. Getting him some help has always been the task. The Cowboys have rotated through guys like Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen, but this year they will turn to one of their own in Randy Gregory. They also added Tarell Basham to join some of their current depth players.

Weakness - Lawrence, while notably playing a high-level all-around game, really needs to hit more sacks which can be game-changing plays. Gregory displays enormous potential, but can he actually put it all together for a full season. The depth players have yet to show they can be difference-makers.


Defensive tackle - This unit has had a lot of problems from injuries to just plain poor play. The Cowboys threw a lot at this unit this offseason with free agents like Brent Urban (who is flexible enough to kick outside) and Carlos Watkins, along with some help in the draft. Neville Gallimore shows promise and the hope is Trysten Hill will show on his potential.

Weakness - Just about everything. Perhaps no unit was abused more last year than the interior defensive line in the run game. They don’t have a star player to anchor the unit and they are betting on the potential of a lot of players.


Linebacker - Much has been said about the declining form of both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. The latter also has injury issues to worry about. The Cowboys have invested a lot of draft capital in the position, including 2021 first-round pick Micah Parsons. Yet the unit is in a state of disarray and they are even adding former safety Keanu Neal to the mix to help shore things up.

Weakness - Smith and Vander Esch are regressing while Parsons is a rookie and will have growing pains, and Neal is learning a new position. There is just no consistency here and the reps and starters seem unsettled.


Cornerback - When you are betting on second-year man Trevon Diggs to be your star, you are truly in hopeful mode. Diggs absolutely showed potential last year, but he is no sure thing as of yet. Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis add a veteran presence, but this unit is a big work in progress.

Weakness - There is no shutdown corner as of yet. In fact, there is no player here that inspires 100% confidence. The Cowboys are betting on a lot of things like newcomers Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright being able to help if injuries hit. It’s a thin depth chart.


Safety - The position that the Cowboys forgot. The team never spends any real resources here and it shows. Donovan Wilson showed excellent potential in a small sample size last year, and newcomer Damontae Kazee could help out if healthy. Still, it amazes how the Cowboys treat this potion as an afterthought.

Weakness - Wilson not being the player he showed in 2020, and Kazee not being fully recovered from injury. The Cowboys don’t want to turn to Jayron Kearse or Darian Thompson for significant playing time. Wilson and Kazee have to pan out, or they may have to pull Keanu Neal from linebacker.

Okay, now over to you BTB. Which position group is the most problematic for 2021?

Poll

I am most worried about the Cowboys

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    defensive ends
    (31 votes)
  • 34%
    defensive tackles
    (498 votes)
  • 3%
    linebackers
    (50 votes)
  • 37%
    cornerbacks
    (550 votes)
  • 22%
    safeties
    (331 votes)
1460 votes total Vote Now