The Dallas Cowboys defense had one of its better seasons in a long time in 2021. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn totally revamped that side of the ball and turned it into a weapon for the team. There were definitely some tense moments this offseason as we waited for the future of Quinn to be decided, and fortunately that worked out in the team’s favor. Quinn stayed.
The Cowboys were near the top of the league in many statistical categories. Turnovers were a large factor in their success, but they were improved in other ways, too. Quinn was better at utilizing his talent and moving them into different positions that allowed them to succeed.
Still, there was one area that was not very good. Run defense.
Dallas’ run defense was a weakness last year. It ranked just 23rd in yards per carry allowed (4.5) and was particularly bad against the run late in the season.
Dallas surrendered an average of 130 yards per game over the final 10 weeks of the regular season. In its playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it gave up 149 yards on the ground.
That 149 yards given up to the 49ers was a huge factor in their playoff loss. For the first half of that game it felt like the 49ers were bullying the Cowboys. The NFL is a passing league, but if an offense can run the ball they will because it has less of an error factor than the passing game.
Given that it was such a problem last year, you would think the team would have done more this offseason to correct it. Not so.
Yet, the Cowboys have done little to bolster their run defense in the offseason. They didn’t draft a linebacker until taking Damone Clark in the fifth round and didn’t add a starter in free agency. Dallas also lost interior defender Brent Urban in free agency.
The Cowboys may get a boost from the return of 2021 fourth-round pick Jabril Cox, who is coming off of a torn ACL. However, this is a weakness Dallas may have to address externally.
Some quality run defenders—such as
defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi andlinebacker Dont’a Hightower—remain unsigned, and the Cowboys should think long and hard about acquiring one of them.
Dallas has $20 million in cap space available, according to Spotrac, and using some of that to address the run defense would make a ton of sense. Run defense was a liability last year, and as things stand, the Cowboys are not poised to be any better in 2022.
The Cowboys have little depth at linebacker. Counting on Jabril Cox is suspect given his recovery from injury and this essentially being his rookie year after missing much of last season, and getting little playing time when he was healthy. Maybe he will surprise us. The Cowboys did add John Ridgeway in the draft and they hope he will be a force in the middle by anchoring down and absorbing blockers.
They also hope to have Neville Gallimore for a whole season, and Dorance Armstrong sets a better edge than Randy Gregory. Internal growth among some players like Cox, Osa Odighizuwa, and others looks to be the team’s strategy unless they go out and make a few additions by the time training camp is done.
Last year the Cowboys opportunistic defense used turnovers to paper over any problems. History tells us they can’t count on that again as turnovers tend to fluctuate year to year. If that’s the case, the Cowboys better have an answer for a run defense that was very questionable last season.