Last year the Cowboys defense had a turnaround season. Trevon Diggs had 11 interceptions, Micah Parsons made a serious run at Defensvie Plyer of the Year. Heck, the Cowboys even got quality play from their safeties. But there was one aspect of the defense that wasn’t so good. That was run defense.
Thanks to the Cowboys offense putting up a ton of points, the oppostion had to play catch-up quite a bit so they weren’t able to stick with the running game as much. But when they did, they found success. The prime example is what the San Francisco 49ers did agaisnt the Cowboys defense in the playoffs. The 49ers ran the ball 38 times for 169 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per carry. They also had two touchdowns on the ground. They bullied the Cowboys right out of their own stadium.
Consequently the Cowboys have worked on beefing up their run defense. It’s only preseason, but so far it is working. Last week the Cowboys played the Broncos. While not a lot went right for the Cowboys in that game, one thing did - run defense. The Broncos ran the ball 22 times for 29 yards, a 1.8 yards per carry average. Last night versus the Chargers, when you remove the quarterback scrambles from the rush total, you get similar results. The Chargers ran the ball 23 times for 53 yards, a 2.3 yards per carry average.
Obviously it is just preseason. This is mainly backups versus backups so the takeaway from the data is limited. Come the regualr season it could all be different. Still, it is much better we are sitting here today talking about the possibility that the Cowboys have improved their run defense based on preseason play as opposed to the opposite. If they Cowboys were getting gashed in preseason we’d be saying it’s just the same old thing as last year, like we are doing with the penalties.
In the Chargers game, Osa Odighizuwa played on 18% of the snaps, as did Neville Gallimore. Quinton Bohanna was in for 12% of the snaps, and Carlos Watkins was in on 16%. It appears that those guys are being primed for the bulk of the snaps in the middle. Trysten Hill, who had a good night with his strip sack/fumble recovery, got 34% of the snaps and John Ridgeway was in for 35%. That constitutes most of the defensive tackle snaps from guys who could make the roster except for the times Chauncey Golston was in the middle (39% overall in various spots).
Having tough play in the middle of the line is one big requirement to solid run defense, but the Cowboys have been getting contributions across the board. The ends have done a good job of setting the edge on most plays, and the linebackers are flowing freely to the ball. The Cowboys backup linebackers have been performing well in run defense, an encouraging sign for the future. But maybe the biggest contribution has come from a secondary that is more than willing to stick their noses into the action on run plays and make tackles. We’re not seeing many business decisions from those players.
Again, it’s preseason. But we can only go on what we see. And so far, you have to like what you see from the Cowboys run defense.