The Dallas Cowboys boast one of the fiercest defenses in the NFL. Dan Quinn is an excellent defensive coordinator with a proven reputation. However, he also has exceptional talent at his disposal. Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons are star players and defensive cornerstones. However, the Cowboys have assembled a perfect combination of veteran leadership and youthful prospects. Those young prospects have a part to play this season and could take this defense over the top. Here are three x-factors for the Cowboys defense in 2023.
From a medical standpoint, Damone Clark’s speedy recovery to the football field is remarkable, much less his having any on-filed impact in 2022. Clark underwent spinal fusion surgery in the spring of last year and was activated on October 5th of the 2022 season, far ahead of schedule. Taken in the fifth round (176th overall) and given his physical traits, Clark could be considered a steal.
Once given a chance, Clark demonstrated he was a fast learner, overtaking Jabril Cox on the depth chart. Clark played ten games, starting five and showcasing his sideline-to-sideline speed. The Cowboys did draft another speedy linebacker in DeMarvion Overshown last April, but considering where Clark is developmentally, expect him to see the field much more than his young counterparts. The Cowboys can be equally unpredictable with their coverages with Clark in the lineup.
Pressed into action due to injury, DaRon Bland hit the ground running. The Cowboys coaching staff entrusted the rookie cornerback from Fresno State to play one of the most difficult positions in the modern NFL - slot cornerback. Bland passed the test with flying colors, netting five interceptions, many of which demonstrated his terrific ball skills. On several occasions, Bland would wrestle the football away from the intended receiver at the point of the catch.
Bland’s first-year performance bought a lot of favor in the eyes of the coaching staff and will undoubtedly factor in defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s plans. Bland will have to compete against veteran Jourdan Lewis to earn the role of slot corner once more, but his tenacious hands backed with a fierce pass rush make it unlikely Bland will have a sophomore slump.
Another member of the 2022 draft class is on this list, and it is a testament to how far the front office knocked it out of the park in the 2022 draft. Williams didn’t see the field much, thanks to a formidable rotation of pass rushers, but when he did, he was effective. Williams played only 27% of the defensive snaps and still recorded four sacks. In arguably his best game, against the Detroit Lions, Williams netted two sacks, prompting CBS announcer Jim Nantz to call Williams “a rising star.”
That is yet to be determined. Williams made so much of an impact in his brief appearances that he finished sixth in voting for AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. However, if Williams continues to flourish, seeing him take a huge leap forward is not unreasonable. Imagine a front four that features Micah Parsons at the edge, Mazi Smith at the interior, DeMarcus Lawrence at under tackle, and Williams opposite Parsons—scary stuff. Williams could easily go from x-factor to Fear Factor for a ferocious defense.