The Dallas Cowboys went to East Rutherford, New Jersey last Sunday on a mission, especially defensively. It started on the first possession when safety Juanyeh Thomas blocked a field that was returned 58 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Noah Igbinoghene.
Up 16-0 late in the first quarter, cornerback Trevon Diggs rocked New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley after a reception which caused the ball to pop out, and 2022 sensation DaRon Bland took it to the end zone. Just like the rain that fell onto MetLife Field, the Cowboys defense washed away any hope for the Giants as they racked up seven sacks, forced three turnovers, and didn't allow a single point while the team scored 40.
As dominant as this performance was by the Cowboys defensively, when you think about it for a second, it shouldn't surprise anyone. They have everything.
On the defensive line, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is still an animal when it comes to setting the edge and stopping the run. They also have Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, and Dante Fowler to throw at people on the edge. Osa Odighizuwa has turned into a force getting to the quarterback on the interior, and with veteran Johnathan Hankins and rookie Mazi Smith giving the Cowboys much-needed run support, throw in Chauncey Golston and the interior is good to go.
It's unfortunate what happened to rookie linebacker DeMarvion Overshown who tore his ACL after a promising training camp and preseason. However, Leighton Vander Esch and his ability to shoot gaps against the run and defend the pass, and second-year stud Damone Clark who looks every bit like he's going to take the next step after a promising rookie campaign, Dallas will be fine on the second level.
Dallas made the ultimate chess move during the offseason when they traded for cornerback Stephon Gilmore, a former Defensive Player of the Year. Now, Diggs, who has reached All-Pro status, has another lockdown cornerback on the other side, which makes his job a lot easier. As if that wasn't enough, the Cowboys have Bland and veteran Jourdan Lewis in at the nickel cornerback spot, two ball hawks. Recently, Markquese Bell has added his name to the mix on the inside, making the group even stronger.
Dallas has an abundance of talent at safety. Malik Hooker, Jayron Kearse, and Donovan Wilson have become one of the best trio of safeties in the NFL. In large part, it's due to Kearse and Wilson's ability to pretty much be safety/linebacker hybrids, which creates a ton of options. The aforementioned Thomas, and Israel Mukuamu, who can also play cornerback, give the group depth.
Of course, there's the ultimate chess piece, Micah Parsons. He's established himself as one of the most dominant edge rushers in the NFL, plus he roams sideline-to-sideline as a linebacker if need be. Not to mention, he slides inside at times to create matchup problems and to give other guys one-on-one opportunities. He's a cyborg in shoulder pads.
The talent is unreal on the Cowboys defense, and it's also loaded with a lot of youth, so their play is only going to elevate the more reps they get. However, having the players is one thing, but someone has to cook the ingredients to make the meal correctly, and that's where defensive coordinator Dan Quinn comes in.
Quinn's ability to fit his system around his players rather than fit them to his philosophy is what's been impressive. He knows just where to take advantage of their strengths while not exposing their weakness, at least not too much. He took over a Cowboys defense that was one of the league's worst in 2020 and has gotten them to lead the NFL in turnovers in back-to-back seasons, being the first unit of its kind to do that since the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s.
The Cowboys have also been a top-10 scoring defense the last two years, and when you can take the ball away and keep points to a minimum as a defense, it puts opposing offenses in a lot of tough situations. What that also does is it takes the pressure off the Cowboys offense to score so many points, although they can explode at any time as well with the talent they have on that side of the ball.
The Cowboys are fast, physical, hungry, and exceptionally coached defensively under Quinn. Simply put, the entire NFL better take notice if they haven't already, the Cowboys' defense is turning into the league's best.