Did Bucky Brooks just call the Dallas Cowboys’ defense championship-caliber? Is he right?
Much of the recent talk about the Dallas Cowboys has been focused on the offensive side of the ball. Most of the changes this offseason have come on the defensive side of the ball. The perceived weak link here seems pretty straight-forward.
Despite posting a mediocre 8-8 record, the Cowboys’ offense still led the NFL in yardage in 2019. Their passing attack ranked second while their rushing offense ranked fifth. Through the air or on the ground, the offense in Dallas was well-balanced and highly-regarded.
The same can not be said for the defense. While their rankings are likely better than you’d think, this unit experienced some drastic changes ever since Mike McCarthy was hired as head coach.
For one, the entire defensive coaching staff was nixed outside of assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett. Now, Mike Nolan is the defensive coordinator. Also, the majority of the free agency additions took place on that side of the ball. And four of the team’s first six picks in the 2020 draft addressed the defense.
With a flurry of changes, I’m not sure anyone would project the Cowboys’ defense to suddenly become the talk of the league. However, here’s what NFL Media Analyst Bucky Brooks recently wrote on DallasCowboys.com about the addition of free-agent defensive end Everson Griffen and his impact on the “D” in Dallas.
“Griffen is a high-end EDGE defender with game-changing ability. He gives the Cowboys a traditional defensive end to play opposite Demarcus Lawrence in a 4-3 scheme. … Overall, Griffen is a blue-chip player who is an upgrade over his predecessor (Robert Quinn) and a potential difference-maker for a championship-caliber defense.”
Wait. Did I just read that correctly? Did Brooks just call the Cowboys’ defense … championship-caliber? I’m not sure many in the media would go out on that limb. But is Brooks right?
Comparing the Dallas Cowboys’ defense to the Chiefs
Let’s compare last year’s defense in Dallas against the actual championship defense of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Cowboys’ defense ranked ninth in yardage allowed, 10th in passing defense, and 11th against the run. The Chiefs’ defense ranked 17th in yardage allowed, eighth in passing defense, and 26th against the run.
Based on those numbers, it appears the Chiefs’ championship run had more to do with their sixth-rated offense (yardage) that averaged 28.2 points per game. The latter being the fifth-highest scoring average in the NFL last season, just above, you guessed it, the Cowboys’ offense (27.1). It appears any defense can become championship-caliber if the offense scores enough.
Admittedly, the Chiefs did best the Cowboys’ defense in a few key areas. Kansas City ranked fourth in the NFL in allowed completion percentage (60.5), 11th in sacks (45) and tied for 10th in total takeaways, recording 16 interceptions to the Cowboys’ league-worst seven picks. But also remember that how a defense plays in critical moments can be the difference in posting an 8-8 record like Dallas or a 12-4 record like Kansas City in 2019.
Now, consider the fact the Cowboys lost several of their defensive starters including Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones, sack-leading defensive end Robert Quinn, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, and safety Jeff Heath to free agency this offseason. With both Jones and Quinn being vital to any defensive success this team had last year, this is far from being the same unit after the gutting it experienced this offseason, for better or worse.
Now, the Cowboys did a terrific job of filling those defensive voids with players like Griffen, defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But still, this a unit with several new faces that will need to gel quickly following an offseason training program turned entirely virtual due to a worldwide pandemic.
Still, the talent on that side of the roster is undeniable. The front seven reads like a Pro Bowl roster. DeMarcus Lawrence, McCoy, Poe, and Griffen manning the trenches. Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee roaming the middle. It’s a literal dream team.
Questions about the secondary still linger and will likely be this unit’s biggest stumbling block. But if the new coaching staff can manage to find a winning combination of defensive backs, this entire defense could easily become something special.
In the end, hoping the Dallas Cowboys’ defense comes together quickly enough to be considered championship-caliber in 2020 seems to be a very lofty goal. Yet, the roster is talented enough to do so.