Defense creating a dark cloud over Cowboys playoff chances

DALLAS - Do you remember when we were all so excited about this upcoming season? Oh, the potential of this new Dallas Cowboys team as they tried to build off a 13-3 season with a new franchise quarterback at the helm. And when they started the season off with a beat down of the New York Giants, things were really looking promising.

Oh how the tides have changed. As it turns out, the Giants aren’t capable of beating anyone and the Cowboys have since lost three of their next four games and now sit two games back of the Philadelphia Eagles. It brings me great discomfort to type that. But that’s how it is and it’s time to face the music. And lately, the Cowboys have been signing an all familiar tune where they take a lead into the second half and blow it.

For the second-straight game, the Cowboys have been up by more than 10 points in the second quarter only to have things fall apart. On Sunday, that lead was 15 points and it wasn’t enough to hold off Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense. The offense is doing their job, but the defense is not.

That’s alarming.

The Cowboys defense entered the season with a lot of question marks, but none was more worrisome that the complete makeover that took place in the secondary. The defense lost Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox to free agency this off-season. Now don’t get me wrong, during their tenure in Dallas, these guys got a lot of flak for a lot of the missteps in the secondary.

Not a lot of tears were shed when these guys left town, especially when you took into account their price tag. The Cowboys simply looked to the draft to address the secondary needs, selecting four defensive backs in the 2017 NFL Draft. But was that the right way to go?

Were these players really unimpressive or was their lacklustre performance just a product of the Cowboys defensive environment? Let’s have a looksee, shall we? Carr, Claiborne, Church, and Wilcox all combined for just one interception in 2015. They had a total of five picks last season. So far this season with their new teams, these guys already have five interceptions between them. The Cowboys, as a team, only have two.

The Cowboys cornerbacks really struggled against the Packers. Second-year corner, Anthony Brown was beat on several occasions. Multiple times he allowed too much space on slant routes which lead to first downs for Green Bay. And he got beat on a sluggo route that gave the Packers their first touchdown of the game.

Veteran corner, Orlando Scandrick is having problems too. While he’s a physical tackler, his play in coverage has been disappointing. Scandrick has a tough time keeping his footing when the receivers change directions and can never seem to get his body turned around to make a play on the ball.

Then there is rookie, Jourdan Lewis, who Rodgers would pick on all night. Lewis did a good job making open field tackles and his coverage was the best of all the corners, but he was a little grabby at times. He got called for a holding penalty and of course we all remember him getting beat on the game winning touchdown.

It’s not just the cornerbacks that are the problem for the defense. The linebackers have been horrid as of late. Sure, Sean Lee has missed the last two games and he makes a noticeable difference, but the guys out there should be doing a better job.

Jaylon Smith’s story is heart-warming, but his performance on the field is heart-wrenching. He had a really hard time shedding blocks and often times he’ll over pursue in one direction which takes him out of the play because he doesn’t have the lateral agility to change directions. And at times, he just flat out whiffs on making tackles.

Without Lee on the field, the Cowboys linebacker group lacks gap discipline and it shows. In all three losses this season, the defense has given up at least 160 yards rushing. They didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher all year and so far this season, they’ve allowed three.

The organization has been trying to rebuild this defense, but they’ve had a rough go. Their top three draft picks this year were all on defense and it’s safe to say that they haven’t had the impact fans were expecting.

And it doesn’t help that the team’s top defensive draft pick last year (Smith) is still not physically ready to make plays. Or that one of the top defensive draft picks the year before that is not even with the team right now (Randy Gregory).

The Cowboys have a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball if they are to be legit contenders this year. The way they are playing now will not carry them into the postseason. If the hottest topic from the game consists of whether or not the offense scored the go ahead touchdown too early because of a woeful defense that couldn’t make a stop – well, that’s a good indicator they have a problem. Changes are needed.

Some of these changes will include getting healthy as players like Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie, and Stephen Paea should be good to go after the bye week. But these additions alone will not be enough. The defense needs to get things figured out or else all this talent they have offensive side of the ball will be for naught.

 

Are you worried about the Cowboys defense? Do you think they can get back on track in time to make a playoff run? Share your answer with Dan on Twitter @DannyPhantom24.

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