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Lack of takeaways on defense coming back to haunt Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East in 2018 on the backs of an up-and-coming defense that hasn’t quite shown the same level of play in 2019.
Credit: AP
The Dallas Cowboys defense line is seen in action during a preseason NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Aug. 17, 2019, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

DALLAS —

Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys’ brutal 34-24 loss to their long-time rivals, the Green Bay Packers. 

The offense was unable to get into the endzone until the 3rd quarter when Dallas was already down 31-3. Dak Prescott’s crew was incapable of finishing drives that routinely found their way into Packers territory before stalling out due to untimely turnovers and mental mistakes. 

But, for as much guff as the offense has been getting of late, the other side of the ball was just as culpable for Green Bay rampaging through the Cowboys and handing Dallas a second consecutive loss after starting the season 3-0. After holding the Saints to just four field goals, the Packers’ offense was able to run all over the Dallas defense behind four Aaron Jones touchdowns. 

All of this transpired despite Dallas’ supposed run-stuffing acumen.

So while everyone is quick to discuss if new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s fast start with the offense was just a mirage in early 30 plus point showings, or ready to pull the plug on Jason Garrett for years of passive decision making, it’s time to take a critical eye toward a defense that was supposed to be a strength and one of the top units in the league this year.

Over the years, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has been known as one of the top defensive minds but has the hype been outpacing the production? One aspect of where this defense has failed would be producing turnovers, more importantly their inability to intercept passes and set up the offense in favorable situations.

The best team in that same span at picking off passes is Baltimore at 58. The list of players for the Cowboys during that span who have recorded interceptions is less than impressive. The leader of the group is starting strong safety Jeff Heath, from a position not generally counted on to pick off passes. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for a defense that is expected to create havoc under Marinelli and passing defense specialist Kris Richard. 

This imbalance could be one reason for the criticism of the offense when being more aggressive leads to turnovers and  it isn’t likely that the defense can get the ball back without forcing the opponent to punt. The Cowboys’ turnover margin this season is (-4), something that must improve for Dallas to contend with the top teams in the league.

Outside of his time in Chicago, Marinelli coached defenses haven’t been near the top in turnovers created, especially interceptions. It very well could be that Rod’s scheme is outdated. Many thought that bringing Richard to the staff would help but so far, 21 games into his tenure, the Cowboys continue to fail to produce takeaways. During Richard’s tenure at Seattle, with the storied Legion of Boom defense, only once did his defenses rank in the top ten in takeaways. Last season the Dallas defense ranked 16th in takeaways and so far this year the team is 27th in that regard.

The Cowboys need to turn that part of their defense around, and doing so would greatly help an offense that is seeing some growing pains at this point. Following the season, if the Dallas defense continues to be unable to produce turnovers, it might be time for a new voice in the room. 

Just like how it’s a prove it year for Jason Garrett and the offense, it might be a prove it year for Marinelli and the defense, and, if it can’t get over the hump, it could be time to bring in someone with new ideas and techniques that will give Dallas the opportunity to play at a higher level.

How are you feeling about how the Dallas defense is performing so far this season? Share your thoughts with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.

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