One of the Cowboys’ big goals this year was to improve defense performance. And it is not for less, after having in 2020 one of the worst defenses in the history of the team. This led to the leadership hiring Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator, and bringing in numerous reinforcements through the draft and free agency.
Now, five weeks later, it seems that there is a change compared to 2020. Although certain statistics do not reflect it.
In 2020, the Cowboys defense allowed 6,183 total yards, averaging 386.4 yards per game (23rd in the NFL). In other averages per game, Dallas was 11th in passing yards (227.6 per game), 31st in rushing yards (158.8) and 28th in points per game (29.6). Truly terrible figures.
Now, after the first five weeks of the 2021 season, the picture is different. In per game averages, the Cowboys rank 25th in total yards (390.4), 31st in passing yards (311.0), 5th in rushing yards (79.4) and 14th in points per game (23.4).
Although the numbers of total yards and passing yards may be worrisome, where a notable improvement has been noticed is in the running defense. It is true that there are only five games, but this was the defensive section where Dallas suffered the most last year. And, in fact, a good part of the additions made in defense were to improve this aspect.
Notable evidence of this has been the performance of rookies Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna, as well as veterans Brent Urban and Carlos Watkins. Of course, the strong performance of Leighton Vander Esch and the great level of Keanu Neal and rookie Micah Parsons have also been critical.
9⃣7⃣ Osa Odighizuwa with a big stop! pic.twitter.com/1nnv4bxnCu
— Dallas Cowboys Collaboration (@mailman_phil) October 3, 2021
The changes of possession, a key aspect
Besides, another of the most noticeable improvements in the Cowboys defense compared to last year has to do with the turnovers or changes of possession. At the beginning of 2020, the cowboy team was almost incapable of generating interceptions or fumbles. However, this improved towards the end of the season.
Now, in 2021, Dallas is the second team with the most turnovers in the NFL with 12, three less than the Bills. So far, the Cowboys have had two fumbles and 10 interceptions. And, in this last section, they are leaders in the NFL ahead of the Bills and the Saints, who have 9 each.
But that is not all. Right now, the Cowboys are on a 9-game streak with multiple changes of possession. This streak, it is worth noting, began in week 14 of 2020 against the Bengals, a game where Dallas recovered the ball three times. This ties the team’s longest streak recording multiple turnovers, matching the streak the Western defense had in the 1983 season.
This, in large part, is thanks to the performance of Trevon Diggs. The young cornerback leads Dallas and the NFL with six interceptions. In fact, he also leads the team and the league in passes defended (10). If this continues, Diggs could break NFL records in both sections.
The Dallas defense is currently riding a nine-game streak with multiple takeaways after forcing two turnovers today against the N.Y. Giants, the longest active streak in the NFL. It is Dallas’ longest string of games since since a nine-game streak in the 1983 season:
— Dallas Cowboys Public Relations (@DallasCowboysPR) October 11, 2021
TREVON DIGGS IS AN INTERCEPTION MACHINE. #DallasCowboys
Several players have been dominant
Another difference from the Cowboys defense in 2020 has to do with the presence of dominant players. Only a few achieved that status last year, and sporadically. Now, various pieces of the western defense have proven to be formidable opponents for opposing offenses.
This has been the case not only for Trevon Diggs, but also for Keanu Neal and Jayron Kearse, as well as rookies Micah Parsons and Osa Odighizuwa. All of them have shown a great level in the five games so far, and that has been seen in the overall performance of the defense beyond the statistics.
Special mention goes to defensive end Randy Gregory. It is true that his statistics last Sunday against the Giants do not play in his favor. However, the statistics website Pro Football Focus (PFF) indicates that Gregory recorded 9 pressures in 30 snaps where the quarterback was pressured. A quite remarkable figure that speaks of Gregory’s role as a pass-rusher.
PFF credited Randy Gregory with 9 (!) pressures on 30 pass rush reps
— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) October 11, 2021
Looking at all of this, it’s clear that the Cowboys defense has improved in many ways with Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator. It is true that there are still things that they still have to work on, but the feelings have been positive. Especially in the way Quinn has managed to rearm the defense despite the casualties during these five weeks.
If this continues, there is no doubt that the Cowboys defense will not weigh down the team’s offensive performance. At least not in the way it happened during various encounters in 2020.