We hear it every year from the Cowboys, how they need to get more turnovers and how much emphasis will be placed on it during the upcoming season. The difference this year is that they are actually walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
Last season, the Cowboys took the ball away from their opponent sixteen times to place them near the bottom in league standings. By contrast, they have taken the ball away nine times in just four games this pre-season. Carried over into the regular season, that would be 36 takeaways and an amazing turnaround. I realize it doesn’t work exactly that way, but as far as trends go, I think we can expect to see many more takeaways this season than we are accustomed to.
Why is that? Gone are the exotic (and confusing) schemes of the Rob Ryan era, having been replaced by the more basic, but solid, schemes of the Monte Kiffin Tampa style cover two defense. This defense is all about being at the right place at the right time and toughness. You see it’s hard hitting that jars the ball loose and the Cowboys have the personnel with the speed to be at the right place and the toughness to deliver the kind of blows to dislodge the ball.
But what we have seen so far has been accomplished with missing starters. Just wait until Morris Claiborne, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff return. I think it’s safe to say that with Ratliff and Spencer in the lineup you will see more sacks than we have seen in the pre-season. And with defensive pressure in the offensive backfield come more opportunities to take the ball away. Whether it be dislodging the ball from the quarterback, or forcing him into a bad throw that leads to an interception, there will be many more opportunities created.
Defensive pressure will be increased by sending a linebacker on an occasional blitz. The combination of size, strength and speed possessed by the likes of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter will be tough for an offensive line already trying to block the Cowboys defensive line to handle. We have already seen the results in the pre-season when Lee was sent on a blitz that resulted in a fumble by the opposing quarterback. Add to that the ability of these linebackers to cover the pass and you have more opportunities to take the ball away.
After all, even when the rest of the defense struggled to force turnovers the last few years, one constant was interceptions secured by Lee. By scheme, all of the linebackers will be in position to intercept the ball, not to mention the hard hits they will deliver every week that will, on occasion, lead to the ball being dislodged. It’s one thing to knock the ball loose. You still have to see it and get on top of it, which the Cowboys have been very good at as well this pre-season.
The other group on defense that will be responsible for getting its share of takeaways is the defensive backfield. Guys like Claiborne and Brandon Carr have a history of being ball hawking corners. With Claiborne it was during his college career at LSU and with Carr as a cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Cowboys new defensive scheme will allow them to capitalize on their abilities and instincts in this area.
Add to that the abilities of safeties Barry Church and Will Allen to get jar the ball loose or get the occasional interception and you have really made it tough on the opponent to maintain control of the ball. Even rookies added to this defense have shown the ability to get into the act by intercepting the ball, as shown by linebacker Devonte Holliman, safety J.J. Wilcox and cornerback B.W. Webb.
In conclusion, the Cowboys had the speed and toughness to be one of the top teams at taking the ball away they just needed the right scheme, which they now have. This defense has the will, the ability and now the scheme, to be a weapon of much destruction to every offense they encounter. I can’t wait to see it play out.
Random thoughts on the rest:
In past years player accountability has been an issue with this team. It was good to see head coach Jason Garrett sit DeMarco Murray in the game against the Bengals after he fumbled, even though the Cowboys managed to keep the ball. When Murray got back out there, he showed he had something to prove, which resulted in the best performance by a running back in the game.
Especially considering he had not previously played the position, I think Doug Free played fairly well at right guard and the line had a pretty good game. Quarterback Tony Romo commented on how he had more time to find a receiver than what he was used to. It will be interesting to see who the five starters are once Ronald Leary returns.
It is apparent, especially on defense that the Cowboys drafted well. We have seen good play from the likes of Wilcox, Webb and Holliman in these pre-season games.
I won’t be surprised if second year players Danny Coale and Matt Johnson don’t make the final cut. They have been too injury prone and have not shown up much when they have played, although the practice squad might be an opportunity to give them even more time.