Austin On Dallas: How Good Can The Cowboys Defense Be In 2012?

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I’ve recently noticed increasing online debate on just how good the Dallas Cowboys defense is going to be in 2012.  With several impressive off-season additions and a full slate of practice time to install the intricate details, I’m sure most would agree there will be improvement across the defense.  The exact level of this improvement seems to be the point in question.

To tackle this topic in a more concrete manner I decided to take a look back at the 2009 defense and its personnel.  The 2009 Cowboys defense was arguably the best defense Dallas has fielded since 1996.  I make this claim off the single most important defensive statistic of points surrendered per game.

In 2009, the Boys gave up 15.6 ppg, which was the best average since the 1996 defense yielded the exact same total.  To break the tie between the two defenses we move to yards allowed per game, which the ’96 team had a large advantage giving up only 274 ypg to the 2009 team’s 316 ypg.

The 2009 Dallas defense was the most difficult to score on in the last 15 years.  And as all quality defensive coaches will agree, points allowed per game is the most important statistic when judging defensive performance.  Points allowed is the only statistic a team cannot end in deficit and still win the game.

With that in mind, I decided to compare the key personnel of the #2 ranked 2009 Dallas Cowboys defense and the current defense heading into 2012.  While this is not a mere comparison between 2009 and 2011, it does help to see where the team and each player was producing in 2011 to use as one of the factors when predicting 2012 production.

Just glancing at the above comparison, a few important things jump right out.  The rush defense is already very close to the previous level of dominance.  The number of sacks is dead even, meaning pass rush is on par.  Forced turnovers is also on track with 28 in 2009 to 27 in 2011.

The big variations come in passing yards allowed and points per game.  And what these stats don’t list is that in 2009 the pass defense gave up 5 less TD’s than the 24 in 2011.  Suffice to say the only glaring difference between these two defenses resides squarely in the secondary.  And as we all know huge strides have already been made to correct this weakness.

Below are defensive comparisons between 2009 and 2012 on a position by position basis, followed by which team has the advantage.


  • Key Players:

2009 – Marcus Spears / Igor Olshansky / Jason Hatcher

2012 – Kenyon Coleman / Jason Hatcher / Marcus Spears

  • Matchups:

2009 Marcus Spears / Jason Hatcher  VS.  2012 Jason Hatcher / Marcus Spears

Since Jason Hatcher and Marcus Spears are in the top 3 players at this position on both squads, I’ll compare them first even though they play opposite sides now.  Spears was at LDE in 2009 (he’s back at RDE now) and Hatcher is at RDE.

As the starter in 2009, Spears had 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks.  As the starter in 2011, Hatcher had 28 tackles and 4.5 sacks, playing in only 13 games compared to Spears’ full 16.  As back-ups during each respective year they both contributed only 1 sack a piece.

So basically this is a square off of who is better between the 2009 Spears and the 2012 Hatcher.  Seeing as Hatcher provided more tackles and sacks during his first year of significant starting snaps than Spears did in 2009, I’d have to say the 2012 version of Hatcher will be even better than last year, and further separate himself from the 2009 Spears.

2009 Igor Olshansky vs. 2012 Kenyon Coleman

Igor recorded 40 tackles and 1.5 sacks during the 2009 season, while Coleman racked up 36 tackles and 1 sack in 2012.  Both players were in their first season with the Dallas Cowboys after being acquired in free agency.  While Igor has a very slight advantage in both categories, I’m also going to weigh in the fact that Kenyon Coleman did not have the luxury of an off-season to learn and practice the defense, or even workout at the facility. Both players will pretty much be even after Coleman has a full off-season to practice with his teammates, and a year of experience with the Cowboys.

  • ADVANTAGE:  2012 DEFENSE (slight)


  • Key Players:

2009 – Jay Ratliff / Junior Siavii

2012 – Jay Ratliff / Josh Brent

  • Matchups:

2009 Jay Ratliff  VS. 2012 Jay Ratliff

One would think there wouldn’t be much difference as Jay Ratliff is Jay Ratliff.  However a look into his career totals tells a slightly different story.  In both 2008 and 2009 (4th and 5th year), Ratliff’s numbers far exceeded the years before and since.  They actually suggest that Jay’s prime was during those years.

In 2008 he had 51 tackles and 7.5 sacks, and in 2009 he collected 40 tackles and 6 sacks.  Both are excellent totals for a nose tackle.  However in 2011, Jay turned in his worse season since with 38 tackles and 2 sacks.  The 2 sacks were his lowest total since his rookie year in 2005.  Ratliff is still a top tier nose tackle, but the numbers do indicate he was a more effective player in 2009 than now.

2009 Junior Siavii  VS. 2012 Josh Brent

The battle of the backups is just not significant enough to factor in at this position.  Siavii had 11 tackles and 0 sacks in 2009, while Brent scored 6 tackles and 0 sacks in 2011.  The equalizing factor…Josh Brent played in 11 games, 4 fewer than Siavii’s 15 games.