Jul 21, 2013; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Rod Marinelli at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Looking at the statistics of last season it is easy to see why many fans and analysts might be uneasy about the potential of the Dallas Cowboys next season. A change at the defensive helm, current players and a few new names have me thinking that there might be reason for a little bit of optimism about this unit.
Don’t misunderstand. It is clear that with the Cowboys you never really can trust that things aren’t going to completely self-destruct, but let’s look at a few of the changes that have been made and you tell me that we shouldn’t at least be hopeful for some strides.
First off, its clear there is nowhere to go but up. The defense was absolutely abysmal to begin with. Averaging 286.8 passing yards per game and 33 touchdowns through the air, the Cowboys were easily one of, if not the worst, defense in the league. Add to that, the fact that the defense allowed 27 points per game on average, and it’s a no-brainer why this team is listed in the bottom ten of almost every defensive category.
Losing Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware is only going to add fuel to the fire right? Not so fast. Let’s not forget that Ware only accumulated six sacks throughout the season. Now, whether that be due to injuries or whatever else, those just aren’t productive numbers. Hatcher on the other hand, had the best season of his career. His age and lack of consistency however, were two big reasons to show him the door.
Many might disagree, but I feel like Monte Kiffin had much to do with the massive downfall of this defense. Remember, Rob Ryan was much more effective with almost the same situation only a season ago. He too had to deal with a hoard of injuries and a patchwork defense, yet managed better results.
Also, at times it seemed as if the defense was so overly focused on creating turnovers that the simple idea of fundamentals and form tackling was lost on them. If you disagree, look no further than the statistics listed above. Even with 15 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles, the defense was only middle of the pack in the league.
Where is this reason for optimism I speak of then?
First, I’m placing a lot of faith in Rod Marinelli. If he can work half the miracle on this defense that he did with last year’s defensive line, then there is hope. While I wasn’t completely in agreement with the defensive line carousel of almost 20 players that was brought in, I feel like continuity is a better route, he was still able to make things happen.
Injuries are another reason to be optimistic. Early losses of players like Tyrone Crawford, and Mo Claiborne’s inability to stay on the field were huge reasons for such a historically bad defense. Clearly, in such a rough game, there are never any guarantees, but a full off-season of rest for a depleted unit can be a catalyst for success. Players like Sean Lee are essential to the progress of this unit, and perhaps this is the year he can pull through.
Another thing that caught my attention was the poor play of guys like Bruce Carter and Brandon Carr. Obviously there is plenty of blame to be passed around, but Carter’s flashes of athleticism and ability to fill in for the oft injured Lee in 2012 made this year hard to comprehend. Carr as well seemed useless at moments. Both players seemed completely lost and out of place at times. The talent is there, and perhaps a change of scheme will help to better utilize the talent in the linebacking corps and in the secondary.
Then there’s Henry Melton. After a 2012 season in which he made the Pro Bowl with six sacks, Melton makes his way to Dallas after having season ending knee surgery. There’s no guarantee here either of course, but the mere language of the contract Melton signed is purely incentive based, meaning Melton will have to be willing to play all out to earn what he thinks he’s worth. Then there’s the simple fact that Melton’s Pro Bowl season happened under the instruction of one Rod Marinelli. That name sounds familiar.
There is one last thing that gives me hope about a complete turnaround of this defense. And that’s Jerry Jones. I know this is a stretch, but it seems as if Jones has matured by leaps and bounds in only a matter of weeks. First it was the ability to allow two aging veterans to walk without overpaying, then the genius of both Brandon Weeden and Henry Melton’s contracts, and I would say I think he might be figuring it out. Don’t forget allowing both Melton and Jared Allen to leave Valley Ranch without a contract. If Jerry is making changes, then there is definitely hope. Maybe he can take this new-found knowledge and apply it to the defense in the draft.
A defense that boasts names like Brandon Carr, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Barry Church, Henry Melton, Mo Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and possibly Anthony Spencer should be at the least serviceable. Add in the names that will be added in the draft, and there, my friends, is the reason to be optimistic.