Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) – defensive end Anthony Spencer (93) – linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) – defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (97) – linebacker Bruce Carter (54) – nose tackle Jay Ratliff (90) and cornerback Brandon Carr (39) on the line of scrimmage before a play during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Browns 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
We all know how it looks on paper. It’s looks bad. We are of course talking about the Dallas Cowboys defensive front seven. This offseason, the Cowboys defense (that ranked dead last in 2013 in total defense), released All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware. They also lost first-time Pro Bowler and last year’s defensive MVP in defensive tackle Jason Hatcher to free agency. And we can’t forget about the fiasco that was All-Pro defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and his suspicious departure mid-season.
So, you already have the worst defense in the league. Then you lose arguably your three best players along your defensive line. And let’s not forget to mention the season-ending injury to your defensive leader, middle linebacker Sean Lee. And to replace them you turn to two-former All-Pros returning from season-ending injuries, a number of unproven journeymen and a class of rookies outside of the first rou8nd pick, who was an offensive guard. Yeah, on paper, it looks real bad.
So bad, in fact, Sportsonearth.com’s sports writer Mike Tanier ranked the Cowboys with the worst front seven in the league. Here’s his explanation:
"“The Cowboys lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and (in the saddest, most ridiculous minicamp story of the year) Sean Lee from a defense that allowed 2,056 rushing yards and recorded just 36 sacks last year. Henry Melton arrives as a younger, more system-suited replacement for Hatcher, but everything else is a shambles. Bruce Carter, Justin Durant and DeVonte Holloman form the most anonymous linebacker corps in the league, and only Carter has any significant starting experience. Anthony Spencer may start the season on the PUP list as he battles back from microfracture surgery on his knee. And of course, the Cowboys are so cap-stressed that they wouldn’t be able to sign a veteran reinforcement, even if one becomes available this late in the offseason.”"
Tanier goes on to advise the Cowboys to go ahead and try to get as much playing time for rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens, calling the team’s depth too thin and talent poor to have any other choice. And he isn’t alone in this assessment, Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News had a similar evaluation when asked about Tanier’s article earlier this week:
"“I don’t see how you look at the Cowboys’ front seven right now and not believe it’s one of the worst front sevens in the league. And that’s what should really concern Cowboys fans. The Cowboys’ secondary was exposed last year because of the team’s inability to get consistent pressure on the QB. I can’t see how this front seven will get more pressure than the one last year. Who are the proven players in that front seven? Really, you could probably only say Henry Melton, but he’s coming off a major injury and Dallas really doesn’t know what he’ll look like until they see him practice some.”"