Dec 22, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett on the field before the game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
But don’t think the Cowboys aren’t aware of this deficiency. This all part of the team’s plan to rebuild their defensive line the “right way.” And according to what Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told ESPNDallas on Wednesday, it all started by releasing some aging veterans.
"“There is an analogy there. A lot of veteran players, who were really good, of the same generation, and you have to transition. You have to get younger…The games are won and lost up front and always will be lost up front. If you don’t have good offensive and defensive linemen your skill guys can’t do what they need to do. So we’ve tried to do that. We’ve kind of tried to restructure our fronts over the last few years and build the team the right way.”"
And the Cowboys have gotten younger in a hurry. Unfortunately, they are still at the beginning process of retooling this defensive line. As fans, we’ve seen this entire process before…with our offensive line. And that started with 2011’s first round drafting of USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith. Boise State’s DeMarcus Lawrence is our new Tyron Smith for the defensive line. But does that fact make the Cowboys three-years away from becoming good again?
Fear not. The Cowboys do have a game plan to fix their current front seven issues. And according to Garrett, it comes down to one word: Rotation.
"“Defensive line is one of those positions you can’t have enough of those guys, Some of the best teams I’ve been around, some of the best teams we’ve completed against seem to have a boatload of these defensive linemen constantly coming at you … We’ve just got to keep them coming…The best defensive lines I’ve been around are the ones that have ‘wave’ players. If you think back to the 90s when this team was winning Super Bowls there were eight legit defensive linemen rotating through games. Jim Jeffcoat playing 12 plays in a game. It’s ridiculous.”"
And it’s a philosophy that falls directly in-line with new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. The Cowboys former defensive line coach and his group of Rush Men surprised many last season as Dallas was able to find players literally off-the-streets and make them into effective NFL starters. The best examples being defensive tackle Nick Hayden and defensive end George Selvie. Both of whom should play a vital role in reviving this Dallas defense in 2014. And according Selvie via ESPN Dallas, it was the lack of wave players that hurt last year’s squad down the stretch.
"““We played a lot of snaps last year. Where the rotation helps is everybody can stay fresh. The new guys coming in, it will help a lot. It was rough by the end of the year. We were hurting. A lot of snaps like that takes a toll on your body.”"
Do the Cowboys have the worst front seven in football? Will the Cowboys plan to rotate several players in-and-out actually work? The answer to these questions are exactly the same. No one knows. Until they play the games, it’s all a guessing game. But if we look back into recent history, it may give fans a reason for hope.
In 2012, the New Orleans Saints had the worst ranked defense in the league. Aided by the addition of former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Saints finished the next season as the fourth best defense in the NFL. And this is not a one-time occurrence. Check this trend out:
2012: Worst Total Defense in NFL – New Orleans Saints
Their Defense’s ranking the following year: 4th
2011: Worst Total Defense in NFL – Green Bay Packers
Their Defense’s ranking the following year: 11th
2010: Worst Total Defense in NFL – Denver Broncos
Their Defense’s ranking the following year: 20th
2009: Worst Total Defense in NFL – Detroit Lions
Their Defense’s ranking the following year: 21st
Now admittedly, the Lions had the worst defense in the league both in 2008 and 2009. But we can still see a recent trend of improvement. Teams that finish last one year tend to move up this list in the next. I think it highlights the impact injuries, schedule and luck has on this ranking. And if the trend continues, chances are Dallas shouldn’t be last in defense again come season’s end.