Can the Dallas Cowboys defense carry the team to the playoffs?
By Richard Ball
Hidden behind their atrocious offensive performance, the Dallas Cowboys defense must carry the team until the offensive can find its rhythm.
Charles Dickens once wrote that it was the best of times and the worst of times. I don’t think he was thinking about the 2018 version of the Dallas Cowboys when he penned A Tale of Two Cities. But it could apply to the state of the offense and defense for this season’s Cowboys.
It was not long ago that the Cowboys offense carried the load for the team. In 2016, the offense led by two rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, finished fifth in yards per game while the defense was very middle of the road at 14th.
Fast forward only two years and the roles have reversed. The Cowboys offense sits embarrassingly low as third worst in generating yards while the Dallas defense is third best at preventing their opponent from gaining yards and only eight yards per game from being the league’s best.
So what has changed? Core pieces from the Cowboys offense in 2016 have departed or are not playing in center Travis Frederick, offensive guard Ronald Leary, tight end Jason Witten, and wide receiver Dez Bryant. In their place are a career backup, a rookie guard and a group of unproven tight ends and wide receivers. Complimentary receivers Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley remain as do standouts right guard Zack Martin, left tackle Tyron Smith and Elliott.
Under the microscope is the offensive line protection, Prescott’s play, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s play calling and Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett stubbornness. That’s a mouthful of things that need to improve. Fans are calling loudest for Linehan’s play calling to revert to what worked in 2016.
On the flip side, the Dallas defense is a cause for excitement. The play of linebacker Jaylon Smith is encouraging and fortifies the Cowboys resolve in drafting him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft knowing he would medically redshirt his first season.
The secondary, especially corners Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, has been stellar. The self-proclaimed Hot Boyz, the Cowboys defensive linemen, start to the season promises opposing quarterbacks will be under pressure to perform.
With all three levels of the Cowboys defense playing well, it will be a shame to waste their effort with lackluster offensive performance. While two losses in three games isn’t the outcome most envisioned or desired for Dallas, the reality is that the Cowboys are only one game out of first place and are the only NFC East team with a divisional win.
While the current reality is not ideal, it is salvageable so long as the Cowboys offense can show some signs of positive performance. If the offense could even be considered average and the defense maintains their performance, it is not out of the question that America’s Team will stay in contention.
I’ll leave it to others to figure out how the Dallas Cowboys offense will fix their issues. The main point for you to consider is that the season is not in dire straits, yet, but it will be critical for Dallas’ offense to show signs of life in the very near future if Cowboys fans will be watching meaningful January football.