The Dallas Cowboys defense approached elite status in 2018. Can they become the best in the NFL this upcoming season after their additions?
After a slow start last season, where the Dallas Cowboys lost five of their first eight games, their defense began to flex their muscles. It all culminated in Week 13 with a 13-10 primetime victory over the red hot New Orleans Saints, ending their impressive 10-game winning streak.
Featuring one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, one of the league top linebacker duos in Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch, and an underrated secondary; the Dallas defense surprised many with their performance in 2018.
The Cowboys ended last season ranked sixth in scoring defense with an average of 20.3 points allowed to opposing offenses. Dallas ranked 13th against the pass and fifth against the run.
So what makes this particular defense special? Here’s what one of the Cowboys’ newest arrivals, recent free agent signee veteran safety George Iloka, told reporters via the Dallas Cowboys official YouTube channel about what makes the Dallas defense different from the other units he’s played for.
"” … one thing that stood out on film is the energy they play with and the stamina they play with. So that’s the biggest difference on this defense from the other good defenses that I’ve been on is just the amount of energy, enthusiasm, and stamina they play with throughout the whole game and into the fourth quarter.”"
That energy and the swarming nature of this unit is a calling card of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who seems to get the most out of his players. And this year, Marinelli appears to have more weapons than ever.
Now the question becomes can the Cowboys improve on their defensive performance in 2018? Dallas has certainly made moves this offseason to help field a better defensive unit. The team traded for pass rusher Robert Quinn to bookend Lawrence and fill-in for currently suspended defensive end Randy Gregory.
The Cowboys also added Iloka, a seven-year veteran safety who is coming off a down season with the Minnesota Vikings. He’s expected to challenge starter Jeff Heath for the starting role at strong safety this summer. Dallas also used their top draft selection, their second rounder, on UCF defensive tackle Trysten Hill. The rookie defender is believed to be the perfect scheme fit for Marinelli’s defense at the three-technique.
Throw in the expected development of younger defenders like cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, safety Xavier Woods and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods. Plus the return of veterans like linebacker Sean Lee, Lawrence, and cornerback Byron Jones. And it doesn’t seem to be a stretch to believe this defensive unit could actually be better than they were in 2018.