Time for Rod Marinelli to produce an elite Dallas Cowboys defense

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 14: Jaylon Smith #54 and the Dallas Cowboys defense celebrate a fumble recovery against the Jacksonville Jaguars at AT&T Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 14: Jaylon Smith #54 and the Dallas Cowboys defense celebrate a fumble recovery against the Jacksonville Jaguars at AT&T Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have an abundance of talent. His defense must play at an elite level for a deep playoff run.

Although debatable, it’s not a stretch to say that Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will go into this season with the most talent he’s had during his tenure.

Barring any catastrophic injuries, Marinelli must field an elite defense for the Cowboys to meet the lofty expectations of a deep playoff run.

Following the Cowboys 13-10 victory over the New Orleans Saints last year, a defensive man-handling, Marinelli was clear about his stance on if he considered the defense elite.

Here is what near 70-year old coordinator told Clarence Hill Jr. in the Star-Telegram last December.

"“We got to keep doing everything. You are not elite until you can be consistently good every single week. You have to constantly build on it. You got to build on it. That’s our challenge each and every week. The challenge isn’t the opponent the challenge is us.”"

There were several pieces that came together nicely last year for the veteran defensive guru. Specifically, the play of cornerback Byron Jones, and linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were expectation busters.

Each of these players stepped up to meet the intensity and consistent play of All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Overall, the defense played well as a unit, but these were the players that led the Cowboys to a top-seven NFL ranking in points and yards per game according to ESPN.com

So what will it take for the Cowboys to field an elite defense? The one consistent negative about last year’s Dallas defense was its inability to create turnovers. With the exception of the Denver Broncos Super Bowl team in 2016, four out of the last five Super Bowl champions finished the regular season in the top-five in giveaway/takeaways differential.

This is the area where Dallas has to focus this talented group of defenders. During that same five-year span, the average giveaway/takeaway ranking for the Marinelli-led defenses was 15th. This is where the extra talent matters because better players make plays.

The defensive line will have elite talent. In addition to Lawrence, the Cowboys have added former first round pick, defensive end Robert Quinn in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. Also, the Cowboys drafted defensive tackle Trysten Hill from Central Florida who may become that Marinelli-coveted interior disruptor needed to create more one on one match-ups for both Lawrence and Quinn on the outside.

The linebacker corps is absolutely elite with Vander Esch and Smith leading the way as the best linebacker duo in the NFL according to a YouTube posting from Mike Renner and Cam Mellor from Pro Football Focus. While his injury history make a full season of service unlikely, the Cowboys have decided to plug former All-Pro linebacker, Sean Lee in on the strong side.

The defensive backfield is the one area that may hold the Cowboys back. Leading the way will be cornerbacks Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and safety Xavier Woods. The wildcard is the strong safety position which is now held by Jeff Heath.

Personally, I like Heath’s story, but it’s time for an upgrade as he missed 19 tackles and was the 80th ranked safety in the league per ProFootballFocus.com during the 2018 campaign. The Cowboys front office needs to make one last move to give Marinelli all the pieces necessary for a truly elite defense.

The conventional wisdom is the Cowboys will sign former Kansas City Chief safety, Eric Berry. After missing out on former Seattle Seahawk safety Earl Thomas, Berry is the best safety available and would be an immediate upgrade to the backend of this defense.

With or without Eric Berry, Rod Marinelli must have this defense performing at an elite level every week. If Dallas Cowboys’ owner/general manager Jerry Jones and his son, executive vice president Stephen Jones, pull the trigger on Berry, they will have done all they can to give the Marinelli-led defensive coaching staff a truly elite roster. Coach Marinelli, it’s all up to you sir.

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