Dallas Cowboys defense: Where are the sacks and interceptions?

Xavier Woods, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Xavier Woods, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Despite ranking in the top-five in scoring defense, the Dallas Cowboys defensive unit hasn’t looked as good as they did in 2018. What’s missing in Big D?

When it comes to causing turnovers, the Dallas Cowboys have made it clear that those takeaways will be generated in the trenches. In the Cowboys’ defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Kris Richard, it’s the defensive line that’s responsible for getting enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to force those mistakes.

A byproduct of that pressure should be an increased number of sacks and interceptions. Yet, through the first three games of the regular season, the Cowboys have struggled in both areas. And it would seem the blame lies with the defensive line … or does it?

The Cowboys made the point in the 2019 NFL Draft that defensive line play is more important than adding a playmaker to their secondary. With their first selection in the draft, which wasn’t until the second round, Dallas chose to ignore a trio of talented safeties. Instead, the team used the 58th overall pick on UCF defensive tackle Trysten Hill, who was consequently a healthy-scratch through the first two weeks of the regular season.

Dallas is one of only five NFL teams yet to register a single interception in 2019 so far. The other four teams are the 0-2-1 Arizona Cardinals, the 1-2 Oakland Raiders, the 0-3 Denver Broncos, and the 1-2 Jacksonville Jaguars. Out of this group, the Cowboys are the lone franchise with a winning record (3-0).

As for sacks, the Dallas defense has recorded a total of 5.0 sacks over their three-game span. That amount is good enough for 23rd in a five-team tie. There are only five other NFL teams that have recorded less total sacks than the Cowboys. They are the 0-2 Washington Redskins, the 1-2 Philadelphia Eagles, the 0-3 Miami Dolphins, the 1-2 Los Angeles Chargers, and again, the 0-3 Broncos. Three of Dallas’ sacks came against the tanking Dolphins this past Sunday.

Despite the low production in both sacks and interceptions, the Cowboys are fourth in the NFL in scoring defense only allowing an average of 14.7 points per game to opposing teams. And Dallas’ offense is humming, ranking third in the NFL in total yards (1,444) and fourth in scoring, averaging a whopping 32.3 points per game. Hence, their undefeated record.

Yet, we saw the offense stumbled out of the gate against the lowly Dolphins on Sunday. And with better teams ahead on the schedule, you have to believe these deficiencies will begin impacting the win/loss column at some point.

Here’s what DallasCowboys.com football analyst Bryan Broaddus replied to a recent mailbag question about the team’s defensive unit taking a step back to start the season.

"“Those balls that hit defensive backs’ hands need to be caught, plain and simple. The pass rush should improve with Robert Quinn now in the mix because he can consistently win those one-on-one battles he’s going to face. Affect the quarterback and this defense will be different.”"

Broaddus points out the fact that this defensive unit in Dallas has had their opportunities to make interceptions and failed. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have adopted the philosophy that their defensive line is far more important than their secondary when it comes to investment.

That’s been reflected by the drafting of Hill, the trade made for defensive end Robert Quinn, key free agent signings like Kerry Hyder and Christian Covington, plus the five-year, $105 million deal granted to pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence. All of which took place this offseason. In comparison, the Cowboys’ secondary remained relativity untouched despite generating just six interceptions as a unit last season.

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So if the issue is the Dallas Cowboys simply don’t possess the playmakers in the secondary to take advantage of those turnover opportunities, then that’s on the Cowboys’ coaching staff and front office for their choices. But the fact is the defensive line themselves has been banged up and yet to be at full strength. Once they are, we should see the sack numbers rise and more chances for interceptions. Whether this secondary can take advantage of them is anyone’s guess.