The 2020 Dallas Cowboys: Worst defense in NFL history?

Dallas Cowboys, DeMarcus Lawrence - Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys, DeMarcus Lawrence - Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

After four games, the 2020 Dallas Cowboys are on pace to have the worst defense in NFL history.

Sunday ended yet another week featuring an embarrassing effort from the Dallas Cowboys defense. After four weeks into the 2020 season, this team is pathetically fortunate to not be winless at the quarter pole.

For the third consecutive week, the Cowboys defense allowed more than 38 points. For the third consecutive week, the Cowboys defense allowed more than 380 yards. Literally, all levels of the defense have failed miserably with little proof that things will get any better.

Could this Dallas Cowboys defense be the worst in the history of the NFL? The pace of which the decline has moved suggests this is absolutely in play.

After four games, the Dallas Cowboys are giving up the most points per game, allowing 36.5 points per game. That figure is comically bad. So terrible is that number, that it is almost a full point worse the all-time leader in futility.

Back in 1966, the New York Giants allowed 35.8 points per game. That number has not been outdone in 53 years of football. Giving up five touchdowns per game on average is bad enough until you realize only one other team has come within even a field goal of matching such horrible defense.

Now, before you start hunkering down in your camp of “who cares about defense when you score, baby!” let me warn you of truth. Every single team (all 66 of them) that has ever registered a season in the NFL that has allowed 28 or more points on a per-game basis has failed to make the playoffs, save the 2000 St. Louis Rams.

That version of the “Greatest Show on Turf”, which gave up 29.4 points per game won ten games thanks in large part to scoring almost 34 per game. It took exactly one playoff game to end their season as New Orleans beat them 31-28 in the Wild Card round.

Of the other 65 teams, only eleven won more than six games in their year of futile defense. As it turns out, an inability to stop teams from scoring generally means your team is in for a sad year.

Maybe you don’t care because you think times have changed. “Yeah, everyone is scoring more these days. Defense, schmefense!” Not so much.

The five worst teams as it pertains to scoring defense in 2020 have a combined record of 2-18. The five best teams? They have a combined record of 15-4.

Maybe, just maybe, you don’t really care about points. Maybe you’re all about the yards! Yeah, there we go. It’s not that bad, right? Wrong.

Currently, the Dallas Cowboys defense has given up the third-most yards per game in 2020, allowing 430.5 every contest. The 2012 New Orleans Saints currently hold the record, allowing 440.1 yards per game. Coming in at second worst was the 1981 Baltimore Colts who allowed 424.6 yards per game.

I’m sure you will be shocked to find that neither those Saints (7-9), nor those Colts (2-14) were good enough to make the playoffs either. This is the company your Dallas Cowboys currently keep.

Now, I suppose this is when we have the talk about it being early and there being plenty of time to correct things. If only it were that easy.

Multiple things have contributed to these epic failures so far in 2020. The Dallas Cowboys are going through a scheme change defensively while missing multiple key contributors due to injury. Certain players are also not trusting the new scheme, reverting to freelancing while others are simply playing with pathetically poor effort.

With no real offseason and an abbreviated training camp, installing a brand new defense was always going to be a tricky proposition. Doing so while trying to cross-train edge rushers like DeMarcus Lawrence to drop into coverage or stand up instead of rushing with a hand on the ground adds another degree of difficulty.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was lost for the year before it ever began. Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee as well as cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Chido Awuzie all currently on the short team injured reserve list. Would the defense be better if they were all available? It would be hard not to think so.

Lackluster, often mind-boggling effort and play from defensive linemen Dontari Poe, Everson Griffen, linebacker Jaylon Smith, cornerback Daryl Worley, and safety Xavier Woods have been hugely detrimental. Terrible play at all levels of defense has compromised the overall unit.

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Ultimately, reinforcements will eventually make their way back and schemes can be tweaked. Nothing will improve, however, until players commit themselves to play better with much more inspired effort. If neither of those things happens, the Dallas Cowboys will go down owning the worst defense in the history of the NFL.