Dallas Cowboys: Unit grades at midway point in season

Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /
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Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) /

Dallas Cowboys Defensive Line Grade: B+

The defensive line has played surprisingly well this season despite losing their best edge rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence after week 1. The Randy Gregory breakout is in full swing, according to Pro Football Reference, he is tied for the team-high with five sacks, he also has 22 QB pressures and 12 QB hits on the year.

According to PFF, Gregory currently has a pass-rush grade of 90.7 which ranks 6th in the NFL. He also has an overall grade of 86.4, which is the 6th highest amongst edge defenders.

Along with Gregory, rookie Osa Odighizuwa has stepped in and contributed at a high level in his first seasons. Osa took over for injured Neville Gallimore and showed that he is ready to compete for the starting job even when Gallimore gets back.

According to PFF, Osa ranks tied for 3rd amongst rookie defenders in pressures with 23. With his teammate Micah Parsons as one of the players ahead of him but we will get to Parsons a little later.

Brent Urban, Tarell Basham, and Carlos Watkins have played well upfront. Having quality role players that can make an occasion play and understand what they are supposed to be doing is all a part of the formula of having a successful defense.

Now with Gregory expected to miss a few weeks with a calf injury, the Cowboys needs their role players to step up more than ever. Luckily, the defensive line should be getting some reinforcements back soon with Lawrence, Gallimore, and Trysten Hill all expected to return within the coming weeks.

Dallas Cowboys Linebackers: B-

The aforementioned defensive rookie of the year favorite Micah Parsons has taken the league by storm and dominated from day one. Parsons has played both edge defender and linebacker this season with stats including 52 tackles, five sacks, and 10 tackles for loss along with a PFF pass-rush grade of 90.5 which ranks 8th in the NFL.

But, after Parsons, the linebackers have been nothing but question marks. Leighton Vander Esch is a shell of himself compared to the guy we saw his rookie year. It appears the injuries have caught up to him, and even though he has had some good moments this season the team realizes he can not be on the field full-time.

He is only playing around 40 snaps per game, and with the Cowboys not picking up their team option on his contract this past season that may be an indicator they are ready to move on.

With the departure of Jaylon Smith earlier in the season, Keanu Neal is the next linebacker that gets meaningful snaps. Neal is a newcomer to the Cowboys and has been somewhat of a disappointment this year.

According to Pro Football Reference, Neal has six missed tackles on the year and a missed tackle percentage of 20%. Tackling was clearly an issue against the Broncos so Neal is not the only one at fault but hopefully, we will see the missed tackles decrease during the second half of the season.

Now that Gregory is out, the Cowboys may choose to move Parsons to edge rusher full-time so he can make a greater impact. But, that means the linebacker core will be losing their best player. All good defenses have someone step up when there is an injury and now is the time for the linebackers.

Dallas Cowboys Defensive Back Grades: B+

Trevon Diggs is the big name around the NFL during the first half of the season. Diggs leads the NFL in interceptions with seven despite not having any over the past two games, also he leads in pass breakups with 11.

He is a very aggressive player and that sometimes comes back to bite him. He has allowed 545 yards this year which is the most in the NFL. Also, he leads in penalties enforced with eight. But, since the Cowboys have been leading so much in games, the opposing teams obviously have to throw a ton against them.

Anthony Brown had a tough start to the year as the CB2, but of late he has played well. Since week 4, he has six passes defended and one interception returned for a touchdown (against the Giants.)

Jayron Kearse and Damontae Kazee are the two newcomers to Dallas who have finally given the team good safety play for the first time in years. Kearse was even given defensive play-calling duties for the first time against Minnesota.

Both safeties are smart players and have been big reasons why the secondary has improved compared to last season. There is still a lot of football left and the secondary must continue to play well and create turnovers.