By: Greg Rector
Anyone who knows me has heard me discuss for years the deep desire of mine to see a Cowboys defense that is in ATTACK mode. A defense that not only gets after the quarterback but one that also ATTACKS the football. Having grown up playing defense it’s ingrained in my mindset. In the last few years, there’s been a dearth of that mindset on this side of the football. It appears those days are finally over. Coach McCarthy brought in Mike Nolan to run this group. Nolan has had some very good defenses in the past. With that said this group was developed between the draft and free agency, to be far less PREDICTABLE. They will indeed play a 4-3 base defense but will switch to 3-4 at will. Let’s look at this group for 2020.
Demarcus Lawrence was outright double-teamed or at least chipped on in over 85% of the snaps in 2019. So enter the new combination of the 2nd coming of Aldon Smith, and the signing of Everson Griffen from the Vikings. Sadly in the interior free agent, Gerald McCoy was injured and lost for the season, however the other signing Dontari Poe will improve a weak spot from last season. Add in a much improved Trysten Hill, along with talented rookie Neville Gallimore, and the interior suddenly looks like a positive. What this means for opponents is simple, go ahead and double Lawrence at your own peril. Forcing lines to play straight up against this group, should see a return to Lawrence being a nightmare off his edge, with a deep rotation of guys who can stay fresh, coming after opposing quarterbacks. They should also be much harder to run against.
Leighton Vander Esche’s neck surgery had a huge impact on the group last year. Made Jaylon Smith far less effective which definitely caused other problems for the Cowboys second level. No lingering effects were seen during camp and Vander Esche has also taken over signal-calling for the defense. That frees up Smith to cause havoc. Sean Lee apparently is fighting through yet another “physical situation,” as I write this however he’s really still around more for leadership. You will see plenty of Justin March, and the guy who had a massive camp Francis Bernard at the WLB spot. The key is still Smith being able to go side to side and be an added pass rusher.
The weakest link for years on the Cowboys defense has been the secondary, who way too often have given up big plays at the worst possible moment, and simply were awful tacklers, along with being nonball hawks (Goodbye Byron Jones) This group was definitely a focus on much-needed improvement. Trevon Diggs appears to be a stud after having a very good camp, that means one corner spot is in very good hands. However, this is where Mike Nolan’s focus on VERSATILITY will be seen the most this season. We will see guys in and out of the secondary sometimes at safety, other times at corner. Plenty of nickel looks as well. They should be helped with an improved line that can get after quarterbacks.
So now that I have looked at both sides of the football, let’s do the obligatory prediction for the season.
With no pre-season games, this is a bit harder than in normal seasons. However, the potential of this group is downright SCARY, as long as they remain healthy like any other team. It’s also an even-numbered year, which has lately meant a division title. So yes I have this group winning the NFC East. I believe this group will go 11-5 possibly 12-4. I think the biggest change we see is a team that will absolutely be ready to play week in and week out. That’s something McCarthy teams in Green Bay were known for, and something that I harped on a lot under the old regime. Far less predictable on both sides of the football, more athletic, and determined. That part is nice, however unless there’s playoff success NO Cowboys season is considered to be good. Love the focus thus far being on the product on the field.
NY Giants 6-10
You can find me on Twitter @GregCowboys