The Cowboys Forgot to Invest Anything in Their Defense
By Liam McKeone
The Dallas Cowboys had another outstanding day of offensive output during their Week 4 battle with the Cleveland Browns this past Sunday. They put up 38 points, the third time in four games they managed to break the 30-point mark. Dak Prescott's statistics were mind-boggling as he threw for 502 (!) yards and four touchdowns. CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott combined for 25 catches, amassing 284 yards and three touchdowns as a trio. All was well and good on that side of the ball, as has been the case over the last three weeks.
But they still lost. Because the defense gave up 49 points to the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland scored 34 straight points. They had 31 at the half, the most they've had in the first two quarters of a game since 1991. The Browns' offense is obviously quite talented and they scored over 30 in the two weeks prior, but this is not an outlier performance for Dallas' defense. For all they've invested in their offense-- big extensions for Cooper and Elliott, a franchise tag for Prescott, countless millions spent on the offensive line, a first-round pick used on Lamb-- they did nothing with their defense. And now they're paying for it.
Right now, the Cowboys defense is allowing a full six yards per play, per Pro Football Reference. They've given up 101 first downs in a month's worth of games. They've allowed opposing offenses to gain a total of 1,722 yards, second-worst in the entire NFL. This defense is giving up an average of 36.5 points per game, the worst mark in the league. Quarterbacks are averaging seven yards per attempt against the Cowboys, and running backs are averaging 4.9 yards per touch. They can't stop anybody in the air or on the ground. They've only forced two turnovers and mustered eight sacks in total so far this year, four of them coming from Aldon Smith.
In short-- the defense has been very bad. Success can be found in the "a good defense is a great offense" school of football philosophy, but not when the unit is giving up over 30 points a game. In Week 1, when Dallas held the Los Angeles Rams to 20 points (but failed to score more than 17) it seemed like the strategy might work. But they've been ripped apart in the following weeks. They simply didn't do enough to address that side of the ball this offseason.
They let Robert Quinn and Byron Jones, arguably the two best individual defenders on the team last year, walk in free agency. Dallas replaced them with a reclamation project in Smith that, to their credit, has worked out very well so far. But the secondary has been putrid and the defensive line is getting shoved around far too easily on running plays. DeMarcus Lawrence is getting $100 million to be a good but not great player. It's just been an awful performance by everyone involved.
The NFC East is so hilariously bad that the Cowboys' season is not over by a long shot. But giving up over 400 yards of offense per game is not gonna get the job done, no matter how good Prescott and his cohorts can be on the other side of the ball. As Jerry Jones and company are learning the hard way, it turns out that it is possible to invest too much in the offense-- because it comes at the expense of the defense. And not even Dallas' talented skill players can do much about that.