The Dallas Cowboys have plenty of key pieces on the defensive side of the ball that will make them a difficult group to contend with during the upcoming season. Improving the Cowboys’ defense is the focus of this offseason after finishing 11th in total defense last season. The Cowboys front seven include Demarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, and Leighton Vander Esch that have all, at one time or another, earned Pro Bowl honors.
Assessing where the problems have been and what Dallas will attempt to do with the defense this season will be a key factor in the Cowboys returning to the playoffs this year.
The Dallas defense had free agent defections during the offseason that must be addressed. Losing Byron Jones at the cornerback position, is a loss that the Dallas defense must account for and adapt to. During his career with the Cowboys, Jones racked up 349 tackles, 44 passes defensed, and two interceptions. Jones play at the cornerback spot was solid for the Cowboys. However, Jones signed a 5-year $82 million contract with the Dolphins and the Cowboys will have to move past the Pro Bowl cornerback.
Safety Jeff Heath signed a free agent contract with the Las Vegas Raiders in March, so Dallas will not have him in the secondary this season. Heath was a durable part of the Dallas defense, missing only six games while he was a Cowboy. In 2019, Heath had 63 tackles and seven passes defensed. Heath was consistent and had impressive speed, but the Cowboys made the decision to move on from Heath.
Dallas, however, signed or drafted several players that they will count on for the upcoming season on the defensive side of the ball. The Cowboys’ brass was intent on bringing in players that would aide in stopping the run, leading the them to sign Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. In 2019, McCoy started all 16 games for the Carolina Panthers and racked up 37 tackles and five sacks. While McCoy may not be as dominant as he was earlier in his career, he fills a position Dallas has been looking to improve upon and brings a mean streak to the defensive line.
Likewise, Poe was released by the Panthers and Dallas scooped him up in an effort to clog up the rushing lanes for opposing offenses. Last season, in 11 games Poe amassed 22 tackles and four sacks with the Panthers. The latest big addition to the Cowboys defensive line is third-round selection of Neville Gallimore. During his career with the Oklahoma Sooners, Gallimore racked up 147 tackles, eight and a half sacks, and five forced fumbles. Gallimore adds depth to an already impressive Dallas defensive line.
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New additions were brought in for the secondary by the Cowboys as well. The secondary will have Ha Ha Clinton-Dix playing the safety position for the Cowboys. Clinton-Dix started all 16 games for the Chicago Bears last season. He played well for the Bears making 78 tackles and picking off two passes. Clinton-Dix has played under Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy before and he should have no problem picking up what the expectations will be with the defense that Dallas has planned.
Dallas did an impressive job of drafting this season and landing Trevon Diggs in the second round was a steal for the Cowboys. He played a number of positions for the Alabama Crimson Tide before head coach Nick Saban placed him in the secondary where he excelled. In 2019, Diggs registered 37 tackles, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and eight passes defensed. The expectations Diggs has placed on him by the Dallas fans is to simply continue the solid play that Byron Jones made a Sunday routine.
Dallas made it clear that they intended to shore up the defensive secondary in the draft and the selection of cornerback Reggie Robinson II out of Tulsa only emphasized that point. Dallas selected Robinson II in the fourth-round of the 2020 draft. Robinson earned first-team All-AAC honors last season and was a bright spot in the Tulsa defense. He had 38 tackles, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and 13 passes defensed. Robinson II should fit right into a secondary that has Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuize, and Jourdan Lewis at the cornerback spots. However, Robinson II will not be thrown right into the fire and will have a chance to learn and develop this season at the cornerback spot.
Although the Cowboys lost some notable players, they gained some young talent that will hopefully move on the defense to take some steps forward and improve upon the 11th ranking that they earned in 2019. Dallas has a good mix of veterans and plenty of youth to make this group a dangerous one for opposing teams to deal with in the 2020 season. Only time will tell if the Dallas defense will shift away from the bend but don’t break style that was used in seasons past.