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Can Cowboys’ Defense Be Special In 2022?

  • Jack McKessy
  • September 2, 2022
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After a rough 2020 season and a bounceback 2021, the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive unit looks poised to take yet another step forward in 2022.

The Cowboys finished the 2020 season with the NFL’s fifth-worst scoring defense (29.6 points allowed per game) while allowing the eighth-most offensive yards per play (5.9). A big part of that was their straight-up bad run defense. Like, 31st out of 32 teams bad. They allowed the second-most rushing yards (2,541 yards) in franchise history and allowed an average of five yards per carry to opposing rushers.

As a result, Dallas just about cleaned house in every facet of their defense. They hired former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn to be their new defensive coordinator, changed almost everything about the defensive staff, and signed five defensive free agents before drafting six more.

Well, the results from 2021 spoke for themselves. No, the Cowboys weren’t automatically one of the league’s top defenses, but they certainly were not one of the worst. Instead of ranking in the top five worst scoring defenses, they actually finished among the 10 best. Their yards allowed both overall and against opposing rushers had dropped to a more middle-of-the-pack level rather than one of the NFL’s absolute worst.

Along the way, Dallas discovered that they might have some stars to lead their defense for the years to come.

First-round rookie linebacker Micah Parsons was an absolute stud in his first year as a pro. No defensive player had the kind of versatility Parsons had—rookie or not—with his 200-plus snaps as a run defender, 200-plus snaps in coverage, and 200-plus snaps as a pass rusher all last year. If his incredible versatility alone weren’t enough, his 13 sacks, 84 total tackles, 30 quarterback hits, three pass defenses, and three forced fumbles would have spoken for him. Parsons was a shoo-in as the 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year and he finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting as well.

The Cowboys had another star in their secondary too: second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs. In 2021, Diggs had some of the highest ball production from an NFL defender not only that season but in NFL history. Diving deeper into some of his pass coverage tape, it would be hard to call him a “lockdown” cornerback, but 11 interceptions by a single player in a single season aren’t anything to scoff at. No player in NFL history has tallied more than 14 in one year. Diggs was a huge reason for the Cowboys leading the league in both interceptions and takeaways in 2021 and he deserves tons of credit for the incredible season he had.

Looking ahead to the 2022 season, there is reason to believe this Dallas defense can take yet another step in the right direction in Quinn’s second year as their defensive coordinator. No, they likely won’t have as incredible a season in ball production from Diggs. Parsons has the potential to repeat his amazing season of sacks production as a unicorn and jack-of-all-trades, but he still has room to impress without having to repeat all of that. The thing is, those guys won’t have to carry the defense as much with more talented depth all around them on defense.

Second-round pick and defensive end Sam Williams turned heads with strong play albeit limited production—besides his final game—throughout the preseason. Fifth-round cornerback DaRon Bland has done plenty to fight for his roster spot in a crowded Dallas secondary in training camp and will provide some quality depth and some special teams help this year. Sixth-round linebacker Devin Harper was explosive, speedy, and something of a tackle machine in preseason action, and fifth-round linebacker Damone Clark could end up being a massive steal if he can return healthy after neck surgery.

Dallas might end up having somewhat of a rough season on offense with so many issues on the offensive line and a receiving corps that’s not quite as daunting as it was last year. Quinn’s defense, led by 2021 breakout stars Parsons and Diggs, has the potential to be something special once again. If the unit plays well and cohesively in the coming season, the Cowboys shouldn’t have much trouble securing another playoff berth, even if they do not manage to repeat as divisional winners.

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Jack McKessy