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Dallas Cowboys on Defense: A 2011 Midseason Report

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One of the biggest question marks during the offseason last year was what would come of the Dallas Cowboys defense after the midseason dismissal of head coach Wade Phillips. The defensive secondary was the biggest concern on the defensive side of the ball, along with some aging linebackers, Bradie James and Keith Brooking.

Defensive Coordinator: Rob Ryan

Rob RyanHead coach Jason Garrett hired the flamboyant coach Rob Ryan to run the defense, changing not only the schemes employed by Phillips, but transforming the personality of the defense as well. While Phillips has long been considered a defensive guru in the NFL, his defense could be characterized as bend-but-don’t-break, containment style. By comparison, new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has employed a Katy-bar-the-door attacking defense. This style has helped cover up some of the problems in the secondary.

In the early part of the season, Dallas’ rushing defense ranked near the top in spite of a record of three wins and three losses at the time. After meeting the Philadelphia Eagles in their seventh game, however, this ranking dropped significantly as quarterback Michael Vick and Eagles running back LeSean McCoy ripped through the Rob Ryan defense for 235 rushing yards. Vick also passed for 279 yards and two touchdowns in the game, spanking the Cowboys 34-7. Currently, the Dallas defense ranks eighth against the rush.

The bright spot on the Cowboys defense continues to be the play of DeMarcus Ware, who ranks second in sacks with 12. The Cowboys rank eighth in the NFL with 22 sacks overall.

Defensive Discipline

While the offense ranks among the league’s worst penalized teams, the Cowboys defense has the best record in the NFL for yards given up on penalties. It also ranks second for the least number of passing plays of over 40 yards in length. These are significant accomplishments, which show that the Cowboys defense is not prone to giving up yards easily on big plays or getting beat with penalties. In spite of the aggressive style of defense, and the risks associated with pass rushing schemes, Rob Ryan’s defensive philosophy is working well, and it is hard not to see the improvements over the previous years under Wade Phillips.

What It Will Take to Win

With eight games left in the regular season, the hopes of making the playoffs depend on offensive consistency and the play of quarterback Tony Romo. The production inside the opponents’ 20 yard line must improve quickly to have a chance at the playoffs.

Probably, the most telling statistic for both the offense and defense is the third down conversion rate. While the offense is ranked 22nd in the league with a 34% conversion rate on third downs, the defense allows a third down conversion rate of 42%, also ranked 22nd in the league. The Cowboys will not make the playoffs without significant improvement on third down, whether it is on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.

The Dirty Word: Rebuilding

DeMarco MurrayOverall, though no one in the Cowboys front office would ever use the word, the team appears to be on a successful “rebuilding” track. Younger defensive players, a running back who is making his mark, DeMarco Murray, and a young and improved offensive line are all making a difference in how well the game is played.

Their win/loss record does not show the real success it is having in these key areas. As it becomes more consistent, especially with a talented quarterback, Tony Romo, who has yet to prove he can string together four or five weeks of consistently good play, the win/loss record will come along. This depends on whether Jerry Jones, the owner, and the Dallas fan base will be patient enough to let it happen, or start talking super bowls again when it is simply not in the cards to get there.

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About ToddT

I enjoy baseball and writing about it. I pay to see independent league play, the Fort Worth Cats and the Grand Prairie AirHogs, and I follow the Texas Rangers rather passionately. A native of the Dallas area, I am nearing 60 years old, and I have been married to my college sweetheart for 36 years and counting.