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Do the Cowboys Finally have a Defense?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys Helmet on football field. | Image by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have always had an above average offense, due in part by their first-round picks playing up to the hype. Each first round pick on offense over the last decade has been to at least one Pro Bowl – Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Ezekiel Elliott, and second year player, CeeDee Lamb, will likely be next. They traded a first rounder for Amari Cooper, so he can fall into that bucket, as well. Unfortunately, the defense has not had as much luck, until now. Who knows how long Cowboys fans will have to live with the Taco Charleton pick while TJ Watt was still on the board. Or trading up to the 6th overall pick to take Morris Claiborne, who turned out to be a very pedestrian cornerback.

Well, that seems to be changing and in a big way. Second year cornerback, Trevon Diggs, is an absolute ball hawk and is the playmaker that the Cowboys defense has been missing for years. Through three games, Diggs has the highest coverage grade in the NFL according to PFF and leads the league with three interceptions, including one for a pick-6 that started the third quarter and really took the life out of the Eagles. Going into this year’s draft, the Cowboys had the #10 overall pick with their eyes on one of the two elite cornerbacks. With those being taken at the 8th and 9th spot, they traded back a few spots and then took Micah Parsons, who was widely regarded as the best defensive player in the draft.

Although the need for a linebacker in the first round was not an obvious need, the need for talent on defense was. Now, fast forward a few months. Demarcus Lawrence breaks his foot in practice and goes on IR, they move Parsons to Defensive End, a position he has not played since high school, and all he has done is earn the third highest defense end grade in the NFL according to PFF. And as good as Parsons has been, Demarcus Lawrence’s PFF grade is still higher. When the Cowboys get Lawrence back, they could really start making some noise. Sidebar: it helps that Randy Gregory can play. He has not been great, but after missing 30 of 32 games for substance abuse, it is nice to see him on the field and contributing.

On Monday night, the Cowboys put on a clinic on both sides of the football against the Eagles. Dallas was up 20-7, but that also included the referees robbing Dak of a 4th down QB sneak for a TD and Coach McCarthy completely mismanaging the clock. The Cowboys had more first downs than the Eagles had offensive snaps. Mid-way through the second quarter, the Eagles held the ball for a whopping three minutes. The Eagles offense is middle of the pack in the NFL, but the Cowboys suffocated them. The box score makes it look a lot closer than it was, but there were a lot of stats racked up in trash time when the game was well out of hand. And it is not like the Cowboys have not been tested. The two previous games were against the Chargers and the Bucs, both of which have top-10 offenses.

I know it is early, but this defense feels different. This team feels different. It’s not just one player propping them up. If the Cowboys can keep this up, the road through the NFC East goes through Dallas.

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