A breakout season by defensive end, Demarcus Lawrence, was one of the few bright spots among the Cowboys’ defense last season. The Cowboys’ Defense finished the 2017 season allowing 104 rush yards a game, as well as around 214 passing yards a game. An up and down year with the leader of the defense, Sean Lee, only playing in 11 games. Without Sean Lee and any consistency in the secondary, the Cowboys’ defense did not live up to the previous season when they were the number 1 defense against the run, only allowing around 83 rushing yards per game. In 2017, they did perform better against the pass, but could not keep it together late in the fourth quarter. Which lead to a lackluster 9-7 record.
The defense simply cannot lean on one player as much as they have with Sean Lee. In free agency as well as the draft, the Cowboys’ brought in more talent to bolster their linebacking crew. In free agency, they lost Anthony Hitchens to the Kansas City Chiefs, but gained a quality depth player in Joe Thomas from the Packers. Going into 2018, the Cowboys have the starting weak side linebacker as Sean Lee, 2017 first round pick Leighton Vander Esch as the starting Middle linebacker, and 3rd year Gem Jaylon Smith on the Strong side. Sean Lee, a 2-time Pro Bowler alongside Jaylon Smith, who could be getting back to form. Smith basically played as a rookie in 2017 after having to sit out his entire first year. The linebacking core could rise to the elite level. Sean Lee had over 100 tackles for the third consecutive season. Jaylon Smith had 81 tackles when he was mostly just a rotational player with Justin Durant and Anthony Hitchens. Leighton Vander Esch was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, and was one of the top linebackers in this class. The thought of having these three on the field together is insane and it can very well lead to great things.
Free agency between the 2016 and 2017 season led to one signing that’s likely the cowboys regret. Nolan Carroll signed a 3-year, 10 million dollar contract to be cut after playing in just 2 games because of poor performance. The Cowboys leaned on young safeties Byron Jones, Kavon Frazier, and Xavier Woods, as well as young cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown. Throughout the season, the rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis earned their way into the starting roles and played very well. After the departure of team captain Orlando Scandrick this past offseason, they will all have to step up even more this year. Jeff Heath is almost cemented as the starter as a strong Safety, but the cowboys have moved Byron Jones back to cornerback to try to gain back the disruptiveness from his rookie season. A young secondary with many flashes of greatness. Every Defensive back has its own upside and every one of them has shown the ability to cover the opposing team’s number 1 receiver.
With the upgraded linebacking group and a very young secondary the Cowboys defense should do nothing but get better in the future.