Welcome to part two of the unveiling of the 2000’s Dallas Cowboys All-Century Team.
Last week we covered the offense. This week we will get into the defense and special teams.
Meet the defense.
Defensive Coordinator: 2003 Mike Zimmer
The league’s best unit in yards allowed, and 2nd in points allowed in 2003. Zimm’s boys created 38 takeaways and managed to earn a playoff berth despite an offense headlined by Quincy Carter, Troy Hambrick, and Antonio Bryant.
EDGE (2): 2008 DeMarcus Ware, 2014 DeMarcus Lawrence
Simply the finest season by the finest pass rusher in the history of the franchise. In 2008, Ware posted 20 sacks, one of just 12 times that feat has been accomplished in NFL history. In addition, Ware posted 27 tackles for loss, forced 6 fumbles, and hit career highs in tackles and QB hits as well. The man was absolutely everywhere, all season long. 1st team All-Pro, but inexplicably passed over for Defensive Player of the Year in favor of the Steelers’ James Harrison.
What a dream it would have been to somehow through quantum physics have this pair of DeMarcuses (or would it be DeMarci?) work in tandem on the same defensive line. DeMarcus Lawrence was a terror on paper, and beyond the raw stats. In 2017 DeMarcus Lawrence posted 14.5 sacks and 14 TFL. Digging deeper, Lawrence’s 91.6 overall Pro Football Focus grade stands as the highest for any Cowboy defender in the PFF era (2006-present). In that season he also lead the NFL in Pass Rush Win Rate and was 2nd in Pressure Rate.
(Honorable Mention: 2007 Greg Ellis)
Interior DL (2): 2003 LaRoi Glover, 2013 Jason Hatcher
One of the most successful free-agent acquisitions in recent Cowboys history, LaRoi Glover made 4 straight Pro Bowls upon arriving in Dallas. Glover’s 2nd year in Dallas was not his best statistically, (5 sacks, 8 TFL) but beyond the stat sheet, #97 had an excellent year and anchored a #1 overall defense.
It seems odd to pick a player from a bad defense, but believe it or not, an aging Jason Hatcher had the best 3 technique season of the entire Rod Marinelli era. Forced to play the 3 out of necessity, Hatch found new life using length and strength to whip singled up guards to the tune of 11 sacks and 15 TFL (both career highs). Hatcher parlayed that career year into a lucrative free-agent deal with the rival Redskins the following year.
(Honorable Mention: 2008 Jay Ratliff)
Linebacker (3): 2003 Dat Nguyen, 2008 Bradie James, 2016 Sean Lee
2003 Dat Nguyen
No postseason accolades. No eye-popping stats (11 passes defended is a nice number for an LB). Just a really solid year of heady, flash to the football play like Dat Nguyen always gave us in his short career. For those who don’t remember, Dat Nguyen, in a way was Sean Lee before Sean Lee. A lot of Cowboy defenders played really well on Mike Zimmer’s 2003 unit.
2008 Bradie James
A long time solid starter in Dallas, Bradie James reached his zenith in 2008. The former LSU Tiger notched career highs in tackles and tackles for loss in 2008, but his biggest spike in productivity came as a pass rusher. Head coach Wade Phillips snatched the play sheet away from defensive coordinator Brian Stewart mid-season and released the hounds. The Cowboys racked up 59 sacks that season, and James who retired with just 16 career sacks had 8 that year.
2016 Sean Lee
Sean Lee has flashed All-Pro ability all throughout his career, but his spotty health history leaves us with only one season to choose from for this list. Career-high 145 tackles, 12 TFL, 1st team All-Pro selection, the only of his injury-riddled career.
(Honorable Mention: 2018 Leighton Vander Esch)
Safety (2): 2002 Roy Williams, 2007 Ken Hamlin
Roy Williams is the butt of a lot of jokes for the way his career mysteriously tailed off, but people are forgetting the way that he absolutely exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 2002. Williams did not make the Pro Bowl in 2002 (he would make the next 5) but his rookie season was his finest.
Oh, the disruption! Roy Williams was a force of absolute chaos. 96 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 5 interceptions with two going back to the house. If de-cleating, soul-crushing tackles were an official stat, you could pencil in a good dozen of those that year as well.
A sneaky good pickup for the win-now 2007 Cowboys. Hamlin reeled in 5 interceptions and became one of a league-record 13 Cowboy Pro Bowlers in his first season in Dallas.
Cornerback (2): 2009 Terence Newman, 2018 Byron Jones
Big bounce-back year for the 31-year-old Newman after limping through most of 2008 with a series of injuries. ‘T-New’ got back to blanketing WRs again and nabbed 3 interceptions (1 TD) on his way to his 2nd Pro Bowl.
Much maligned for his chronic inability to steal the football, Byron Jones is still a human spiderweb, and that skill was on full display in 2018. Jones just 1 reception per every 16.5 coverage snaps, and was Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked cornerback. Jones made the Pro Bowl despite 2018 being his first season at the corner in the NFL.
Kicker: 2015 Dan Bailey
As automatic as it gets. 30-32 (93.8%) on field goals with 5 makes over 50 yards. 100% on extra points. Pro Bowl.
Punter: 2006 Mat McBriar
League leader with a 48.2-yard average. Pro Bowl.
Returner: 2013 Dwayne Harris
A pretty dismal position for the Cowboys since Deion Sanders really. Dwayne Harris sort of gets the nod by default. An 86 yard punt return TD, and a gaudy 30.6 yard average on kickoff returns.
(Honorable Mention: 2010 Dez Bryant)
This is your complete 2000’s Dallas Cowboys All-Century Team.
Featured Image: Matt A. Brown/Icon SMI