The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but it does have one major Achilles’ heel.
The Cowboys have limited opposing offenses to scoring just a tick over 15 points per game. This is the third-best mark in the league.
Much of this is thanks to Dallas’ ability to pressure the QB. The Cowboys 16 sacks is the second-most in the NFL. Micah Parsons is leading the way with four sacks, and not far behind is DeMarcus Lawrence with three sacks.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys have an 81.1 QB pressure grade through four games. This trails only the Buffalo Bills 86.6 grade.
But one thing the Cowboys have greatly struggled with this season is stopping the run. Big D allows an alarming 137.5 rushing yards per game. That’s the sixth-highest total in the NFL. PFF has given a 49.2 run defense grade to the Cowboys.
So how can a defense be so dominant at rushing the QB, yet so bad at stifling opposing rushers? Let’s take a closer look.
It starts with the defensive line
The most important position group to stop a rushing attack is the defensive line. It’s their job to win battles against the offensive line and prevent running lanes.
The Cowboys defensive line has struggled in this regard. These are the Cowboys most highly-graded run defenders, according to PFF:
- Micah Parsons: 75.7
- Jourdan Lewis: 71
- Jayron Kearse: 69.1
- Israel Mukuamu: 68.9
- Osa Odighizuwa: 68.4
Only three defensive linemen crack PFF’s top 10 list of Cowboys run stoppers. One of which is Tarell Basham, who sustained a Week 1 injury and hasn’t played since.
If the Cowboys want to stop the run, it starts with the defensive linemen improving their play. But that doesn’t seem to be Dan Quinn’s gameplan.
Cowboys sacrifice rush yards to defend the pass
In the last decade, NFL offenses have shifted into pass-heavy attacks. From the 2012 to 2021 NFL season, teams averaged 235 passing yards per game. From 2002 to 2011, the average was 212 passing yards per game.
To counter pass-heavy offenses, defenses have shown a willingness to allow more rushing yards to focus more attention on stopping the pass. This seems to be the method behind the madness for Quinn this season.
While the Cowboys have allowed the sixth-most rushing yards in the NFL, they’ve also allowed the third-fewest points.
While it would be nice to have a more well-rounded defense, Dallas’ 3-1 record shows focusing on stopping the pass will get more wins.