It looks like we’ve got a Freaky Friday situation in Dallas.
Earlier in the Dallas Cowboys season, the defense was dominant against the passing game but struggled against the rush. But in the last four weeks, that’s changed entirely.
According to this chart from rbdsm.com, since Week 14 Dallas has owned one of the league’s best run defenses along with one of the worst pass defenses.
The best spot to be in this graphic is the top right quadrant. Any team in that area has a well-rounded defense that can stifle the rush or passing game.
Breaking down the Cowboys defense
Here’s a look at the total rushing and passing yards allowed by Dallas’ defense since Week 14:
- Vs. Houston Texans: 213 pass yards, 114 rushing yards
- Vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: 318 passing yards, 192 rushing yards
- Vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 355 passing yards, 87 rushing yards
- Vs. Tennessee Titans: 232 passing yards, 97 rushing yards
Improving run defense wasn’t expected
A few injuries had many expecting a steep decline from the rushing defense. But clearly, that hasn’t been the case.
The first injury was suffered by DT Johnathan Hankins in Week 14. Dallas traded for the 6’3, 340-pound defensive lineman in October to aid in the issues the Cowboys had stuffing the run. Hankins only played in five games before straining his pec, but there’s hope he can return in the postseason.
The 30-year-old is in his 10th NFL season, and brought veteran leadership to a defense that was previously helpless against the run.
Then in Week 15, LB Leighton Vander Esch went down with a neck injury that will likely end his regular season. But like Hankins, Vander Esch is also gearing up for a playoff comeback.
Vander Esch was playing some of the best football of his career before getting hurt. In just 14 games, the former Boise State Bronco tallied 90 total tackles (the most since 2018) and four tackles for loss (tied for a career-high).
With two phenomenal run-stoppers sidelined, the Cowboys improvements against the rush seem even more impressive.
Passing defense woes are unsurprising
There are two clear reasons why Dallas has struggled stopping the pass in recent weeks. The first is the Cowboys uncharacteristic inability to pressure the QB.
Earlier this year, Dallas was giving opposing QBs nightmares before games. The Cowboys’ 51 total sacks ranks third in the NFL. But in the last four games, the Cowboys have managed only three sacks.
The second reason for the lackluster passing defense in Big D is due to depth issues at CB. Jourdan Lewis (CB2) and Anthony Brown (CB3) suffered season-ending injuries in Weeks 7 and 13, respectively.
Dallas looked to second-year CB Kelvin Joseph to step up, but he struggled mightily. So rookie Daron Bland and sophomore Nahshon Wright moved up the depth chart. Both have shown signs of greatness, along with obvious inexperience at times.
Combine the Cowboys’ lack of sacks from the defensive line with the inexperienced CBs asked to play big roles, and you’ve got opposing QBs licking their chops.