While a lot of times early quotes in training camp can come back to haunt in a big way, Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart already made one Thursday that is making some headlines. When asked about his unit this season, Stewart was quick to make a bold prediction – “I feel it should be the best defense in the NFL.” Talk about pressure. Forget about thinking the Cowboys defense being in the top five, Stewart decided to throw a huge bulls eye right on the star that makes up the Cowboys helmet. Succeed and be the best – or find work elsewhere.
Mind you the Cowboys do have a lot, and I mean a lot, of solid talent on defense. They have spent millions upon millions on first round draft choices and free agents for the defense, yet when looking hard at the numbers, the only thing that can come to mind is how Dallas’ D has underachieved over the past few seasons. Take these number and translate them over to wins. Dallas has spent their past 8 first round picks on defensive players. They have grabbed name defensive players on the free agent market year after year. The defense with seven of the teams first round draft picks will cost Jerry Jones $90 mil this year. And in the last three seasons – 24 wins, one playoff game, and no playoff wins.
Jones even passed over an offensive coach this past offseason (Norv Turner) when looking for a new head coach, and instead with with a coach with a better defensive background in Wade Phillips. When Phillips found out about Stewart’s proclamation on Thursday, he was in somewhat disbelief. “He didn’t say that,” Phillips stated. When told he really did, Wade was taken aback. “Well, he shouldn’t have.” Phillips knows that this unit, ranked 13th overall last season, is still a long way away as camp starts from being number one.
Last year the teams defense gave up games of 38, 36, 42 and 39 points. They allowed a Lions team that had nothing to play for in the last week of the season at home to look like the 1985 Miami Dolphins with Dan Marino, putting up 39 points in a 39-31 loss. Over the last six games, including the playoffs, the Cowboys D allowed at least 20 points in each game and overall an average of 28.8 points. Number one defense? Not even close according to those numbers. Yes Dallas does have the talent, with solid players like Chris Canty and Jason Ferguson up front, Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware at linebacker, and Terence Newman at corner with playmaker Roy Williams guarding the safety spot.
These players should translate into a solid Cowboys defense, but it’s also some of these very players that seemed to fall asleep at the wheel last year at critical times in games that allowed wins to turn into losses. While the team tended to ware down last season, this year they will try and create more havoc with blitzes and pressure. There is even talk of having safety Williams play more at the line of scrimmage. The big question though – can the defense step up its game enough to make Stewarts talk become a reality? “It’s a matter of doing it,” LB Akin Ayodele said. For now though, the first shot has been fired, now we’ll see if this unit can live up to the hype.