Cowboys’ Defense: What Can We Expect in 2015?

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The Cowboys defense has been considered by many to have been the teams Achilles’ heel in recent years. Primarily the lack of a pass rush which led to their demise in the playoffs vs GB.

rod marinelli cowboys defense

The mastermind who has been given the task of righting the ship, Tampa 2 guru, Rod Marinelli, says it’s all about speed, speed, speed. When I look at the recent acquisitions that have been added to the Cowboys defense, the recipe is finally coming together.


Randy Gregory has been the subject of a lot scrutiny since he fell to the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft. Questions about his size, questions about his character, and last but not least, questions about his stats in college have caused some to wonder if he will translate to the NFL. Fear not sports fans. He is exactly the type of player Rod Marinelli wanted for his defense and I am convinced he had a lot of influence in the war room when the decision was made to draft him.

Randy Gregory is a pure, hybrid speed rusher and had arguably the best first step in the draft. Shane Ray being the other candidate. I sat up until 3am rewatching their game tape and realized something I had missed in the spring. Typically, Ray rushed the passer quite a bit more. The Nebraska defense did Gregory no justice in showcasing his abilities. However, when he did rush, I noticed he not only played with more power, but better technique. If I had studied them back to back in the spring, I wouldn’t have mocked the Cowboys trading up to get Ray like the Broncos did. Rest easy folks, Gregory will develop in to an elite pass rusher. Whether or not he will live up to inheriting the #94 is yet to be seen, but the value in the second round, may prove to be the best since the chiefs got my pet cat, Justin Houston, in the third.

DeMarcus Lawrence was a household favorite here at YDCFF. Al did an outstanding scouting report on him. You can read it by clicking here. Revisiting it, you can see that he was spot on. He has become an important cog in the Cowboys’ defense and is expected to have a breakout 2015 season. He began to show flashes of what’s to come late last year.

Lawrence was expected to be a day one contributor, but an unfortunate injury during his rookie training camp, sidelined him for significant time. Although he was unable to be on the field with the team, it didn’t stop him from improving on one of his weaknesses. Lawrence needed to add some weight and get stronger. I remember a conversation with former NFL scout Bryan Broaddus and him mentioning that every time he went by the weight room, Lawrence was in there. It shows too. He added about 10 lbs of muscle. Ironically, that was what Al said he needed to do.

Tyrone Crawford was one of the players I profiled in my “The Guys No One is Talking about” series. Like Lawrence, he was also a Boise product. If there is one thing you can be sure of, anyone coming out of BSU, is not only well coached, but has a high IQ and excellent character. Crawford was one of those guys that NFL scouts were unsure about where to play him. He was considered a possible 5 tech in a 3-4, a LDE or an under tackle (3 tech) in the 4-3. In all honesty, he is versatile enough to play all 3 positions. Marinelli has moved him around a bit and it appears he found a home at the 3 tech.

Crawford has shown that he has good burst off of the line, good power at the point and the quickness Rod likes for the position. With another off season and camp under his belt to improve his technique and get more comfortable at the position, I expect to see him emerge as one of the best in the league this year.

The addition of Greg Hardy to the Cowboys defense, was in my opinion, a great move for two reasons. The first being his veteran leadership and work ethic. We already know he is an elite pass rusher, but what he also brings is the necessary experience to help the young players along. Losing Ware left me concerned that there was no one on the team to be that guy. His presence on the field will draw double teams which will help leave some favorable one on one match-ups enabling other guys to make some plays.

The verdict is still out on Byron Jones, but if he lives up to the hype, he will add some much needed versatility to the back end of the defense. At this point he doesn’t even have a position, so I will reserve my thoughts until I see how he looks in the preseason.

My biggest concern entering this season is whether or not the starters can stay healthy. It has been a major problem in recent years. The LB position is crucial to the Tampa 2. If Sean Lee and Rolando McClain can actually complete a full season, this could be the best Cowboys’ defense in the last decade.

so, to answer the question: What can we expect from the Cowboys defense in 2015? Get your popcorn out. Barring injury, this defense will easily make the top 10. If Gregory and Jones adjust as fast as I believe they can, top 5. The Cowboys were a top 10 defense away from the big show last year, so we all know what that means come February. How bout Dem Cowboys: (in my best Jimmy Johnson voice.)

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  • Gabriel Carrasco

    I think the lack of Jones having a position is more due to if he fits better at S or CB not that he doesn’t have a position. Dallas has even used him as a LB. They probably want to find out just how versatile he can be to get their best cover guys on the field at the same time. Crawford I think was top 5 among DT at pressures last year, so if the coverage is just a bit better, 3 sacks should probably jump to around 8 or 9. Hardy seems to be struggling with every lineman he goes up against, but that’s probably due to the talent on the O line and the fact he is probably rusty. Only Gregory seems to be getting by Smith and that has only happened 2-3 times.

    • I get what you’re saying. But at the moment we don’t know how or where they plan to use Jones. My thought is we need a solid FS. I am pretty sure Hardy is Rusty, having a solid OL helps too. Gregory is awful quick, deceivingly strong and has pretty good technique. It’s hard for a 300+ lb player to mirror him or beat him off the snap.

  • frank

    I agree like the pick of gregory and hardy speaks for himself, I would like to see Jones step up at free safety and replace Wilcox just my opinion need a player with more range in center field. (def28)

    • Gabriel Carrasco

      They’re not using Wilcox the right way. Church and Wilcox are essentially the same player. Unfortunately because Dallas hasn’t been able to find a FS Wilcox as to play FS, which isn’t fair to him. If Church and Wilcox switched roles we would be complaining a lot more about Church.

      • Wilcox was too inexperienced to draft him as high as they did.

        • Gabriel Carrasco

          Yeah went way too high, but I think that he is a SS always was, but Dallas doesn’t have one so they’re just like here play this spot.

          • I have said the same thing many times. Church is a box safety too

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Definitely agree. The issue is let’s say that Byron Jones becomes that truly good FS maybe not Woodson, but a pro bowl caliber talent. I doubt Dallas would draft S next year even if it’s a SS to upgrade from Church and Wilcox. Next year’s safety class has real talent in it. The only other big hole on defense I see is that 1 tech as of right now.

          • I have been wanting that big nasty run plugger for a while now

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Exactly. I want someone similar to Hankins up in New York or maybe someone of Dan Williams who is now with the Raiders (they are up an coming by the way). We don’t need elite talent there, but someone who is an upgrade to Hayden.

          • Hankins was my boy in that draft if u remember

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Yeah I remember. Lavonte David was my boy coming out the same year Mo did.

          • I still think Eathyn should get a shot

          • Keep an eye on Brown in NE. Wilfork left some big shoes to fill.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            I am not a fan of Brown, but if anyone can get a player and make him good it’s Belicheat.

          • I hope Perryman doesn’t injure any of our RBs when we play SD. They keep having to tell him to take it easy in camp. He hits so damn hard.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            And I hope we tell our O line to be careful with the Chargers players because they have a bad rap of hurting our guys.

          • So do the Giants

    • We have needed a true cover safety since Woodson left. I would hope Jones can fill that void.

  • Lionone1

    I’m so glad that Gregory is the first drafted player you pointed out. I was not high on him when he was drafted I thought he was to slow off the ball. But, as I’ve studied him more and more I realized they didn’t play him the same way in college as Marinelli will in a 4-3 defense. He reads and reacts well in the 3-4 but when they asked him to get the QB you will see that Quickness off the ball and punch. Combine that with the will to learn and Tyron Smith. He has become my favorite prospect for the new season.

    • Gabriel Carrasco

      Hard to gauge Gregory when you either just look at the stats or try to view him as a base DE in a 4-3. Don’t really know why Nebraska played him the way they did. And then looking at the tape, it wasn’t that he was slow off the ball, for whatever reason the coaches wanted him to play the way he did. So hopefully I too am wrong. Because I wasn’t high on Gregory either. To me the worst pick was Chaz Green.

      • Gregory is doing great against Smith already. Wait til after camp. He is going to rack up some sacks and hurries early

        • Gabriel Carrasco

          Hopefully that’s the case. And not sure what Broddus is seeing. Gregory has beaten Smith like twice. Smith pretty much destroys anyone who comes across from him. But it is true that Gregory is the only one in camp who has gotten an upper hand on him.

          • Pretty much. Gregory is extremely quick. Hardy has learned you can’t over power him LOL it’s more than twice now believe that

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Hardy also got planted by Leary too.

          • Hardy will be fine following his suspension. I want to know why Collins isn’t getting to compete at tackle. Free has always been avg and Wheems isn’t the answer.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Well the way I see it, is that Collins isn’t as fit for OT and is more of a fit at OG as of right now. They probably don’t want to put too much on his plate. Not to mention I think they are looking next year to seeing that Leary is the only O line that would have to be resigned, and I think Collins is meant to be his replacement. From what I hear is that his footwork is not suited for the outside.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            With that said Collins was a huge steal and pickup for Dallas. He should have been a first rounder, and if he didn’t come to Dallas more than likely he would be starting. It’s unfortunate what happened, and I really dislike the NFL doing what they did to him as well. But I also understand the leeriness.

          • You’re entitled to your opinion, but Collins was a much better OT in college than Wheems or Green.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            I didn’t say Collins isn’t better than Weems or Green. Just looking into next year I don’t think Dallas has the intention of resigning Leary, whereas Free is locked up for the next 3 seasons. So they want Collins to play OG to be that replacement until he can develop into a starting OT.

          • I understand that, but i think in a fair competition, Collins could take Frees job

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            I think he can and eventually will. I think Broddus talked about it the other day, that Dallas wants more push from that side, and that Weems isn’t getting that push and neither is Free. So maybe sooner rather than later.

      • Can’t figure that one out. NE got Tre.

    • According to BB he is already testing Smith.

  • Johnathan Nguyen

    Thanks for a great review Cas! Spot on!

  • Gabriel Carrasco

    It’s really getting stupid, apparently due to the current RB situation Randle will not take part in goal line drills with full contact even though he is healthy. I really wish Dallas would stop jacking around and trade for a RB. McFadden is over the hill and injury prone. And with Dunbar also out we have 1 RB. And they don’t want to hurt him so they aren’t going to put him out there in goal line drills.

    • That is ridiculous. If players can’t survive camp, they will never last a full season. I think injuries have increased cuz they coddle players in camp now.

      • Gabriel Carrasco

        I don’t think Randle being injured is the issue. They just don’t want to risk losing him too. If I am the owner GM whatever, I take one look at my RB situation and see that 2/3 of the guys who would make the team are already hurt and past history shows that one of them certainly won’t be able to stay healthy. Yet we continue to just sit around waiting, and the longer we sit the higher the price becomes for the trade.

        • I would like to have Lamar Miller if we could pull it off. He is durable and consistent.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Lamar Miller is my guy. Can do everything, and had like 5 yards per rush, doesn’t have the O line as good as this one, and wasn’t run enough.

  • californy

    The Cowboys last year reminds me of the bad news bear, a bunch of player who over achiever when expectation were really bad. Unfortunately for me I take the more temper view when looking at this defense. It takes time before these players learn and play as a unit. I am not counting to much on Gregory this year, he must learn to play with the additional 20 lbs he is carrying this year, and at a much faster pace that what they had in college.

    Crawford for me was a player just a step to slow last year. I was shock how well he played when you factor in his hits and Hurries last year at 31. I hope Crawford can narrow the distant from Hurries to sack this year. If Crawford can get 10 sacks minimum he will have a great year.

    Demarcus Lawrence to me has not arrived yet. Im sure he will be use as a situational player. I need to start to hear more from him in these camps to consider a factor in this defense.

    • Gabriel Carrasco

      Crawford would have had more sacks if the coverage held up better, he hit the QB a lot. I don’t see 10 sacks being a great year. Suh is the best DT out there and he doesn’t even average 10 sacks a year. DT are not DE, a good year for a DT is anywhere between 5-7 sacks. I could see Crawford get 8 at the most unless everyone plays to their potential.

      • californy

        With the more talent around Crawford the easier his job should be. My biggest concern is the LB, with the lost of Durrant and Carter there goes 2 of our better player IN PD, TFL from last year squad

        • Gabriel Carrasco

          Carter was too inconsistent to resign, he had some good game, but in those same games he was out of place or getting burned on a pass to the RB. Durant I liked, but sometimes you can’t pay for just good. New England churns their roster year in and year out. And I feel Damien Wilson is better than Anthony Hitchens. So I think the LB are fine, it’s more the RB situation and the lack of the 1 tech.

          • My biggest concern with Wilson is his tackling

          • californy

            I like TFL, give me a LB who excel at those number. In my Mock I would of added 45 sacks and like over 90 TFL had they chose my players. That 3 Player on the DL too

        • LB concerns me too. That’s y I wanted Perryman. SD got a bargain on him. He is expected to start as a rookie. I am anxious to see how he looks against us in preseason

          • californy

            SD I believe make some strides this year in their league. They climb one more in the ranking than the Cowboys climb last year at 13 spots. Yeah we are getting some of their cast off player. I heard the LB we got from them is hurt now.

          • They are on the rise for sure

        • That is the case with any pass rusher. Ware had no help toward the end so coaches just game planned to take him out of the picture

        • I have never been a big fan of Carter. Durant was avg.

      • Hatcher had 10 @ the 3 in Dallas. I really wonder what a healthy Rat in his prime would have done in this system

      • Wow 31 is alot for a DT. More would have been sacks, but QBs continued to attack the poor coverage underneath and over the top to get rid of the ball quickly. Namely our LBs and safeties.

    • DeMarcus Lawrence will begin to arrive this yr. His injury slowed his development

      • Gabriel Carrasco

        Well he did come alive in the playoffs which is the most important time. But it seemed like no one wanted to rush Rodgers that day. He’s been winning his battles with Free. And he won’t be going against the team’s best pass blocker anymore, so he should get more sacks than he would on the right side.

        • I can’t wait to see the ones in a real game. There has to be improvement this yr. I wish they had kept Hatcher.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            I would have liked to keep Hatcher too. But Dallas seems to be going in the right direction by not overpaying guys or giving guys big contracts anymore.

          • Really? Look at Dez contract. Hatcher would be less than Hardy right now

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Hardy will only make 13 million if he meets his incentives. And Dez got what Thomas got. It is the going rate for a WR and he’s 26.

    • Lionone1

      I have no reason to believe the Cowboys won’t improve again this year. First of all they are always a 27-28 ppg offense. Even when you had a historically bad defense due to injuries or a RB that flashed ability but also had injury problems. The offensive line continues to get better and now Marinelli has more of his type of rushmen to utilize. My interest is in competition and how they use their roster spots. The QB battle between Vaughan and Showers will be good. My prediction is Showers will play great on Thursday and become a fan favorite. It will be tough to keep a third QB this time and even tougher to keep them on the practice squad. I’d imagine they’d like to have that spot for depth in other areas. Do they need Dunbar anymore?

  • californy

    Either way Good eye Cas, I remember your like in Crawford and Lawrence. It going to be nice to see how they develop. Im sure these article in the future may be rename, I told you so, lol

    • Thank you. OMG u r alive lol. U never answer my texts.