Run defense letting down Cowboys

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Brandon Wade/AP/Shutterstock (13435805mt) Dallas Cowboys safety Malik Hooker (28) is seen during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders, in Arlington, Texas. Dallas won 25-10 Commanders Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 02 Oct 2022

Run defense letting down Cowboys

The Cowboys have one of the best defenses in the NFL because numbers don’t lie.

They are giving up just over 18 points per game, good for fifth-best in the NFL.

They are third in pass defense (181.7 yards per game), first in sacks (35), third in quarterback pressures (99), and fourth in turnover differential (+6).

“We have a great defense that is capable of not giving up that many points,” Cowboys starting safety Malik Hooker said. “Obviously, we have a good offense, enough to score points, so that’s on us. We just have to capitalize on the mistakes (our opponents) make.”

That kind of dominant play by the defense led Dallas to a 4-1 start to the season.

Since then, the Cowboys are 2-2, and teams have figured out how to beat a defense that looked untouchable early on – run the football.

It started in Week 6 against Philadelphia. The Eagles tilted the field by running the ball on 39-of-64 plays. They didn’t gain big yards, but they ground down the Cowboys’ defense.

Week 7 against Detroit, the Lions kept it balanced on offense, running the ball on 25-of-51 plays, but for 4.68 yards per carry.

Seeing their shortcomings and what lay ahead, the Cowboys acquired defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins from the Raiders to help shore up the inside portion of the run defense.

But it hasn’t helped stem the tide.

In Week 8 against Chicago, the Bears hit on both ends of the combination. They ran the ball on 43-of-67 plays for 5.58 yards per carry. But the Cowboys’ offense bailed out their defense with their best offensive production of the season.

“We know how important it is,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “As we have seen through some of the last few weeks, some teams are, ‘hey; this is fully committed to how we want to get it on.’ If that doesn’t get our attention, to say that ‘this is how it has to go down,’ then (I) would be hard-pressed to find another way to get it across.”

After a week off, it all caught up with the Cowboys in Week 10. The Packers ran the ball on 39-of-59 plays for a 5.30-yard average on each run. This time, the offense went dormant late, and the defense couldn’t stop the Packers when it mattered most – the fourth quarter and overtime.

“We have an opportunity to fix it,” Gallimore said. “This is what practice is for this is what this week’s about. Still, an opportunity to change the narrative. Again, it’s back to the details and the little things.”

But the Packers gave teams on the Cowboys’ schedule over the final nine weeks of the season a formula for success – run on first down, run on second down, and then throw a play-action pass on third down. Green Bay did it when necessary, and it worked to their advantage late in the game, with A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones hitting chunk runs before Aaron Rodgers used the run fake to take shots down the field on the Cowboys’ pass defense.

The good thing for Dallas is they can clearly see where the improvements need to come from.

“It starts in the classroom,” Hooker said. “We gotta all get on the same page. We should be able to make the same corrections that we are all talking about and fix them.”

Those corrections will be put to the test immediately as the Cowboys face some of the league’s best running backs over the final eight games of the season.

“A lot of them are top five from what I’ve been seeing,” Hooker said about the backs the Cowboys still face this season. “We got Minnesota next week and, I think, Indianapolis the week after, and then we got Saquon (Barkley), obviously. Them three right there are the top three backs in the league, and if not the top three, than the top five; so, that (stopping the run) is definitely something we have to work on and fix that up right now.”

The first test comes this Sunday when the Cowboys face the Vikings and Dalvin Cook in Minneapolis. Cook, who has 727 yards rushing this season, is averaging 5.0 yards per carry through nine games.

“He’s a great runner, a downhill runner,” Gallimore said. “He makes things happen. So, again, a lot of people look at it as a challenge, but I think it’s just another opportunity that we have to make sure that we perform.”

After Cook, the Cowboys will face the NFL’s leading rusher in Saquon Barkley, Houston’s Damien Pierce, Jacksonville’s Travis Etienne, and Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, all running backs in the top 10 this season.

“We have to stop the outside runs,” Hooker said. “And the run game, in general, that’s a big issue for us right now. … Once we stop the run, that should get us in third and long or third and medium. You know, the guys we have on the defensive line when we get to that point, we just have to get there.”

Now, just past the halfway point, and the Cowboys have the 28th ranked run defense in the NFL, giving up 143.1 yards on the ground per game.

A number that will have to come down.

“One thing I do know, we have the right crew to (get it fixed),” Quinn said. “The answers are within that circle to do that. I’m more than certain that this group of guys will get that done.”

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