Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys defense showing why it could be great in playoffs

The Cowboys are showing that their defense shouldn’t be overlooked, and they could do some serious damage in the playoffs.

The Chicago Bears defense has been garnering a lot of discussion as one of the top defenses in the NFC, and possibly in the entire NFL.

But then there is the Dallas Cowboys defense, which has flown a little bit under the radar. They aren’t making as many headlines as Khalil Mack in Chicago, but the Cowboys are showing why their defensive unit is one that opposing offenses should worry about.

In recent years, they’ve drafted the right defensive guys in order to be up to that challenge. Rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is shaping to become one of the best defensive players in the NFL. After replacing the injured Sean Lee, Vander Esch has taken over in the middle, showing elite range in both pass coverage and run defense.

Vander Esch is just the most recent example of quality drafting by Jerry Jones. In 2017, Dallas landed Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. The year prior, the Cowboys found Jaylon Smith and Maliek Collins. In 2015, Byron Jones was the first-round pick, a youngster who has become a quality corner. Then there was DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014, a late-bloomer who is now one of the league’s most feared pass rushers.

Should the Cowboys make it to the playoffs — and their path there is essentially laid before their feet in a wide open NFC East — this defense could make headway, even against the high-powered offenses of the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints.

The Saints themselves received a firsthand look at it on Thursday night, with an example being when they were stopped at the Cowboys’ 1-yard line in the second quarter. Alvin Kamara had two chances to get into the end zone, including on fourth down, but was stopped both times.

Incredibly, the Cowboys shut out the Saints in the first half, something that hadn’t previously been done in more than 70 games.

The biggest topic of discussion with the Cowboys is usually the offensive duo of running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott, and their defense often takes a back seat. But if you look at their numbers, they’re elite.

The Cowboys are only giving up 19.4 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL. They have only allowed 15 touchdowns this season, third-best in the league. They are 12th in passing yards allowed and sixth in rushing yards.

To be fair, they haven’t faced an offense quite as prolific as the Saints thus far, which is why their Thursday night matchup against Drew Brees and Co. was so eye-opening. Instead of being run over, they stood up and acquitted themselves in the best of fashions.

It’s a challenge these Cowboys are more than willing to take on.

Next: Kenny Stills seems fed up with Dolphins quarterbacks

This young Dallas defense is becoming a force to be reckoned with, and it’s not a group that any team will want to meet in the playoffs.

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