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10 Answers: Analyzing The Cowboys' Defensive Ranking Compared To 2014

(Editor's Note: Last summer, the staff attempted to answer 20 questions about the Cowboys' roster leading into training camp. With the 2015 season complete, we're picking out the 10 best and most applicable questions and reviewing how our predictions fared.)

5) Can This Cowboys Defense Earn A Top 10 Ranking?

Rob:The answer was no, the Cowboys didn't crack the top 10. They finished 17th in total defense, allowing 347.9 yards per game, and 16th in scoring defense, allowing 23.4 per game. Last year they ranked 19th in total defense (355.1) and 15th in scoring defense (22.0), so there was a slight improvement as well as a slight drop-off. I thought they could reach the top 10 simply because last year they were about 15 yards and a point fewer per game from being there. I give Rod Marinelli's group a lot of credit for keeping the team in many low-scoring games, but ultimately they will point to a league-low 11 takeaways and some fourth-quarter mistakes as areas that must improve next season. The minus-22 turnover differential and Tony Romo's 12-game absence with the fractured left collarbone are the two biggest reasons for 4-12.

Nick: I guess the answer I gave was right, technically. But my premise wasn't exactly accurate. I said no to the Cowboys ranking in the top 10 in defense mainly because I figured the offense would be elite. Usually, top-ranked offenses score so much and take the lead that defenses end up giving up late points and messing up their rankings. For that reason I said no, but as it turned out, there were other reasons for their issues. They just didn't have any playmakers to get them off the field. To think this unit ranked 17th in yards allowed and had one of the fewest numbers of takeaways in NFL history is actually impressive. Nothing stops a drive better than turnover and this team just couldn't do it. I thought it was an average defense this year and the ranking suggested that as well.

David: All you have to do is look at the stats to know that this was not a top 10 defense. But it's a little more nuanced than that. The Cowboys were solid – and at times even good. Statistically, they finished No. 5 against the pass. They didn't allow many big plays, and they did a good job of limiting offenses in the early going of games. Nobody needs reminding of the fourth quarter breakdowns, though. Obviously that ties in to the poor showings on offense, but you can't absolve the defense of all blame. This was a unit that did not make plays, and I think it's a huge part of why they weren't better. They finished the season with 11 takeaways – which ties the NFL record for fewest ever. They only intercepted eight passes as a defense – which is the same amount of picks as Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters. No takeaways means longer possessions and longer drives, and it cost this group in yardage and points. It has to improve, whether it's by better coaching or improving the talent level on the roster. This unit has proven it can play very well for stretches, but it needs to be able to put together 60-minute efforts to reach that top 10 status.

Bryan: I remember when we had a chance to write about this Dallas defense before the start of the season, I chose to focus on the scoring defense aspect of it instead of total defense. As a unit they finished in the top half at 16th in the league. Those numbers could have been better if not for some returns that were tacked onto them due to offensive mistakes (interceptions and fumbles) and special teams breakdowns. For a defense that didn't create many of their own turnovers, I thought that they gave them a chance in all the games with the exception of Atlanta and Carolina. Where this season was lost in my opinion was on the offensive side of the ball and their inability to put points on the board. We saw how well this team could play a complete game on both sides of the ball in Miami but those days were few and far between. If this offense could have not turned the ball over for scores and scored more or the special teams given up returns – we might be talking about this defense in a different light.       

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