20 Questions: Can The Defense Solve The Takeaway Problem?

The Cowboys have completed their OTAs and minicamp practices. The offseason is history. Training camp in Oxnard is up next in late July.

The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rob Phillips, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – are attempting to answer 20 pressing questions as the team gets ready for camp and the 2016 season. 

Today, our staff continues the series focusing on how the defense can improve on last year's league-low 11 takeaways:

No. 8) Can The Defense Solve The Takeaway Problem?

David Helman:I have to assume they can, considering this group managed to force 31 takeaways during the 2014 season – good enough for second in the league. Last year that fell all the way to 11 takeaways, which was dead-last in the entire NFL. So how do they fix it? Well, with any luck, a healthy offense in 2016 will lead to more second-half leads, which means teams will be playing aggressively to catch up. If the opposition is throwing and hurrying in the second half – rather than trying to grind down the clock – then the likes of Sean Lee, Byron Jones and Orlando Scandrick should have more opportunities at interceptions. On top of that, this pass rush can only be helped if it's playing with a lead – as it'll have to focus less on the run and more on getting the quarterback. So that's the best bet, in my opinion. This defense is lacking in playmakers, and it's going to need some help from the offense to improve in the takeaway department.

Bryan Broaddus:No team in the league works harder creating turnovers in practice than this group. These coaches run countless drills - ripping the ball loose and catching tipped passes, so the attention to detail is there. I recall games in 2015 where defensively they did create turnovers but because of a misplayed pass, penalty on the play or unable to secure a ball on the ground, they missed an opportunity to gain a turnover. I think this defense needs to do a better job of finishing. If they were to do that, the problem would improve.   

Rob Phillips: I've said this over and over again – the defense needs help from the offense. So many times in 2014 – the year the Cowboys led the NFC with 31 takeaways – they closed out games by forcing a turnover against a trailing opponent. When you have the lead, the opposing offense is forced to take chances. It's hard to believe the Cowboys had a 20-takeaway drop in 2015, but when you think about how often they trailed in games, opponents could get away with a conservative game plan. It's not all about the scoreboard: the defense also dropped would-be interceptions and didn't scoop up fumbles. But you'd like to think a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant can build some leads to help the other side of the ball.[embeddedad0]

Nick Eatman:I don't see a lot of changes right now with the turnovers. Obviously, they can come at all times and when you're least expecting them, but oftentimes there's a big reason for turnovers and it comes down to pressure. That, to me, is the one thing lacking the most with this defense. I just don't see right now where the pressure is coming from. You've got defensive ends starting the year on a suspension list and counting on players such as Charles Tapper, David Irving and Ryan Russell to provide instant relief. With that, I'm just not seeing a lot of takeaways. Even Orlando Scandrick's return doesn't suggest a ton of help. He's had seven interceptions in seven seasons. Who knows, maybe the Cowboys will get more this year but I can't sit here and give good examples how it's going to change. What needs to change is the offense scoring more points and put the opponents in scramble-mode, which sometimes can lead to turnovers. Right now, that's the best-case scenario that I see.

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