Skip to main content

3 & Out: Breaking Down 3 Levels Of Change


FRISCO, Texas – Since Washington week, the Cowboys have welcomed back their defensive captain, dealt away next year's first-round pick for immediate help and moved on from a veteran assistant coach. Hardly status quo, no?

Let's take a closer look at the impact of all three in this week's 3 & Out:

I Know…

adding Amari Cooper is about improving the offense, but no one's talking about the positive effect Cooper's presence can have on the defense.

The No. 1 reason for optimism about a potential playoff push is the NFL's No. 2 scoring defense. Through seven games, you're seeing a contender-level performance from this group.

Check this out: The Cowboys are on pace to allow 281 points this season, a current average of 17.6 per game. Since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978, they've been at or below that number 10 times: 2009, 2003, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1994, 1993, 1992, 1981, 1978. The club made the playoffs all 10 times, reached at least the NFC title game five times and played in three Super Bowls, winning two.

With a 3-4 record, I'm well aware that the Super Bowl is a far-off discussion right now. Point is, the defense is playing well enough to contend for the division. The only missing ingredient is more takeaways – they're currently tied for the second-fewest in the NFL with six.

If the D can get a little more help from the offense – longer drives, more leads to work with – they should be even better. The front office must have considered that when deciding to go get Cooper.

I Think…

if the defense is going to sustain this level of play, they need Sean Lee at his best – even with some really good young linebackers around him.

That's why a linebacker rotation makes so much sense. The 32-year-old defensive captain always puts the defense in a position to succeed when he's on the field, but perhaps a slight reduction in snaps will keep him healthier and fresher for the stretch run.

Here's some insight from defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli from a couple weeks ago, when Lee was inching closer to a return from that hamstring injury:

"We're trying to have a chance to reduce some snaps over a period of time," Marinelli said, "and by doing that, may end up playing two games less (cumulatively) by snap numbers. It's a plan, and the thing about it is we've got confidence in all those guys."

Marinelli means that the collective wear and tear on the group, particularly on Lee, can be minimized by a rotation. Lee was able to ease back into game action with 38 defensive snaps against Washington. Leighton Vander Esch and Damien Wilson each had 21 snaps. Only Jaylon Smith played close to a full game – 58 of 60 snaps.

Let's see how the playing time plays out over the next few games, but as Marinelli says, it's "somewhat of a luxury" to have this kind of depth. The best part about it: Lee is completely on board. He sees the big picture.

I Have No Idea…

the last time the Cowboys made a mid-season assistant coaching change. Maybe never? Looking back through the archives, I wasn't able to find one prior to Paul Alexander's release on Monday.

Wade Phillips was let go after a 1-7 start in 2010, but that was a head-coaching decision. Brian Stewart was relieved of his defensive play-calling duties in the middle of the 2008 season but stayed on staff until the end of the year.

Replacing Alexander, the team's first-year offensive line coach, is a first in the Jason Garrett era. But clearly Garrett and Jones felt they had to do something to jump-start the foundation of their offense. As Jones said on 105.3 The Fan, "With the players we have, albeit without Travis Frederick (on injured reserve), we have a high standard. We came in and we look at the strength of our team we look at it as the offensive line. And, so, you're on the spot a little bit when you're either playing or coaching in that area because that's an area that we want to be a symbol of what this team is about."

The offensive line is the reason I picked Dallas to make the playoffs. In many ways, they'll go as far as the line takes them.