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Progress Report: After 5 Games, Taking Closer Look at Cowboys' Defense

FRISCO, Texas -- With only five games into the 2017 season, there's still plenty of football left for these Cowboys as they enter the bye week. But a handful of games is also enough time to evaluate not only the team as a whole, but breaking down the three phases of the team.

So over the next three days, let's take a closer look at what has gone right, what hasn't been up to par and what needs to change on the offense, defense and special teams.

Today, it's the Defense.  

Best Performer: DeMarcus Lawrence

If there has been a defensive performer that has been consistent throughout the ups and downs of the first month of the season, it would have to be DeMarcus Lawrence. With a full training camp, better overall health and proper conditioning, his season is off to an outstanding start.

Throughout his career Lawrence has always had to deal with issues, both on and off the field, which have affected his play. Lawrence has also benefited from his teammates around him, but also just primarily lining up on one side of the defense. The left side appears to be a better fit for him than trying to play him on the right. 

The way he attacks blockers off that left side puts him in better position to finish. I didn't always feel like he could consistently win the corner playing off that right side like we're seeing from him now.  

Best Defensive Views Through 5 Weeks.

What's Working: Pass Rush

The narrative from all who follow this team was: where will the pass rush come from? There were plenty of different options, but in reality the concern was justified. 

As we sit five games into the season, the questions about that pass rush have taken a back seat to other concerns, such as run and scoring defense. The pass rush has improved in large part to players such as DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford and David Irving. As a unit they've done a nice job of attacking opponents, especially those that have struggled with their line play. 
This group has a chance to be even better if they could get Damontre' Moore, Benson Mayowa or Taco Charlton going. All have been close but for various reasons have not been able to finish. 

As a unit they're finally playing at a level where we no longer think of them as a liability.    

Not There Yet: Run Defense

Of the many concerns defensively, the area that is the most troubling is their inability to play run defense. Other than opening weekend against the Giants, they've struggled badly to get a handle on the opponent's running game. 

What's shocking it that it hasn't mattered what down, it's been difficult for them to make stops. Opposing offenses have run the ball successfully 50 percent of the time on first down for four or more yards a carry. It is even more troubling as a unit that they've allowed opponents to rush the ball for 6.3 yards per carry on second down.

Through five games, opponents have 18 runs of 10-plus yards, which is five more than where the league average currently sits. Missing Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens for various games hasn't helped -- but that shouldn't be an excuse. The inability to consistently get off blocks, poor angles and bad tackling has been the real culprit.

Until that is addressed, as well as fixed, the issues will remain for a defense that was tops in the league last season in defending the run.

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