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Spagnola: Getting Mighty Defensive For This Season


FRISCO, Texas – Earlier this first game week of the 2022 season, blue, long sleeve pullovers hung from outside the players' lockers here at The Star.

Emblazoned on the front was the word RESILIENCE.

The next morning commemorative 2022 season silver coins were passed around The Star. Once again, there was that word engraved:


And most certainly the Cowboys will need a boatload of _resilience_ as they begin the 2022 season Sunday night at AT&T Stadium, facing Tampa Bay and hoping the seventh time meeting Tom Brady is a charm since they have yet to defeat the best and longest to ever have played quarterback in the NFL in the first six meetings, no matter if he was a Pat or Buc.

Look, they begin this campaign with two of their top three receivers, Michael Gallup and James Washington, watching in their civies, banking on an uber young receiving corps to replace them.

Their Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith will be watching probably from home, raw rookie Tyler Smith replacing him while Tyron continues his long rehab following torn hamstring surgery.

While Dalton Schultz leads the tight end group, the other two guys are raw rookies, too, and we know how the Cowboys are partial to two-tight end sets.

And if that weren't enough to summon _resilience_, on Thursday, three days before the season opener on national TV and during the meat of the week's lone practice in pads, Shoe Gate develops, QB1 Dak Prescott heads into the locker room and never returns, though afterward swearing them new pair of shoes were the culprit of ankle discomfort and there is nothing to worry about.

He was right. Off the injury report on Friday.

So, nothing to worry about? Hah, that's all Cowboys fans do. They worry.

Yeah, theses Cowboys darn well will need _resilience_ to kick off this season.

But to me, if there is to be this motto for the 2022 season, the Cowboys not only are attempting to become the first team in the NFC East to repeat as division champs since 2004 but also become a playoff team in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006-07, then this for sure should have been the capitalized inscription:


Not just should be.

Needs to be.

Especially with all these swirling offensive questions raising hurricane warning flags.

And maybe it's not just me thinking the Cowboys must lean heavily on their defense to be successful this season, especially early on. Even the head coach has expressed earnest trust in a defense just two seasons ago no one would have trusted protecting the exterior of their homes from varmints.

"At the end of the day, our goal is to play complementary football," Mike McCarthy says when making optimistic sense over these offensive unknowns. "And I think we're clearly built better for that this year than we were last year, clearly my first year.

"We have a defense that you can play to. And to me that's a huge factor in not only getting to the championship but winning the whole thing."

To me, too, for this 63rd edition of the Dallas Cowboys.

If my eyes do not deceive me, this defense is immeasurably better than last year's, you know the one jumping from 23rd overall in 2020, next to dead last against the run (31st) and giving up the most points in franchise history (473) to 19th overall in 2021, 16th against the run and leading the league with 34 takeaways and 26 interceptions, affording them an NFL-high plus-14 turnover differential.

So, like, can they be better than that in 2021?

Yep, let me count the ways.

Micah Parsons, last year's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, no longer is a rookie.

Neither is starting defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa.

Defensive tackle Neville Gallimore is ready to start the season, not like last year missing the first 12 games.

Quinton Bohanna no longer is a rookie, and already having earned himself the nickname "Big Q" and listed on the first-team defense depth chart.

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is as healthy as he's been in years, having missed the next 10 games after last year's opener with a fractured fifth metatarsal, and hasn't spent this offseason either recovering from an offseason surgery or nursing himself back to health following a series of previous season injuries.

Safety Malik Hooker is another year removed from his torn Achilles and fellow safety Donovan Wilson, winner of the offseason workout award, proudly wearing the accompanying "Golden Whistle" on a chain, is healthy and ready to go following groin surgery.

No longer are the Cowboys messing around at linebacker trying to make Jaylon Smith work at the expense of Leighton Vander Esch, who came on strong at the end of last season when his snaps increased. And what do you think about the addition of veteran Anthony Barr at linebacker?

Yes, Randy Gregory defected to Denver in free agency, but in comes Dante Fowler Jr., and telling you, keep an eye on Sam Williams because guarantee you the Bucs will be aware of the rookie defensive end.

This time around won't take as long for the Cowboys to figure out safety Jayron Kearse needs to be on the field for at least 95 percent of the snaps he was last year 12 times, their first-year player ending up with a team-leading 92 tackles (and hoping the neck problem causing him to show up on the Friday injury report is not serious).

And for goodness sakes, to think Trevon Diggs, the NFL's interception leader with 11 last year, most in the league since Everson Walls' 11 in 1981, is a year wiser in his third season.

Oh, oh, wait, don't forget this will be the second year in defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's defense, and he will be much more in tune to the capabilities of his troops and the troops in tune to what "Q" is looking for.

Sure, the Cowboys gave up 31 points last year in that loss to Tampa Bay in the opener, but as Quinn says, "They won't be facing the same defense they faced last year. Although there will be some similar faces, I'd say our style has evolved quite a bit."

Now wouldn't this be something, the Cowboys, of all teams after all these years, relying on their defense to win games. That really hasn't happened on a consistent bases since 2005-09 when the Cowboys defense was ranked in the top 10 four of those five years.

And this might have escaped memories or become clouded over by their offensive stars, but during that stretch between 1991-95, when the Cowboys had won those three Super Bowls in four years and four of the five NFC East titles, their defenses ranked in the top 10 all five seasons and as high as fourth in 1992-93.

In fact, McCarthy recalls one of his best defenses in Green Bay, one he didn't mind leaning on, was in 2010, uh, the season the Packers won the Super Bowl. The Packers ranked fifth in yards allowed, and finished second in points allowed (240), sacks (47) and interceptions (24), while also limiting quarterbacks to an incredibly humble 67.2 passer rating, first in the NFL.

Need not remind of why the Cowboys won those first two Super Bowls in franchise history, with defenses we recall as Doomsday and Doomsday II.

Maybe it's time.

The depth on the defensive line is deep. The talent at the linebacker position, with each of the starting three having been to a Pro Bowl, Barr leading the way with four, is their best in quite some time. And the secondary is loaded with young talent.

No wonder Cowboys owner Jerry Jones Friday said on his 105.3 The Fan radio segment, "I love our defense. I think we've got one of our best defenses and defensive personnel that we've had in a long time."

And when told what the head coach had to say about this defense, that he won't be afraid to lean on that crew for a change, Gallimore couldn't have been more in agreement, saying, "Absolutely, he hit it on the head.

"Just happy football is back, get to go out there and do what you love."

All defending why at least going 10-7 and quite possibly 11-6 if these youngsters grow up in a hurry is not out of the question.

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