Dallas Cowboys: The Frightening Numbers That Led to the Morris Claiborne Pick
Dallas Cowboy fans were essentially horrified for four and half months in 2011 by a secondary that was perfectly designed to make all their nightmares come true.
The season was so bad, I coined a new term: PTFQD, or Post Traumatic Fourth Quarter Disorder. Symptoms include gnashing of teeth, destruction of Cowboys related merchandise, violent removal of and stomping on Cowboys apparel, and muttering incoherently under ones breath for days after each game.
Most analysts understated the obvious: the Cowboys secondary was a key area of weakness. Yet, leading up to the draft, many, including myself, still anticipated the drafting of a pass rush specialist in the first round.
Our rationale was simply this: Anthony Spencer doesn't get enough sacks, leaving the secondary exposed on every down that DeMarcus Ware is successfully blocked. Another pass rusher would benefit the secondary by forcing QBs to make poor decisions and throw into coverage.
Clearly, the Cowboys saw things differently. Here are some truly scary numbers that led to the decision to move up and take Claiborne:
2011 Dallas Cowboys Defense
29th in passes defensed
24th in yards per passRonald Martinez/Getty Images
23rd in passing yards defense
17th in interceptions
26th in allowing passes of 20+ yards
25th in opposing QB rating
How much of this can be blamed on the secondary? Pretty much all of it.
Here is why:
Dallas finished 7th in sacks last year.
Wait, what? Yep, in the midst of all that talk about how Dallas really needs more pass rushing, somehow people missed that they finished just eight sacks short of the league leading Eagles. That works out to half a sack a game. Keep that number in mind.
The defensive line was doing something right. In fact, here are some defensive line stats to consider:
Three Key 2011 Cowboys Defensive Line Stats
7th in sacksTom Pennington/Getty Images
5th in rushing first downs allowed/game
6th in rushing attempts/game
What this tells you is that Dallas' defensive front actually performed heroically in 2011 despite a dreadful secondary that consistently gave away leads.
It tells you that Dallas' defensive front faced quarterbacks who were assured of finding someone open on almost every passing play.
Consider how different these two scenarios would affect the psychology of a quarterback:
1) The pass rush is intense, but the receivers are almost always open.
2) The pass rush is intense, the receivers are almost always covered, the corner backs are ball-hawks who are just waiting for an errant throw.
In the second scenario, the QB is much more likely to hesitate to throw the ball, much more likely to lose confidence in his ability to win the game with his arm and much more likely to throw an interception.
By picking up Brandon Carr and Brodney Pool in free agency and selecting Morris Claiborne in the first round, Dallas has set the stage for the second scenario. It took some remarkably scary numbers to reach this point, but the Cowboys now possess, at least on paper, a top-ten secondary to go along with their top-ten defensive front.
Remember that half sack per game differential between Dallas and Philadelphia? Having a top ten secondary to go along with Rob Ryan's multiple blitzing circus should be worth half a sack a game. QBs will finally have to work through reads and take some time to find an open receiver. Anthony Spencer will be the prime beneficiary, as he was so often just a split second late arriving in the pocket.
Cowboys fans still recovering from last season, take solace in the fact that Dallas has found the cure for PTFQD. It's called a secondary.
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