Dallas Cowboys

JUST CHILL: Defense being better than 2014 should not be the barometer

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Sean Lee is the key to whatever the team does on defense.
Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Sean Lee is the key to whatever the team does on defense. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

The Dallas Cowboys head into the season with a lot of unanswered questions on defense, especially with its two best pass rushers serving NFL suspensions.

But the Cowboys believe they can hold their own defensively because of the success they had in 2014 when they finished 19th in the league, after finishing dead last in 2013, and forced 31 turnovers.

That unit didn’t have linebacker Sean Lee. It had such unheralded players as Jeremy Mincey and George Selvie as the starting ends.

The Cowboys say the unknown players such as Benson Mayowa, Jack Crawford, David Irving and Charles Tapper are more athletic and have more potential than Mincey and Selvie. That group will be buoyed by the return of suspended end DeMarcus Lawrence after four games.

This defense has Lee from the beginning and a trio of veteran corners in Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne seemingly poised and motivated to play the best football of their careers.

The Cowboys also point to a defensive tackle rotation of Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, rookie Maliek Collins and Cedric Thornton as its best in years.

“I'm zeroing in on this defensive line maybe because I want it that bad," owner Jerry Jones admits.

The big issue is that the 2014 defense was aided by a ball-control offense that ranked seventh overall and second on the ground with quarterback Tony Romo having an most valuable player-caliber season and a franchise-record 1,845 rushing yards from DeMarco Murray.

As much as the Cowboys believe in Prescott, there is no way the offense will match the 2014 unit, which could expose a defense that lacks proven playmakers.

Consider that last year’s defense ranked 17th overall, but couldn’t get to the quarterback and didn’t create turnovers.

That unit is likely a better barometer until proven otherwise.

Dallas Cowboys regular-season schedule

Sept. 11

vs. NY Giants

3:25 p.m.

KDFW/4

Sept. 18

at Washington

Noon

KDFW/4

Sept. 25

vs. Chicago

7:30 p.m.

KXAS/5

Oct. 2

at San Francisco

3:25 p.m.

KDFW/4

Oct. 9

vs. Cincinnati

3:25 p.m.

KTVT/11

Oct. 16

at Green Bay

3:25 p.m.

KDFW/4

Oct. 23

Bye

Oct. 30

vs. Philadelphia

7:30 p.m.

KXAS/5

Nov. 6

at Cleveland

Noon

KDFW/4

Nov. 13

at Pittsburgh

3:25 p.m.

KDFW/4

Nov. 20

vs. Baltimore

Noon

KTVT/11

Nov. 24

vs. Washington

3:30 p.m.

KDFW/4

Dec. 1

at Minnesota

7:25 p.m.

KXAS/5, NFL Net.

and Twitter

Dec. 11

at NY Giants

7:30 p.m.

KXAS/5

Dec. 18

vs. Tampa Bay

Noon

KDFW/4

Dec. 26

vs. Detroit

7:30 p.m.

ESPN

Jan. 1

at Philadelphia

Noon

KDFW/4

All games broadcast on KRLD/105.3 FM and KMVK/107.5 (Spanish)

*Time and television broadcast subject to change.

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