Excited about this defense

Last year, we had one of the NFL’s top defenses despite two glaring weaknesses: left cornerback and run-stuffing defensive tackle.

One of those weaknesses (LCB) got even weaker when Anthony Brown was lost to injury. Brown wasn’t great, but with Jourdan Lewis out with injury, we didn’t have enough players able to step up and either take the outside CB position or the slot CB position. DaRon Bland proved to be a find, but looked better in the slot than outside. Experimenting with Israel Mukuamu in the slot when we had to play Bland outside showed some promise in the playoffs.

Dallas addressed this weakness by trading a fifth-round draft pick for Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore didn’t cost much because he’s fairly old, but his play was rejuvenated last year. He was one of Indianapolis’ top defenders last year. Pairing Gilmore with Diggs and Bland should make our secondary tough to beat this year. There are still some depth questions, but with Lewis set to return and Mukuamu having shown he can play the slot if needed, there’s at least a little leeway this year. Brown played about as well as we could expect for a backup having to start because our second-rounder (Kelvin Joseph) has been a bust, but too many times it seemed like, offenses were able to burn him with a deep pass or two. Gilmore, even at this point in his career, should be a huge upgrade to Brown.

To give Dallas some backhanded credit, the Cowboys did trade for Jonathan Hankins when they continued to struggle stopping the run last season. Of course, most fans have been shouting for them to seriously address defensive tackle for years. They did it in the draft, taking a run stuffer they hope can turn into more than that. But if Mazi Smith is only a run stuffer, it still would fix one of our few weaknesses on defense. Dallas improved in that area after acquiring Hankins, and re-signed him, so pairing him with Smith should make the interior tough to run against. That should put offenses in more long-yardage situations and allow the pass rushers to feed.

It’s hard to say at this point that the defense will be elite. My opinion is that won’t happen until we get a defensive tackle who can consistently collapse the pocket. Mazi may turn into that player but it wouldn’t be fair to expect that his rookie year. Odighizuwa and Golston provide some interior pressure, and Fehoko might can add to that. But for right now, better coverage and interior run-stopping is probably what we should expect, and what should make this defense even better than it was.

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