The Dallas Cowboys were the worst defensive team in the NFL last year. Bad news Cowboys backers: Arguably the club's top cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, has now been suspended the first four games of 2014. How does that affect Cowboys odds?
No D In Dallas
Dallas set a franchise record by allowing 6,645 yards last year, which is 415.3 per game. By comparison, the No. 31 defense of Minnesota gave up an average of 397.6 yards per game. Against the pass, Dallas was No. 30 in giving up 286.8 ypg. Four QBs threw for at least 400 yards and five at least four TD passes. It was ugly.
And here's worse news: The four best players on the unit were Pro Bowl tackle Jason Hatcher, former Pro Bowl end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware, heart-and-soul middle linebacker Sean Lee and Scandrick. Hatcher is a Redskin and DeMarcus Ware a Bronco, while Lee is out for the season due to injury. Scandrick's suspension was announced late Monday when Scandrick's appeal was denied. Apparently the knucklehead tested positive for ecstasy, claiming his girlfriend talked him into adding a substance that he didn't know was on the banned list to a cocktail they were drinking while on vacation in Mexico. So essentially Scandrick is saying he was OK taking an illegal drug but didn't know the NFL also banned it. Genius.
Scandrick, a fifth-round pick and the only player remaining from the 2008 draft class for Dallas, beat out former first-round pick Morris Claiborne for a starting cornerback job last year after largely being the team's nickel cornerback. Scandrick was expected to beat out Claiborne again in camp because Claiborne just can't stay healthy (he is nicked up again). Scandrick set career-highs in 2013 for tackles (70), pass breakups (15) and interceptions (two).
In the past two seasons, the Cowboys have played 1,350 snaps with Scandrick on the field and 729 with him off it. Opposing QBs have a rating around five points higher with him off the field and their yards per attempt are 7.6 compared to 7.2 with Scandrick on the field. In third-down situations his presence really is known. Opponents converted 50.5 percent of third downs without Scandrick and 38.8 percent with him playing.
Here's more, courtesy of Pro Football Focus: Receivers in Scandrick’s coverage area were targeted 101 times last year, the 10th most of any cornerback. Scandrick allowed 62 receptions but held those receivers to 10.5 yards per catch, the fourth-lowest average by a corner playing at least 75 percent of his team’s snaps. You can see why the Cowboys gave him an extension through 2018 last December.
Scandrick will be eligible to return to the active roster the day after the Cowboys' Sept. 28 home game against New Orleans. He can practice and play in the preseason. The starting job opposite Brandon Carr now goes to Claiborne if he can stay on the field. The team has little depth behind those guys so likely will look to sign someone.
Let's look at the Dallas Cowboys' schedule and the games Scandrick will miss.
Week 1 vs. San Francisco: The 49ers already are 5.5-point favorites after NFL odds opened them at -3.5. Scandrick no doubt would have been matched up against Niners No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree, and remember that San Francisco didn't lose a regular-season game with Crabtree in the lineup last year.
Week 2 at Tennessee: It could mean a big game for Titans rising star receiver Kendall Wright, who caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards and two touchdowns last year. That is if Jake Locker is accurate enough to get him the ball.
Week 3 at St. Louis: The Rams don't have a standout No. 1 receiver, so this might be the game where Dallas misses Scandrick the least. When the Rams lost 31-7 in Dallas early last season, Scandrick had three tackles and a sack. Sam Bradford was 29 of 48 for 240 yards and a short TD pass. No Rams receiver had more than 54 yards.
Week 4 vs. New Orleans: Last year at the Superdome, Dallas allowed an NFL-record 40 first downs and 625 yards of offense in a 49-17 blowout loss. Drew Brees threw for 392 yards and four scores. Scandrick finished with seven tackles. This will easily be the game Scandrick is missed the most. The Cowboys simply can't guard all of Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and rookie Brandin Cooks.
NFL picks: The Cowboys now start 0-4, which affects two major props: Their 2014 wins, set at 7.5 (after opening at 8), and the odds of Jason Garrett to be the first coach fired. He's currently the +200 favorite and if Dallas does start 0-4, he won't see October. The Cowboys finish 6-10.