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Does “11 Personnel” Make the 1-Technique DT Expendable?

Last night I was washing dishes and, as I sometimes do, I reflect on the great problems of the world. You know, poverty, the deficit, and the numbers game present on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line. Ok, that last one isn’t really a problem. Not even a first world problem. It’s more of a conundrum that I was pondering.

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Dallas Cowboys DT, Cedric Thornton

Dallas’ defensive line is looking as deep as it has in a long time. It may not have a lot of star power–yet–but there are several players who show a lot of promise.

I could see as many as nine making the 53 man roster out of training camp. When David Irving comes back from his suspension, I could see them carrying 10 defensive linemen on the 53.

As I was getting the dishes cleaned from taco night–which is undefeated–and trying to solve the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line numbers game, the question that came to my mind was: “How important is it to carry two 1-technique defensive tackles on the 53-man roster?”

NFL teams are beginning to use 11-personnel–one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers–as their base offensive grouping more than ever before.

The New York Giants in 2016 used 11 personnel on 92% (!!!) of their offensive plays. That led the league. The San Francisco 49ers used 11-personnel 76% of the time.

In 2016, the NFL deployed 11-personnel on 60% of the offensive snaps, according to FootballOutsiders.com. The next closest personnel grouping was 12 personnel–one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers–and was only used 17% of the time. In fact, the usage rate of 11-personnel has increased from 40% in 2010 to now 60%.

Only five teams, the New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and New York Jets utilized 11-personnel on less than 50% of their offensive snaps.

18 teams used 11-personnel more than 60% of the time, including the Dallas Cowboys (60%). Seven teams used it more than 70% of the time.

Of Dallas Cowboys opponents for 2017, only the Atlanta Falcons used 11-personnel less than 50% of the time in 2016.

The Dallas Cowboys will play in their nickel and dime defenses a lot in 2017. They’ll need to get guys on the field who can both rush the passer with consistency and play the run as well.

With only 46 slots available to the active roster, the team has to make a lot of decisions on who it can bring on game day. Against teams like the New York Giants or San Francisco 49ers it may be more valuable to bring an extra cornerback, defensive end, tight end or extra offensive lineman than it is a second 1-tech.

The Dallas Cowboys defensive line versatility could even allow the team to deactivate Stephen Paea or Cedric Thornton.

Defensive Line 53-Man Roster Projection

Personnel Grouping Makes This Position Less of a Priority 1

I think it’ll become more of a reality as we get closer to the season starting, but my hope, and the hope of many in Cowboys Nation is that they will move Tyrone Crawford back to 3-technique. He is better suited for that role and he plays his best there.

With the versatility along the defensive line, left defensive ends like Tyrone Crawford and Taco Charlton can bump inside and play in the 3-technique role.

David Irving’s four game suspension gives them a little bit of flexibility as they open week one, but still there are a lot of guys that have a lot of potential to have an impact on the team.

When he comes back, Irving is another guy that can play inside at the 3-tech.

Maliek Collins, who is the starting 3-tech for the team, also has the ability to play the 1-technique. So again, why bring two 1-techniques to play the 11-personnel, pass happy New York Giants?

Along the defensive line, the two players that led the 2016 Dallas Cowboys in snaps were Maliek Collins (62%) and Tyrone Crawford (59%). Two players who are at their best rushing the quarterback from the inside 3-technique position.

Terrell McClain, who was the starting 1-technique tackle, played on only 44% of the teams defensive snaps. 2016 backup and projected 2017 starter Cedric Thornton, only played on 26% of the teams defensive snaps.

While Stephen Paea and Cedric Thornton could be solid contributors from the 1-technique position, if you’re using them on less than half the defensive plays, is it worth having a backup taking up a roster spot?

Collins’ can play both defensive tackle positions.

Crawford, Charlton, and Irving can play the strong side defensive end and the 3-technique tackle spots.

So wouldn’t it make more sense to carry only one 1-technique tackle on game days? Especially against a team like the Giants, who will have you in your nickel package for nearly 90% of the game.

In week one, the Dallas Cowboys will face the New York Giants and will have decisions to make along the defensive line. In order to get their best players on the field, they need to get creative about their defensive tackle deployment.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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