The Dallas Cowboys have been without starting Defensive Tackle Antwaun Woods since midway through their Week 2 victory over the Redskins. Many have developed a new appreciation for Woods’ value during this absence, especially after last Sunday’s poor run defense against Green Bay.
Thankfully, it looks like Antwaun is on pace to return to action this week against the New York Jets. He was practicing on a limited basis last week, but didn’t play, and has continued to increase his activity level in recent days.
Woods surprisingly emerged as a new starter following the 2018 offseason. Undrafted in 2016, Antwaun joined Dallas after two years of dealing with injuries and practice squad life with the Tennessee Titans. He beat out bigger names like Jihad Ward, Brian Price, and Datone Jones to make the team and be the Week One Starter.
Though he remains one of the team’s least expensive players with just a $570k salary cap hit, Woods has cost them dearly when he’s been unable to play.
Last season, Antwaun suffered a torn labrum during the Cowboys’ playoff loss to the Rams. After a year in which Dallas had been one of the league’s stingiest run defenses, they gave up huge numbers on the ground to Los Angeles and a disappointing postseason defeat.
I was reminded of that game last week after watching Packers RB Aaron Jones score four touchdowns and gaining 175 total offensive yards. Green Bay didn’t even need a big day from Aaron Rodgers to pick up a win in Dallas; a pretty damning statement.
If you didn’t already appreciate what Antwaun Woods brings to the Cowboys defense, you should after watching that loss.
While he can get to the quarterback and has two sacks already in 2019, fellow starting DT Maliek Collins is not strong against the run. His best play comes where there’s a strong teammate next to him in the “1-technique” position, such as Terrell McClain in 2016 and now Antwaun Woods.
Backup lineman Christian Covington has been filling in during Antwaun’s absence but is not the same kind of player. Both Covington and Collins have pass rush skills but can get bullied in run defense, moved to wherever the opposing offensive line wants to put them. We saw that far too much last Sunday.
Unfortunately, 2nd-Round rookie Trysten Hill is in no position to help either. He’s also in that pass-rushing mold, which will come in handy if Collins departs in 2020 free agency, but doesn’t have the power or technique right now to be the run stuffer.
Don’t take this to mean that Antwaun Woods is just the default option. He has been more than solid since joining the Cowboys; arguably the best DT in 2018 and proving by the impact of his absence that he may still be.
Getting Woods back this week is big. He may not need to play heavily against the Jets but could be critical in slowing down Le’Veon Bell early in the game. Dallas will want to stymie that aspect of New York’s offense and force Sam Darnold to try and beat them.
Even more importantly, though, Antwaun returning now gives him a chance to shake off rust and be fully ready for when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town in Week 7.
There are lots of bigger names on the Cowboys roster and even just on defense, but Antwaun Woods may be one of the most underrated players they have. The team has suffered without him these last few weeks, and hopefully he return will help spark a turnaround following back-to-back losses.