It’s a well-known fact that if you can get pressure from the interior it will completely disrupt the timing and patience it takes for any quarterback to produce on a high level. This will force them to leave the pocket and become sitting ducks for defensive ends as well as blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. Also, if you can stop the ground game from inside it will cause running backs to bounce runs outside, which plays right into a defense’s hands.
The Dallas Cowboys haven’t done a good job of consistently doing either so far in 2019. Currently, they rank 15th in the NFL in sacks, basically average from a league-wide standpoint. In addition to this, they are 19th vs the run this season. This is a major dropoff from the unit that ranked fifth in this category in 2018 and no lower than eighth since 2016.
This can all be turned around if the meat and potatoes of this defensive line can develop a steady habit of high-level play. The horses are there on the interior to be effective enough to get this defense back on track and build some confidence in the final three games ahead of a possible playoff run.
Several players, in my opinion, can really get this area of the Cowboys defense rolling. The first is starter Antwaun Woods who has been the primary run stopper for the past two seasons. His availability hasn’t been the best with five games missed so far due to multiple knee strains (currently recovering from one). Even when he’s played he hasn’t had his name called often with only 15 tackles and no sacks. He recently returned to practice but his status for this Sunday vs the Los Angeles Rams is unknown. Getting him in a groove is vital to this defensive line improving.
The second is rookie Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill who was taken in the second round back in April. He’s been seen as a disappointment the entire season until the last two games. With Woods out, he got 22 snaps vs the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears. He showed signs of being a solid addition plugging gaps vs the run. Although he hasn’t gotten to the quarterback yet he has produced three tackles including one for loss. It might not seem like much but for a guy with five total tackles in only six games this season you have to start somewhere.
Next, there’s Christian Covington. He was one of three linemen signed in March along with Robert Quinn and Kerry Hyder to beef up this defensive front. He’s appeared in 13 games with five starts and has accumulated 23 tackles (four tackles for loss). With his snaps increasing with the injury to Woods, keep an eye on him as a contributor in the middle during this playoff push.
Maliek Collins has had a very quiet season so far. In 11 games, he has just 19 total tackles. In seven of those games, he’s registered just a single tackle. Collins is currently in a contract year and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020. If he has any desire to keep a star on his helmet he’ll need to be more consistent.
Probably the most encouraging player on the interior doesn’t even play there full time and that’s Michael Bennett. His ability to slide inside as well as rush the passer from the perimeter has been a key addition to this group. In six games he has already produced four sacks.
The key now is to somehow get all of these guys to play well as a unit simultaneously. This entire defense has regressed from the top seven-unit it was in 2018. The first place to get it back on track is on the line of scrimmage. Will these players rise collectively and lead this defense to the playoffs? Only time will tell.