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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Defensive Tackle

Jess Haynie



Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Defensive Tackle

Last year gave the Dallas Cowboys some conflicting evidence at the defensive tackle position. Strong play in the regular season didn't translate to the playoffs, and it's left the team with a quandary over how to handle the interior of the defensive line during this 2019 offseason.

The Cowboys entered the 2018 playoffs as one of the top run defenses in the NFL. They ranked fifth in the league in both rushing yards allowed (94.6 per-game) and yards-per-attempt (3.8).

The run defense even showed up in the playoff win over the Seahawks, with Dallas allowing just 73 rushing yards on 24 carries. Seattle was the NFL's top rushing team in the regular season.

But then came the ill-fated trip to Los Angeles, where the Rams decimated the Cowboys' defense with 273 rushing yards.

While they say first impressions are the most important, sometimes your last one is just as critical. The sting of that loss, especially how hapless the team was against the run, will have an impact on everything that Dallas does this offseason.

What could it mean for the defensive tackles?

Tyrone Crawford

Dallas Cowboys DT Tyrone Crawford

There was some thought that veteran Tyrone Crawford could be a salary cap casualty this year. Dallas can save $5.9 million by releasing him now or $7 million by making him a post-June 1st cut. That's money which could be used to help re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, add Earl Thomas, extend Dak Prescott, or many other moves.

But then about a week ago, reports came out that the Cowboys do not plan to re-sign David Irving. If that wasn't enough to help Crawford's job security, it was announced on Tuesday that Randy Gregory had been suspended indefinitely by the league for further substance abuse violations.

This almost assures that Tyrone will stick around in 2019, though he may be playing more on the outside than the interior. He will likely be a starting DE and then move inside on some passing downs.

Barring any offseason acquisitions, Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods will return as the primary tackles. They come at a combined bargain of just around $2.8 million, with Collins making up most of that one

This duo was emerging nicely throughout last season, arguably playing their best ball by December. You could even give them a partial pass for the Rams game as Collins was battling illness and Woods played with a torn labrum after the 2nd quarter.

Both Maliek and Antwaun will be on expiring contracts, although Woods will only be a restricted free agent in 2020. Even if the Cowboys feel good about this pair as their 2019 starters, they may still want to prepare for the future with Collins soon headed into free agency.

Maliek Collins

Dallas Cowboys DT Maliek Collins

The team faces a tough decision with Maliek Collins, both this year and next season. He's been solid for a third-round pick but inconsistent in his play, seemingly due more to always nursing some kind of injury than any lack of talent.

Maliek takes a lot of snaps, leading all defensive linemen in 2016-2017 and near the top last year in the games he played. He's produced an adequate 10.5 sacks in his career, but half of that came in his rookie season playing next to Terrell McClain.

If the Cowboys want to find an upgrade at defensive tackle, they may very well be giving away Collins' spot.

In that scenario, Dallas could look to find a trade partner. Maliek turns just 24 in April and would cost his next team just $850k in base salary for 2019. The Cowboys would save about $2 million off his scheduled cap hit.

The money isn't prohibitive; Dallas could keep Collins to compete with Woods for a starting role or even to just be a versatile backup. They have total financial flexibility.

Even if the team does look to add an upgrade it still makes sense to hang on to Maliek. The only other DT of consequence on the roster right now is Daniel Ross, who Dallas will almost surely re-sign as an exclusive rights free agent. Having Collins, Ross, and Woods with some free agent or rookie addition would round out the depth chart fairly well.

Gerald McCoy

Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

We mention potential upgrades in free agency because there could be several available. Many expect the Bucs to make six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy a salary cap casualty, even though he's posted six sacks or more every season since 2013. While he just turned 31 in February, McCoy could bring a boost do the Cowboys' defensive front.

Dallas probably won't be looking to pay market price on a guy like Grady Jarrett, but they could also explore second-tier options like Darius Philon (Chargers) or Muhammad Wilkerson (Packers). They have the money, even if they retain Crawford and Collins.

The draft is another option. There could be a few solid DT prospects available when Dallas picks at #58, such as Jeffery Simmons from Mississippi St. or Miami's Gerald Willis III.

If the Cowboys sign Earl Thomas at safety and aren't looking to spend a high pick on TE after Jason Witten's return, then defensive tackle could very well be at or neat the top of their draft needs this April.

This could go any number of ways, and one of those includes just standing pat. Dallas might decide that Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods were good enough to stick with for next year, seeing the Rams game as an anomaly and focusing on their play throughout the season.

Thankfully, to whatever extent they assess their need at defensive tackle, the Dallas Cowboys have plenty of options to address it. It's not a flashy position, but it's a very important one for them to consider this offseason.

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!


Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Wishlist: 3 Things I Want to See in Kellen Moore’s Offense

Mauricio Rodriguez



Will 2019 be the Storybook Ending to Jason Witten's Hall of Fame Career?

The Dallas Cowboys offense will mostly remain the same in terms of players. However, a big change is coming with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore taking over the talented unit. In a special edition of Cowboys Wishlist, I'll share the three big things I want to see in Moore's offense in 2019.

Let me know what you want to see in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!

Dak Prescott Weighs in on Cowboys "Dak-Friendly" Offense Approach

Wish #1: Frequent Read Option

Despite Dak Prescott's skills as a runner, rarely did we see the Cowboys run read option plays. For a team that seems to have the perfect duo for these plays, they certainly seemed to have wasted it over the last few years. This is an offense that has plenty of talent to be struggling as much as they did in the red zone last year.

Imagine being concerned about Ezekiel Elliott getting the ball and Dak Prescott keeping it at the same time? Not to mention the play action threat with a group of receivers led by Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb... oh, and a veteran tight end in Jason Witten who might be older but whose hands are very reliable.

The Athletic's Bob Sturm pointed out Prescott's average of 4.46 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns in the red zone between 2016 and 2018. The league average for all players is 2.64 and there's no one close to over four yards and over 10 touchdowns in the league. Dak has been dangerous when using his legs and yet, the Cowboys haven't used the read option as much. I hope that changes with Kellen Moore taking over.

Wish #2: Use Tight Ends More

I'm still impressed by how little the Cowboys utilized their tight ends in 2018. In fact, as Bobby Belt noted on Twitter a few months ago, this has happened consistently in Scott Linehan's career.

Bobby Belt on Twitter

One thing you consistently see when Scott Linehan takes over an offense is a drop in the starting tight end's production. Randy McMichael, Byron Chamberlain, and Jason Witten all saw drops in yards per catch, receptions per game, and yards per game once Linehan took over.

Last year, Blake Jarwin had only three games with more than three targets. In those games, he racked up 56, 45 and 119 yards. This makes me wonder if the real problem at tight end last season was more about how they were utilized rather than the players at the position.

With Jason Witten back, Jarwin and the future Hall of Famer could split the snaps. Hopefully, Kellen Moore gives them a more active role on the offense. I really think we'll see way more from them.

Wish #3: Pre-Snap Motion

Pre-snap motion is truly a thing of beauty. The simple fact of getting a player in motion before the ball is snapped can go a long way to keep a defense in its toes and cause confusion to set up a successful play. In Boise State, Moore ran an offense that heavily relied on pre-snap motions.

The first year offensive coordinator won't turn the Cowboys into the new L.A. Rams but he can add this kind of trickery to help Dallas take the next step offensively. Dak Prescott will be playing his fourth year of professional football and adding this to the offense will only help the young QB by making his reads even easier.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Wishlist: 3 Things I Want to See in Kellen Moore’s Offense" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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Dallas Cowboys

How Will Coaching Changes Impact Cowboys’ Backup QB Battle?

Jess Haynie



Jon Kitna

There has been a big shakeup on the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff in 2019. Scott Linehan is out, Kellen Moore was promoted to Offensive Coordinator, and Jon Kitna was hired as the new Quarterbacks Coach. What impact will the changes have on the QB position, and especially when it comes to the battle for the backup role?

The contenders remain Cooper Rush, a third-year player who joined Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and 2018 fifth-round pick Mike White. Rush was the backup QB last season, but had a major experience edge over his rookie competition. That playing field will be more level now in White's second season.

The changes in the coaching staff even things out all the more. There is a new OC with new ideas and things to learn, and new QB coach with his own style and preferences. Rush and White are starting over together, in a way, with this new personnel.

Jon Kitna is especially intriguing in this conversation. Moore was here last year but Kitna brings a fresh set of eyes to the QB position. He also brings the resume of being an exceptional backup quarterback during his playing career, understanding what it takes to be a success in the role.

Kitna may see and appreciate things that neither Kellen Moore or Scott Linehan could.

Cooper Rush

Dallas Cowboys QB Cooper Rush

For example, what made Cooper Rush take a backward step in his play from the 2017 preseason to last year? He was the undrafted underdog that took the backup QB job away from Kellen Moore two years ago, but last year was the incumbent trying to hold on to his spot against a new prospect.

Did Mike White being a drafted player get in Rush's head?

Jon Kitna spent a long time fighting off younger options. He may be able to help Cooper deal with that pressure.

Or perhaps it will go the other way; Kitna's fresh perspective could help push White up the depth chart. From the new QB coach's own lips, he's approaching this situation without preconceived notions:

"For me, it’s more of a clean slate. I just want to come in and help those guys and help them progress in their careers. If you get the best out of them, that’s going to be good for us at an organization.”

A few months ago I was pushing for Dallas to sign a veteran backup. With the Super Bowl in reach, I don't want to see the season go down the drain if something happens to Dak Prescott. It'd be nice to have our own Nick Foles ready to go.

While it doesn't appear the Cowboys will go that route, I'm at least comforted by having Jon Kitna's voice in the room. He could have a tremendous influence on Cooper Rush and Mike White, and perhaps upgrade the QB2 position even without a roster move.

If nothing else, I'm going to be more confident in the backup quarterback decision knowing that Kitna was involved in making it.

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Dallas Cowboys

Despite Changes, Cowboys Offense Still Runs Through Ezekiel Elliott

Jess Haynie



Ezekiel Elliott, Rams

We've talked a lot this offseason about the changes at Offensive Coordinator and slot receiver, or how Jason Witten's return will impact the tight end position. But while all of these will impact the Dallas Cowboys' offense in 2019, the constant feature remains Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and the rushing attack.

From 2016 to 2018, since the Cowboys drafted Elliott, Dallas has ranked 1st, 3rd, and 10th among NFL teams in "run vs. pass" play calls. That's only logical; you don't spend a fourth-overall pick on a RB and then not make him the featured player in your offense.

Zeke has certainly rewarded Dallas' decision; Elliott has led the league in total rushing two out of three years, and he led in yards-per-game in 2017 while dealing with his suspension.

Leaning on Elliott has been smart business based on his effectiveness, plus the investment in the offensive line over the last several years.

Dallas has now sunk three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), one second (Connor Williams), and now two thirds (Chaz Green and Connor McGovern) on building up their front wall. They've spent a lot of money to keep their All-Pro guys around, plus La'el Collins.

Some would try to paint the run-heavy approach as how the team is trying to hide the weaknesses of Dak Prescott at quarterback. But in 2014, with DeMarco Murray at RB and Tony Romo at QB, the Cowboys were still 3rd in the league in rush vs. pass attempts.

This isn't about Zeke or Dak, or any other specific player. This about a team philosophy that starts at the top with Jason Garrett, and that isn't going to change even with Kellen Moore taking over as the new Offensive Coordinator.

Dallas Cowboys: Ranking Top 5 Most Indispensable Players 4

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

We're all excited to see what new wrinkles comes from getting rid of Scott Linehan. We highly anticipate the development of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the offense, coupled with the addition of Randall Cobb. We're salivating at what Blake Jarwin might become under the tutelage of the great Jason Witten.

Heck, maybe we'll see fullback Jamize Olawale's receiving skills put to more use. Perhaps gadget guys like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard will be deployed in more creative ways.

And yes, Dak Prescott's growth is another major factor in Dallas' 2019 success. It's especially interesting, and even concerning, as talks are ongoing about his long-term contract.

But make no mistake, this is still the Ezekiel Elliott show. Even if a few more of his carries become receptions in Moore's scheme, Zeke should still get the lion's share of the touches.

That's why this week's news about his incident in Las Vegas is so troubling. It probably won't lead to a suspension, but we saw what happened in 2017 when Elliott was missing for over a third of the season.

While Dallas should be better able to withstand losing Zeke now than it was two years ago, it may still be more than Prescott, Cooper, and the rest could handle. It definitely wouldn't put the Cowboys in good position to compete for a Super Bowl.

In the end, the 2019 will still come down to how well Dallas runs the ball. It's the engine; nothing else matters if the rushing game doesn't set everyone else up for success.

Don't ever take it for granted. This is still Ezekiel Elliott's offense.

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