The strength of the Dallas Cowboys defensive line is on the interior at defensive tackle. Yesterday, as I broke down the linebackers, I mentioned the “clog and cover” scheme that has been effective to this point for Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli – and that it would be particularly important playing against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Perhaps the biggest reason that this scheme works is because of the depth this team has at defensive tackle.
Let's look closer at the players at this position in another edition of Playoff Primer.
Staying on the field has been Terrell McClain's biggest issue throughout his career, but when he is out there at either the 3T or 1T position with the Cowboys, the talent is clearly never an issue.
McClain is expected back for this Divisional Round game against the Packers, and will be needed as a run stopper and interior pass rusher. At his best, Terrell McClain is an incredibly explosive player that controls his gap with leverage, power, and often-surprising speed.
Cowboys Nation knows that consistently getting to Aaron Rodgers in this game will be all but impossible, but having a healthy and well-rested McClain pressuring him up the middle could be just as good when you pair him with the rest of these talented defensive tackles.
Like McClain, Cedric Thornton is also expected to return from injury in this game. Signed from the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason, Thornton was added to strengthen a position that ended up being one of Dallas' biggest strengths – leading to the athletic 1T DT filling much more of a rotational spot.
Cedric Thornton can still be a very disruptive player with limited snaps, as he is a legitimate weapon on twists and stunts. Whether or not the Cowboys try to blitz Rodgers in some key spots is going to be something to watch in this game, but if they do come after #12, look for Thornton to be involved in some way.
Cedric can be used to “pin” and free up these runners at the quarterback, or get home and finish himself.
Maliek Collins has earned a starting spot on the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line despite missing most of training camp, quickly displaying in his first year what the Cowboys saw from him as a fourth round draft pick. Rod Marinelli called Collins a, “perfect fit”, and his freakish athleticism for his size has made that evident.
The rookie out of Nebraska is the poster child for this defense that prides itself on rallying to the football, consistently making plays down the line and coming up with tackles for loss.
The Packers running game with Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael shouldn't scare the Cowboys nearly as much as their passing game does, but if they do try to stretch the field with this spread rushing attack, a player like Collins can go a long way in ensuring it doesn't keep the Packers offense ahead of schedule.