The Dallas Cowboys defensive line has outperformed expectations through two games, amassing four total sacks through two weeks. Help is also on the way for this group, as Ryan Davis could see the game day active roster for the first time this week, and DeMarcus Lawrence will return from his suspension in week five.
Working with what they had in the Washington win on the road, Rod Marinelli was able to do a lot of creative things with some of his more versatile players to create pressure on Kirk Cousins.
Particularly, a shakeup at the defensive tackle position - where the Cowboys have the most depth defensively - saw third-round rookie Maliek Collins get plenty of meaningful snaps at the three-technique, flexing veteran Tyrone Crawford to left defensive end.
I went back and watched every defensive snap from this game, and here are my thoughts on each position along the defensive line - and who should be seeing the majority of the snaps at them.
Right Defensive End: Benson Mayowa, Ryan Davis
Unfortunately, the Cowboys severely lack proven pass rushers when it comes to guys that can line up and make big plays at the right rusher position. Benson Mayowa did record a sack in the opener against the Giants, but the play spoke more to the coverage on the backend, allowing Mayowa to eventually run around the left tackle and finish.
In the first year of a new three year deal, Dallas has to be patient in watching Mayowa try to make the most of the vast majority of the snaps at RDE. As you'll also see in this scouting report, Ryan Davis can bring some pressure off the right side as well, but he will likely be asked to move all around the four front as the season goes on.
Three-Technique Defensive Tackle: An Overwhelming Strength
Things get a lot more interesting when you break down the names the Cowboys can utilize at this under tackle position, a spot of utmost importance in this scheme.
The first guy you have to mention is certainly Tyrone Crawford, who was paid to be here for a long time holding down that spot. As mentioned, Crawford was lined up more as a LDE as the game went on against the Redskins, after struggling once again to provide any real push at the three-technique.
I actually really liked what I saw from Crawford at the defensive end spot, and think that him playing there consistently could do a lot to help this line overall.
Tyrone Crawford: After games when I play under tackle I feel like I got hit by a bus. After playing DE, "I feel like a fricken butterfly.
Last week, it was mainly Maliek Collins that played in this spot next to a rotation of Cedric Thornton and Terrell McClain - this team's best defensive lineman through two weeks. When watching the tape on Collins, I saw a player that was explosive through the gap, but one that played with little gap discipline or overall awareness.
While too many run plays were able to extend past Collins at the point of attack, the skill set he provides as a pass rusher are absolutely valuable to the Cowboys.
Not only will this front four improve against the run with Tyrone Crawford holding down the LDE spot, allowing Collins to be exposed less in this regard, but it will allow a plethora of other players to chip in next to Collins and play at their natural position.
Most notably, Jack Crawford and David Irving can revert back to playing on the inside, where both players can play either defensive tackle spot and be a force against the run. Based on what I've seen from Jack Crawford early in this season, I would like to see him lined up more as the three-technique if being kicked back inside.
One-Technique Defensive Tackle: The Underappreciated Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton's Presence
Finally healthy, Terrell McClain has been the Dallas Cowboys' most disruptive defensive lineman - a point worth driving home once again. As we build the ideal defensive front here, we have already added to the available pool of talent at defensive tackle by moving Jack Crawford and David Irving to the inside.
Part of the reason these players can be so disruptive is because of how well McClain has played thus far, consistently driving through tough double team blocks, or pinning inside to allow a player like Collins to try to run free at the quarterback.
What fans should also be excited about is the versatility that first-year Cowboy Cedric Thornton can provide, as a powerful one-tech DT that can also play as the three at any given moment.
For this plan to work, Maliek Collins is going to need another consistent play maker with range to play next to him on the inside, and I think the Cowboys have plenty of those guys - starting with their two true one-technique players.
As guys get comfortable in their new roles, Marinelli could also flash the tough-to-handle David Irving at this spot, and wreak havoc with him, Collins, and Crawford all playing at the point of attack.
Left Defensive End: One New Face, and One Familiar
We've already touched a lot on Crawford's move to this position as part of this plan, which will of course be effected by the return of DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence should instantly resume his duty at this team's starting left defensive end, and one that won't come off the field much at that. An improved player against the run in 2015, Dallas can feel comfortable leaving Lawrence on the field in any situation.
Tyrone Crawford would then go back into the middle rotation at defensive tackle, likely taking snaps away from either Maliek Collins, Jack Crawford, or Cedric Thornton.
Whatever the case may be, all of these players can be used to help keep #98 fresh, allowing him to hopefully start to resemble that disruptive player that we all have come to know.
As a unit, it will also be up to the defensive tackles on this team to allow Lawrence to work against single blocks, where he can thrive beating right tackles that struggle to match up with his freakish combination of size, speed, and athleticism.
The Dallas Cowboys may not have anyone on the defensive front that single handedly scares opposing teams, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Instead, offensive coordinators must prepare for a wave of different looks on any given snap, based on the down-and-distance or formation.
With this proposed rotation, I think the Cowboys would put their best run-stopping players on the field at any given time, while playing to the strengths of every single one of their defensive lineman - down to the rookie Maliek Collins, who is going to be asked to handle a lot after missing basically all of training camp.
In short, the Cowboys defense needs to continue to bend but not break, but they could begin to hold up a lot better than expected as the defensive line play sorts itself out under the guru that is Rod Marinelli.
Leave a comment below to discuss anything in this article, or email me your thoughts on the Cowboys' defensive line at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com!
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Sign Free Agent Safety George Iloka
The Dallas Cowboys have reached a one-year agreement with Safety George Iloka, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. Iloka spent 2018 with the Vikings after six years with the Bengals.
He's started 79 of his 99 career games since being a fifth-round pick by Cincinnati in 2012. Iloka turns 29 years old next week.
The Cowboys have agreed to a one-year deal with safety George Iloka, according to a source. Iloka met with the Cowboys on Friday and was the third safety to meet with the club during the week along with Clayton Geathers and Eric Berry. The Cowboys have... https://t.co/JB5nJLWepc
This isn't the safety that most Cowboys fans wanted. After over a year of pining for Earl Thomas, sights turned to Eric Berry after his free agent visit in Dallas last week.
However, it makes sense that Iloka would be attractive to the Cowboys. At 6'4" and 225 lbs, he fits the physical mold of what Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard likes in his players. He also is younger than Berry and Thomas without the same recent injury issues.
Iloka becomes one of many Boise St. products on Dallas' roster, joining Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, and others. He entered the league with college teammates Crawford and Kellen Moore, the Cowboys' new offensive coordinator, in 2012.
We'll have to wait and see how George Iloka fits into the current mix at safety with Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. He spent most of 2018 as a backup with Minnesota, but Dallas will likely give him a chance to start.
What to Expect from Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Group in 2019
In a span of a week, the Dallas Cowboys have solidified their wide receiver group with the resigning of Tavon Austin to a one year deal and the signing of former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb. Despite the loss of Cole Beasley, the Cowboys have a created a really good group of receivers for Quarterback Dak Prescott to throw to.
Cobb joins a really nice group of players that includes incumbent starters on the outside in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup as well as solid depth players in Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown. Throw in Cedric Wilson, the Dallas Cowboys sixth round pick from the 2018 NFL Draft and the Cowboys may have one of the deeper receiving corps in the NFL.
The question is, how will the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff delineate the roles?
Let's take a look.
As I mentioned before, the Dallas Cowboys are returning their top two options on the outside in Amari Cooper, who is the X wide receiver and Michael Gallup, the Z receiver. Both players will go into week one as the starters at their respective positions in two-wide receiver formations.
Despite some of the overthrows from Dak Prescott to Michael Gallup, Gallup had a really nice rookie season and got better as the year went along, even leading the Cowboys in receiving in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. In that game, Gallup recorded the first 100 yard game of his career. Sure, it was in an attempt to comeback by the Dallas Cowboys, but it is impressive nonetheless. His touchdown catch against the Seattle Seahawks the week before was clutch. The Cowboys needed that to take the lead at the end of the first half. 2018 was only the beginning for Michael Gallup. He showed an ability to win with a full offseason to work with Dak Prescott, their chemistry and connection should only improve.
As for Cooper, his presence was felt right away as the offense just looked different once he stepped on the field. It's no coincidence that Dak Prescott's two best career games in terms of passing yardage came with Cooper in 2018. He's such a threat that he opens up space for the rest of the wide receiver group. His route running, speed, ability to run after the catch make him a threat to score any time he's targeted.
Behind Cooper and Gallup, you have options in the event that one of them gets hurt. Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Noah Brown are all players who took snaps on the outside for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 and did so with effectiveness. Hurns best game of the year came just before the Cooper deal was made as he went for five receptions for 75 yards.
Tavon provided down field speed on several occasions and provides some gadget quality that the Dallas Cowboys love to have. Noah Brown is a player that the Dallas Cowboys love to deploy as a blocker in the running game. While it looked like he might get more run in the passing game in 2019, the depth additions will limit him again to a specialty role. If needed, though, he could be an option to take snaps on the outside as his big frame allows him to box out defensive backs down the field.
There will be snaps on the outside for someone when the Cowboys go to 11 personnel, because of Amari Cooper's ability to slide into the slot.
Obviously, the writing is on the wall with who the Dallas Cowboys are planning on deploying in the slot as things stand right now, and that's Randall Cobb.
While Cobb should be penciled in as the starter in the slot, I doubt that he's going to get 100% of the snaps there in 11 or 10 personnel groupings. Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Noah Brown, and Cedric Wilson could all push for playing time from the slot.
Last month, I wrote a piece about Allen Hurns and his effectiveness in the slot and why the Cowboys should feature him there. With Cobb coming off an injury laden season, the Cowboys would be wise to give some snaps to Hurns along with Tavon Austin.
In Jacksonville, Hurns was incredibly effective from the slot running posts, slants, and ins and outs. His size and route running made him an effective mismatch against linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks alike. Remember, it wasn't long ago that Hurns had a 1,000 yard season with Blake Bortles at the helm.
Tavon Austin's quickness is an asset that could be very effective in the slot as well. Though he lacks size, he's a player that opposing defenses have to account for because of his ability to make big plays once the ball's in his hands.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys haven't been shy about carrying seven wide receivers on their 53-man rosters and it's possible, though unlikely that they could do it again in 2018. As things stand now, I see Noah Brown and Cedric Wilson as the potential odd men out. Of course, this could all get reshuffled if the Dallas Cowboys use a top 100 pick on a wide receiver in the draft.
With Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Randall Cobb only under contract through the 2019 season, the Dallas Cowboys would be wise to invest at the position despite the strength of the position in 2019.
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