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!
Top 5 Offseason Priorities for the Dallas Cowboys
The 2018 NFL Season has come to an end for the Dallas Cowboys and now the team looks to the offseason to gear up for what should be another run toward the playoffs in 2019. As with every team heading into every offseason, they'll have some difficult decisions to make with some of their own players as well as deciding how they want to attack free agency and the draft.
The Cowboys have drafted really well over the last three seasons in particular, but have had a long track record of success in the Jason Garrett era. How we judge the draft this season should take into account what Amari Cooper has been to this team. He's been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped for when they sent their 2019 first round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders for Cooper. The Cowboys, without a first round pick, will have less room for maneuvering around the draft, but as we've seen in the past, they are just as effective in the second round and beyond as they are in the first round.
As we get going in the offseason, let's look at the Dallas Cowboys 5 Most Pressing Priorities.
1. Dealing with DeMarcus Lawrence
The NFL is a passing league. You need players who can throw the ball and catch the ball. On the defensive side of the ball, you must have guys that can get after the passer and cover the receiver.
After moving to the 4-3 defense and the departure of DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys struggled to find any pass rushing consistency at the defensive end position. They were led at the position by players like Jeremy Mincey, George Selvie, and Benson Mayowa. Finally, the Cowboys selection of DeMarcus Lawrence is paying off has he's had double-digit sacks each of the last two seasons and has been equally effective against the run.
The Cowboys have the option of using the franchise tag on Lawrence again this offseason, which is a possibility as it would prevent other teams from negotiating with the Cowboys best defensive player. While the Cowboys need to continue to build the team through the draft and extend a few players, there isn't a bigger offseason priority than getting DeMarcus Lawrence's deal done.
Jason Garrett on soon-to-be free agent DeMarcus Lawrence: He's certainly as big a priority as there is
2. Making Big Adjustments to the Offense
There was a lot of consternation yesterday at the comments Jason Garrett made to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas-Fort Worth about Scott Linehan's future with the team. It's obviously a possibility that he returns in 2019, but as Stephen Jones mentioned later in the day, it's too early to begin discussing those things as they haven't really began to review the season.
Scott Linehan has been good as an offensive coordinator and he's been a part of Dak Prescott's progression, but there are certain areas of this offense that need to be reworked or shaken up. Whether the Cowboys decide to move on from Linehan or they decide to make adjustments to the scheme, something needs to change. In particular, the team's insistence on using jumbo packages on every short yardage situation has made them predictable.
On 4th and 1 on Saturday, the team went to the Ezekiel Elliott in jumbo formations one too many times. In an era when most of the NFL is attempting to spread things out with 11 and 10 personnel, the Cowboys continue to force two and three tight end formations.
This offseason is just getting started and the Cowboys have a lot of decisions to make about their offense, but none is bigger than figuring out who the play caller is going to be. While the team may be publicly supporting Scott Linehan at the moment, it would be highly unlikely for the team to bring him back for another year.
3. Continue Building the Wide Receiver Corp
The Dallas Cowboys began the process of overhauling the wide receiver corp last offseason when they released Dez Bryant, signed Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, drafted Michael Gallup and Cedric Wilson, and traded for Tavon Austin and most importantly Amari Cooper.
Generally, when the Dallas Cowboys have attempted to rebuild a position, they've done it over a few seasons, like they did with the offensive line, the defensive line, and the linebackers.
This offseason, the Cowboys will have a few decisions to make at the wide receiver position. Do they bring back Cole Beasley? What about Tavon Austin? Allen Hurns would have likely been a player the Cowboys could have used in the slot to replace Cole Beasley, but he's hurt and possibly won't be ready for training camp.
On offense, the passing game began to take shape in the second half of the season as Dak Prescott began to get more comfortable with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. They'll make a nice 1-2 punch heading into 2019, but there is still room for adding a player or two. Depending on the type of contract he'd want, it would be great to bring back Cole Beasley. It's become clear that he's not as big of a focal point in the offense since Amari Cooper has emerged, but he's still a good player that can make some big catches for you.
If the team looked to the draft, one player that is high on my list is Oklahoma Wide Receiver Marquise Brown. He's a home run hitter in every stretch of the imagination. With speed for days, he could be the field stretcher that the team has struggled to find. Not only does he have speed, he's an excellent route runner and has excellent hands and spends the offseason training with Steelers Wide Receiver and cousin Antonio Brown.
If the Cowboys wanted to go the free agency route to add a wide receiver, they should look at Jamison Crowder of the Washington Redskins or Adam Humphries of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to fill their slot wide receiver role. If you remember back to the Bucs game, Humphries was giving the Cowboys fits totaling 10 catches on 12 targets for 79 yards. Crowder struggled with injuries this season and had a down year, but that could mean he'd be cheap to sign, which is the way the Dallas Cowboys do free agency.
There are some nice players in the draft and free agency that the Cowboys could look to add to their wide receiver group, but they'll also be getting back Cedric Wilson, their sixth round pick from last season. The team really liked the production that Wilson had at Boise St. and Wilson was playing well in training camp and was pushing for a roster spot before his season ending injury.
Noah Brown is also a player in line to see more snaps moving forward. He's played well when called upon, using his superior blocking to make an impact in the running game while displaying nice route running and hands in the passing game. If Cole Beasley didn't return to the Cowboys this offseason, I could see the Cowboys giving Brown an expanded role on the outside or using him as a big slot receiver, similar to how the Arizona Cardinals use Larry Fitzgerald or how the New Orleans Saints use Michael Thomas. He has the size to be a mismatch for slot corners and the route running to be a mismatch for linebackers. They could also use Brown on the outside, put Cooper in the slot and then when they want to use Brown as a blocker, could motion him in-line.
Wide receiver will be a big question this offseason as teams must have three or four solid receivers to run their offense. The Cowboys have some players that could be given expanded roles, but should continue to add to the position through the draft.
Most of 2018 was spent discussing the possibility of trading for Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas, and I imagine that much of this offseason will be spent discussing him again. If you got tired of Earl Thomas talk last year, get ready, it's about to pick up.
Earl Thomas will be a free agent this offseason, so he'll be free to sign with any team he chooses and he's made it known that he'd like to play for the Dallas Cowboys. There are several question marks when it comes to Earl Thomas that the Cowboys will have to consider.
When will he be ready to go? What kind of money will he demand? Has health become a concern?
All legitimate questions for a player that will be coming off a broken leg suffered this season. He should be ready for offseason training as there have been videos posted to his Instagram showing him running stadiums. If he's ready to roll by free agency and is able to pass his physical, I bet they take another long look at adding him to the roster.
They have another free agent option that they can look into though in New York Giants Safety Landon Collins. He's a different type of safety than Earl Thomas, but Collins is a player. He's more of a "box" or strong safety that you could use to play the Jeff Heath role, which would leave Xavier Woods playing the free safety spot.
5. Defensive Tackle
Antwaun Woods, Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Caraun Reid, and Daniel Ross played well for the Dallas Cowboys defense, but as we saw on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams, they were lacking as a group. In Woods, Collins, and Crawford, you feel good with what you have as you approach free agency and the draft, but they need to add a player that can help them with their interior pass rush.
Much of the pass rush that the Cowboys received this season came from their defensive ends and linebackers. The tackles were good, but inconsistent in their ability to collapse the pocket and not allow any room for opposing quarterbacks to step into.
This is a draft that is deep on defense and the Cowboys will have a chance to add to their defensive tackle spot with their second round pick. With Rod Marinelli likely returning to the Dallas Cowboys next offseason, we know his ability to find diamonds in the rough. I wouldn't be surprised if they go practice squad diving again this offseason and find a player that can have a significant impact like David Irving did in 2017 and Antwaun Woods did in 2018.
It's unlikely that David Irving will be back and Tyrone Crawford could be a cap casualty if the Cowboys no longer want to carry his $10 million cap number.
The Cowboys are likely to bring back DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory is still under contract, as well as Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong. They are pretty solid at defensive end, but could still add a player to compete with Taco and Armstrong. Defensive tackle though, is a place where they need to make a move to upgrade the position. The defense was really good last season, but needs to look for ways to improve heading into 2019.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys will do as they always do this offseason as they approach the roster; sign inexpensive veterans with the hope that they outperform their contracts and attempt to draft well yet again. It's a formula that has worked for them and there's no reason to think it won't continue moving forward.
Dallas Cowboys Re-Sign OL Coach Marc Colombo Through 2019
Hiring six new positional coaches and a special teams coordinator prior to the 2018-19 season, the Dallas Cowboys saw plenty of success with this turnover - rebounding from a 3-5 start to reach the Divisional Round before having their season end at the LA Rams. At arguably their most important position, the Cowboys admitted to hiring the wrong fit when Paul Alexander was fired mid-season. Very fortunately, Alexander's assistant was ready to step up and become one of the most respected coaches on the staff, with former Cowboys Tackle Marc Colombo receiving a new contract as OL Coach through next season.
The team announced that Colombo would return on Tuesday. The day prior, Head Coach Jason Garrett said he expects Center Travis Frederick to be ready for the entirety of the offseason program. The two-time 1st Team All-Pro missed the entire season dealing with Gillian-Barre Syndrome.
Source: Cowboys have signed offensive line coach Marc Colombo to a new contract
There's still work to be done this offseason for the Cowboys to maintain their usual standard on the offensive line. Just days removed from the end of the season, in which the Cowboys became the first playoff squad since 1988 to start all players under the age of 30, the Dallas OL is in great position and should remain an overwhelming strength under Colombo.
With Joe Looney set to return to a backup role and Xavier Su'a-Filo under contract, even the Cowboys depth up front is built up nicely well before free agency or the Draft. Cam Fleming and Marcus Martin are the Cowboys offensive linemen with expiring contracts.
The Cowboys averaged 136.9 rush yards per game under Alexander, who introduced an unfamiliar scheme to established veterans like Tyron Smith and Zack Martin. Alexander's time as the Cowboys OL Coach also stunted the growth of rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, who finished the season strong once returning to the starting lineup.
The Cowboys allowed 56 sacks this season, 23 of which (41%) came in the six games under Alexander. Colombo had served as Alexander's assistant, believed to be a candidate to run his own OL room at some point.
When that opportunity came sooner than expected, the Cowboys brought back former offensive line coach Hudson Houck to assist Colombo.
A projected starting lineup of Smith, Williams, Frederick, Martin, and La'el Collins is what Colombo and Houck will have to look forward to when the Cowboys offense takes the field in 2019 - along with rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott and fourth-year Quarterback Dak Prescott.
Colombo described himself as the "luckiest guy on the planet," when asked about his opportunity to continue coaching with his former team.
Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip
Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.
After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.
DallasCowboys linebacker @VanderEsch38 has been added to the 2019 Pro Bowl Roster. 🐺 Congratulations, rookie! → https://t.co/AYqEUy2tZx
The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.
Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.
Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.
Star Blog1 week ago
Should Tavon Austin’s Role Get Expanded Against His Former Team?
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
Texas Forever? Kris Richard Appears Closer to Staying with Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys1 day ago
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
What’s Next for Cowboys Coaching Staff After Divisional Round Loss?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
It’s Time To Stop Doubting the Dallas Cowboys
Player News1 week ago
Allen Hurns Injury: Status, 2019 Prospects, Teammate Reactions
Star Blog6 days ago
Blake Jarwin’s Injury Could Mean Expanded Role for Rico Gathers
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago
Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan Will Return in 2019