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Sean’s Scout: How Cowboys DTs Handled David Irving’s 2017 Absence

For the second consecutive season, the Dallas Cowboys will be without the services of Defensive Tackle David Irving for their first four games. When Irving has been on the field, he’s been a disruptive force at the all-important under tackle position, something the Cowboys can only hope he’ll continue to be for at least 12 regular season games in 2018.

In his absence last year, the Cowboys allowed 107.5 rushing yards per game and another 231.75 through the air. While these numbers aren’t far off from the team’s final total of 104 rushing yards and 214 passing yards allowed per game, Irving’s presence was surely missed on Rod Marinelli’s defense.

I put on the tape to study how the Cowboys handled Irving’s prior suspension, primarily watching the likes of Stephen Paea, Brian Price, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford play in rotation at defensive tackle.

With Paea no longer in the league and Collins dealing with another broken foot that expects to sideline him through most of training camp, the Cowboys will have to find a mostly new approach at DT starting next month in Oxnard.

Here is what I took away from the players still on the roster for 2018 that will have their chance to step in for David Irving.

DT Maliek Collins

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Any talks of the Cowboys maintaining a high level of play at defensive tackle without Irving has to start with Maliek Collins. Drafted as the starter at 3T-DT in 2016, Collins flashed incredible potential at this position despite missing most of camp as a rookie.

Last season, Collins was forced to play more as a one technique (1T) once Irving returned to the lineup, making up for the loss of both Paea and Price. Using his strength and stocky frame well as a 1T, Collins filled in admirably at this new spot — though some fans still believe he was held back from developing further as a pass rusher.

When I watched Collins in the first four weeks of 2017 on tape, I didn’t see the same technician of a pass rusher at the 3T position. Particularly in week one against the New York Giants, Collins struggled mightily with his pad level. This made is easy for interior offensive linemen to knock Collins off-balance, where he’s effectively removed from the play due to a lack of recovery speed.

Collins best plays were produced when he was able to quickly shoot a gap to get up the field, or play with his hands above his eyes in overpowering his blocker to flow down the line. These are all desirable traits for a 1T tackle, which the Cowboys played with two of for the majority of snaps in weeks one through four.

Rod Marinelli was able to make a combination of Collins and Stephen Paea work on the interior. Similarly to Collins, there were flash plays from Paea, but overall this duo struggled to push the pocket much more than expected.

Keeping contain and creating penetration were two areas the Cowboys played at a below average level without David Irving last year.

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Just how much they’ll allow Maliek Collins to change this, depending on the position he lines up at, will go a long way in how well the Cowboys are prepared for this season’s dilemma of not having #95.

DT Tyrone Crawford

I can see why Tyrone Crawford was a fan of moving out to the right defensive end position later in 2017, after watching his limited reps at DT from the start of the season. This is a team captain, veteran player that’s always competing on every single snap.

With that said, Crawford took a beating when trying to rush against double teams and get up the field. If Crawford’s initial rush move is stopped, he has a hard time freeing himself up to make a play, getting drawn into his blocker’s frame.

It remains unknown if Randy Gregory will be reinstated to play RDE for the Cowboys this season, but the team also feels good about rookie Dorance Armstrong and FA signing Kony Ealy at this spot. This depth, paired with their immediate need at 3T, means that Tyrone Crawford could be a likely candidate to kick back inside.

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The Cowboys won’t have to worry about Crawford not doing everything he can to make an impact at this spot, but the difference from his reps to David Irving’s will be noticeable should this be the Cowboys plan.

DT Brian Price

Brian Price finds himself in an interesting position for the 2018 season, re-signed by the Cowboys after losing 2017 to injury after just eight games. Price is solely a 1T-DT, which as previously mentioned is a spot that feels occupied by Maliek Collins.

Still a potentially valuable piece of the Cowboys rotation up front, it’s hard to imagine Brian Price giving the Cowboys any of what they’ll be missing from Irving. These are simply two completely different players.

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Price did impress on tape from the first four weeks of the season, disengaging quickly to play with impressive range for a bigger “nose tackle” type.

The Cowboys priority at DT without Irving should be tightening up against the run, something Price undoubtedly helps them with.

 ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

We’ve heard plenty of great things about newly acquired DT Jihad Ward, a converted defensive end from the Oakland Raiders, as a player that was unavailable to the Cowboys last season. With his new defensive coordinator being a fan, Ward has a chance to turn heads at 3T while allowing the rest of the Cowboys DTs to slide into place.

There’s a reason David Irving is worth the setbacks he’s caused the Cowboys, and it’s because athletic DTs like him that get to the quarterback at a high rate are so hard to find. This is evident by the fact that the Cowboys defensive line, as currently constructed, features sufficient depth at 1T but lacks 3T players behind Ward.

Putting this much pressure on a player traded for on the third day of the draft is never ideal roster building, but Ward could potentially be aided by both Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins as the Cowboys patch things together against the Panthers, Giants, Seahawks, and Lions to open 2018.

Other options further down the roster include Datone Jones, Daniel Ross, Lewis Neal, and Richard Ash.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: How Cowboys DTs Handled David Irving’s 2017 Absence” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

What do you think?

Sean Martin

Written by Sean Martin

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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