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Dallas Cowboys Draft Strategies (Pt 5): Drafting Against The NFC East

The East will be won through the air.
The East will be won through the air.

When you take a big picture look at the NFC East, you can't help but notice that collectively, the NFC East may have the strongest offenses in the league.

Last year, the NFC East offenses averaged 35.6 pass attempts per game, 261 receiving yards per game, 7.3 yards per pass attempt and 4.6 yards per carry - and ranked no. 1 among all NFL divisions in each of these stat categories. Not much of surprise, really, if you look at the NFC East roster of wide receivers: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, Santana Moss, Anthony Armstrong, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. No other division in the NFL is nearly as stacked from top to bottom as the NFC East is.

And it's not just the receivers that make the NFC East so competitive. Jason Garrett on how tough the NFC East is:

"Incredibly tough. Great systems in place with each of those head coaches, really good players. We know them well. We play them twice a year and there are tremendous challenges. Go across the board. The talent in the division is pretty good. There are a lot of good players on defense that we have to deal with. There are a lot of dynamic players on offense who can help teams score points. It's as challenging as it's ever been."

If you want to win in the East you'd better make sure beat the NFC East teams first. After the break, I ask three other NFC East bloggers what they think the Cowboys could do to become more competitive.

An interesting draft strategy that doesn't get a lot of press is making draft choices specifically to exploit an opponent's weakness or take away an opponent's strength. That may sound a little far-fetched at first, but it's a strategy we've seen employed by the New York Jets for example.

The New York Jets

The Jets have repeatedly made choices about grabbing players based on which specific teams they were aiming to defeat. Eric Mangini has gone on record saying that the Jets made draft choices specifically to beat the Patriots:

"We drafted to try to beat the Patriots, because if you can't beat them you can't win the division. The reason we drafted Nick Mangold was because we needed a center to hold up against the nose guard, which is the driving force in a 3-4 defense, especially for an inside running game. We drafted Mangold to battle Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork."

The Jets also acquired CB Antonio Cromartie last year specifically to defeat the Colts who they were sure they would meet in the playoffs again. The Jets will make draft choices with the express intent of eliminating an opponent's strength. Due to the fluid nature of coaching regimes and schemes, this may not be a strategy that guarantees long-term success, but if done well could at the very least deliver good short term results.

NFC East

To understand what it would take for the Dallas Cowboys to take away the strengths of the other NFC East teams, I asked the other NFC East SB Nation blogs their opinion on this question.

BTB: What positions or position groups would make you worry the most about playing Dallas, if the Cowboys managed to address those positions successfully via the draft over the next two years?

Ed Valentine - Big Blue View: Well, from where I sit the biggest advantage the Giants have on the Cowboys is with their defensive front four. The Giants have the dominant defensive ends with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul looks like a star in the making. The Giants are built to dominate along that front line, and right now the Cowboys offensive line might not be a sieve, but it isn't very good, either.

The Cowboys also need better defensive backs. Unless you like watching Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham run wild, and enjoy being unable to cover Steve Smith.

Ken Meringolo - Hogs Haven: The Cowboys seem to have weapons at the skill positions on offense, as well as impact, game-changing players on defense, so our fear would be that Jerry Jones uses the draft over the next couple years to fill the few obvious holes to become a more formidable opponent and legit contender quickly.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that the offensive line in Dallas is not good enough to compete in January - and we know a little something about inadequate offensive lines here in Washington.

On defense, the lack of elite-level cornerback talent jumps off the screen on Sundays. Those kinds of needs are best filled at the top of the draft, so if Jerry Jones exercises the discipline necessary to bypass flashier toys in favor of a couple stud offensive linemen and a top-tier corner and/or safety over the next two years, Dallas would become instantly capable of realizing the potential that talking heads seem to always claim they have.

JimmyK - Bleeding Green Nation: I think that question can be answered two different ways - First, where do the Eagles currently have favorable matchups over Dallas and what positions could Dallas draft to even out those mismatches?  And secondly, what could the Cowboys draft to create mismatches in their favor over the Eagles?

I think the obvious answer to part one is the Cowboys' severe need to draft defensive backs to help contain the Eagles' passing game.  With an aging and overpaid Terence Newman on one side, a struggling Mike Jenkins on the other, and two starting safeties that probably aren't even on the current Dallas roster right now, there's no way the Cowboys can realistically think they'll be able to consistently stop DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and the rest of the Eagles' high powered passing attack.  Hitting paydirt with one of the 2 top corners at 9 would go a long way toward evening that out.

As far as drafting players to create mismatches in Dallas' favor, I worry about the Eagles interior offensive line.  For years, Jay Ratliff has destroyed the Eagles.  In the two embarrassing Eagles losses to Dallas at the end of the 2009 season, Ratliff didn't have a single stat - no forced fumbles, no sacks, no tackles, no nothing.  But because slower interior OL players like Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole simply couldn't block Ratliff because of his elite quickness at the DT position, the Eagles were forced to double him, which opened up everything else for the Dallas defense.  Ratliff dominated without actually making a single tackle.  Fortunately for Philly, Ratliff's counterparts on the D line have been little more than space-eaters and/or marginal NFL starters.  The thought of a bona-fide quality 3-4 DE that can do more than just occupy space, paired with a great player like Ratliff, would be an unsettling proposition.

Ed and Ken are unanimous in their verdict: O-line and defensive backs are what the Cowboys need. JimmyK has been preaching the demise of the Cowboys O-line for so long that he's gotten tired of his own argument, and simply omitted it. For him the biggest needs are defensive ends and -backs, and I'll grant him the O-line.

So that gives us 6 positions of need: OT and OG on offense, and CB, DE, SS, FS on defense. Our draft strategy will be BPA at one of these positions of need, and we will allow multiple picks at these positions. In ODS terminology (see details here), all six positions have a P4 code and will have an M4 code attached that will allow us to draft two players at the position. This should allow us to get as close as possible to BPA within the constraints of our positional needs. Here is what such a draft draft could look like:

Round / Pick
Reach/ Value


Nick Fairley, DE, Auburn


The Cowboys hit the Jackpot. Fairley can play immediately and wreak havoc in the pass rush as well as be a formidable force against the run. He's a physical beast and was absolutely dominant force at defensive tackle for Auburn. Fairley has a college production ratio on par with Ndamukong Suh, and is a legitimate candidate for the #1 pick. 


Marcus Cannon, OG, TCU


From Long Ball: "Marcus Cannon of TCU is a road-grader deluxe at 6’5" and 358 lbs – this young man carries his weight where a good road-grader should, in the lower half of his body. His rear-end and thighs allow him to maintain a low center of gravity on his blocks and maintain leverage (if not just totally engulf) his opponents. Cannon played LOT for the Horned Frogs this last year (has played both OT positions) and their most effective running plays went to that side. His footwork and technique would make him acceptable on the left side in the pros, but he could be dominating on the right side – if he struggles with pass-rushers in space, he could move inside and excel at OG as well".


Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida


The Cowboys have spent quite a bit of time scouting Gilbert. The 6'6", 316 lb Gilbert played RT at Florida, but was responsible for 'lefty' Tim Tebow's blindside there up until last year. Gilbert will be an immediate starter, and upgrade, at RT for the Cowboys.


Korey Lindsey, CB, Southern Illinois


What Lindsey lacks in size (5'11", 185) he makes up for in aggressiveness and with his ball skills. Has a nose for the football with 14 career interceptions, including 12 interceptions in his final 2 seasons at Southern Illinois. Very physical player.


Chykie Brown, CB, Texas


An athletic, physical corner with great tools, who played in the shadow of the other Texas corners and whose senior season was cut short by injury. Adds depth.


DeMarcus Van Dyke, CB, Miami


At the Combine, Van Dyke recorded the third-fastest 40-time for the NFL Combine since 2000 with 4.28. He weighed in at 6-foot-1 and 176 pounds. In addition to the astonishing forty time, "DVD" recorded a 33.5-inch vertical, 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump, and 4.09 20-yard shuttle time.


Nate Williams, SS, Washington


A team captain for the Huskies, Williams is not the greatest athlete but plays with good instincts and has a knack for making play in the backfield - just what Rob Ryan may be looking for in a SS.

Winning in the NFC East will come down to successfully defending the pass, creating pressure on the passer and protecting your own passer.

Shoring up the O-line, getting more pass rushing pressure from the D-line and having as many defensive backs as you can have looks like a strategy that would suit the Cowboys well as they face the Eagles, Giants and Redskins six times per year.

[This brings this series on draft strategies to an end, I hope it was entertaining and I hope you didn't take all the proposed mocks too literally]

Review the full series here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV,

Trade Down Scenarios Part I, Part II

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