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Dallas Cowboys Run Defense: Why It Is So Bad This Preseason

The Cowboys really need to tighten up their run defense, and it probably starts with the linebackers.

Mike Ehrmann

Just what is wrong with the Dallas Cowboys run defense? We take a look at four plays and reveal that poor angles, bad gap coverage and the occasional missed tackle are all in play for the Cowboys.

Play 1


This first play was from the Dolphins first offensive drive of the game. At the start of the play, the Cowboys are in good shape. They are playing three linebackers, with Justin Durant (SAM) and Anthony Hitchens (MIKE, red arrows at second level) in the middle of the field. Davon Coleman (red arrow on d-line) is getting a little penetration.


As the play progresses, Ken Bishop (red arrow) starts getting pushed back, leaving a huge gap between him and Coleman. Meanwhile, Durant (green arrow) starts sliding outside to seal the edge. The problem is with Hitchens (yellow arrow), he does not enter the gap in the middle of the field.


Somehow, Hitchens (red arrow far right) allows himself to get caught up in the block of Bishop. Durant has gone to the outside and out of the gap, which opens up a huge hole (yellow lightning bolt) that the Dolphins back runs through untouched. Bishop getting pushed off the line is part of the problem, but Hitchens doesn't read the play and fill the gap and Durant decides to go outside and over-commits. The Cowboys linebackers are not playing fundamental gap coverage.

Play 2


This next play come from the Dolphins second drive. At the start they look to be in good position, with both linebackers, Carter and Durant (red arrows on second level) playing in the middle of the field. At the bottom (red arrow) left defensive end George Selvie starts pushing hard to the middle of the line.


As the play progresses Selvie (large red arrow) has pushed deep into the middle, leaving Durant (yellow arrow) to seal the edge. Carter is engaged in a block (top small red arrow).


The problem occurs because Selvie has pushed so far down and a blocker seals off Durant (bottom red arrow) and Carter (top red arrow) is blocked and can't scrape over. This once again leaves a huge hole (yellow lightning bolt) that the Dolphins exploit. The Cowboys are giving up running lanes with poor gap coverage and also aren't able to get off blocks to recover.

Play 3


Two plays later, the Dolphins are at it again. The left defensive end (small red arrow) has split the gap and is headed for the QB/running back exchange. Meanwhile the two Cowboys linebackers are playing the middle of the field (two larger red arrows).


The Cowboys defensive end (small red arrow) should have this play but is unable to corral the running back in the backfield. Both Cowboys linebackers commit to the middle of the field (large red arrow).


Once the running back splits the two Cowboys defensive linemen in the backfield (left red arrow), the lane opens up (yellow lightning bolt). The two linebackers in the middle have committed and are caught up in the wash (long red arrow), while the third linebacker (far right red arrow) chooses an inside path around the blockers, leaving the whole side of the field wide open. Bad angles from the linebackers are killing the Cowboys run defense.

Play 4


One more example of bad angles and gap coverage, combined with poor tackling. The Cowboys have two linebackers in the middle of the field (red arrow), Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens.


As the play progresses McClain (short red arrow) decides to take an inside route to the ball but is too late as the running back has already made it to the edge. Hitchens (taller red arrow) sees this and starts moving to the outside.


But once he gets there and is supposed to meet the back in the hole, he whiffs on the tackle (red arrow) and the back spins up field for nine yards. Bad angles and poor tackling.


The Cowboys defensive line wasn't helping, they weren't getting off blocks and got pushed around some. But the Cowboys linebackers really made some poor choices in gap coverage and chose wrong angles and sometimes were poor tacklers. Put all that together and that's how a defense gets gashed repeatedly by the run.

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