When the Dallas Cowboys inked Tyrone Crawford to a five-year, $45 million extension before the 2015 season opener, it was to play the famed 3-tech defensive tackle in Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 scheme. For the most part, Marinelli subscribes to the idea that a quarterback with pressure in his face is not likely to be successful. That’s an idea that has worked since the dawning of time in the NFL. Crawford was going to be Marinelli’s next big conversion as the high-motored, intense rusher that would be too much for quarterbacks to deal with.
Unfortunately, that experiment hasn’t shown much success over the past season and change. In 2014, Crawford broke out at the position which caused the Cowboys to no longer need the services of former Marinelli project Henry Melton. However, in 2015, Crawford was injured rather early and didn’t have the follow up that Cowboys fans had hoped. Still, Crawford managed to get five sacks on the year, all while dealing with a torn shoulder. An injury so debilitating that Crawford couldn’t even bench press 250 pounds last year.
Through two games, Crawford hasn’t been the presence they had hoped for at the 3-tech position. He struggled to get off blocks against a suspect New York offensive line. He also had some issues dealing with the Washington Redskins until he was moved outside. After we’ve heard rumors all offseason that the Cowboys were looking for the best rotation dealing with suspensions to their two best edge rushers, the thought was that Crawford could move back to his originally drafted position. This past week, needing to manufacture some pressure, Crawford did just that and what do you know; a sack occurred.
It’s not that Crawford isn’t right for the position at 3-tech, but it is a position that takes a lot of punishment. That is something that Crawford hasn’t been able to get past. On the inside with the ugly blocking of offensive linemen around the league, the 3-tech spot can incur a lot of damage. Crawford hasn’t shown to be the healthiest of defensive linemen the Cowboys have but he’s certainly someone they need in one form or the other. Crawford has admitted that he’s not been pleased with his play thus far, albeit through only two games. He also hinted that more defensive end could be the best thing for him:
“I feel like I get hit by a bus [at the 3-technique],” Crawford said, smiling. “And this time after the game, I feel like a fricken butterfly. That’s a great thing.”
For the lack of proven pass rush presence out on the edge, the Cowboys have a surplus of good defensive tackles. Including Crawford, it’s a list that contains Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton and rookie Maliek Collins. When you have a weakness elsewhere it’s where that old Marinelli adage of position flexibility comes to mind. Speaking of Collins, the third-round rookie from Nebraska, he was called a “cornerstone player at 3-tech” by Jerry Jones.
Though Collins dealt with a broken foot in the early part of training camp, he hasn’t had any issues making an impact so far. Collins was outstanding at Nebraska but his numbers dropped off big time in 2015 after a coaching change. When he was drafted, everyone knew his best fit would be to return to the 3-tech position, especially Marinelli.
Having a complete rotation has always been of the utmost importance to Marinelli but right now, he just needs able and willing bodies that can contribute. That’s where the shuffling will come from because Collins didn’t look at all bad playing the 3-tech position with Terrell McClain and Cedric Thornton playing the 1-tech next to him. If he continues to play well, he may just play his way into the starting role and there isn’t anything wrong with that.
At this point, Tyrone Crawford helps this team more as an edge rusher on the left side. In two more games that all could change when DeMarcus Lawrence makes his return. The way that Crawford describes playing the 3-tech spot, it just may not be best for his body and the Cowboys will move people around to help keep them on the field. They’ve done it with a linebacker, Sean Lee, who made his first Pro Bowl after being moved to weak-side linebacker. There is no shame in doing what it takes to create a pass rush and Dallas is looking to get creative. When was the last time we saw a team that put that many defensive tackles along one four-man front? That’s where the Cowboys know their strength is and that’s what helps them be better now.
We’re certain that Tyrone Crawford hasn’t been permanently removed from the 3-tech discussion but it is interesting that he struggled most of last week until he kicked outside. Maybe Crawford’s body is just not made for that under-tackle position. Maybe he’s better suited to play left end for the Cowboys. When Lawrence comes back into the fold, he could play left or right depending on what the coaches want to do. Still, if we’re thinking about the best chance at a formidable pass rush perhaps that line consists of Lawrence, McClain, Collins, and Crawford? That way having Jack Crawford, Benson Mayowa, Thornton, and Ryan Davis as the backups seem even more enticing.
Simply put, Tyrone Crawford is better at defensive end right now than he is at the under-tackle. If that’s the case, you have to put your much-maligned defensive line in the best position to succeed. It’s no coincidence that he found success in a sample-size of playing on the end. After reading his quotes, it doesn’t seem like he’s all that bothered to try something old and new at the same time. Right about now, moving to the outside seems like the best-laid plans for this young pass rush.