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Film Room: Gerald McCoy offers pass-rush ability, strong run defense, & versatility for Cowboys defense

Is Gerald McCoy the answer at defensive tackle? Let’s see what the film says.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It took them awhile, but the Dallas Cowboys signed their first outside free agent.

Gerald McCoy agreed to a three-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys to be their starting 3-technique. McCoy, 32, is a seasoned veteran in the NFL, entering his 11th season, and is looking to make a big impact for Mike Nolan’s defense. McCoy signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2019, after nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his lone season in Carolina, he played in all 16 games (starting all 16), posted five sacks, seven tackles for loss, 13 QB hits, and 37 total tackles. McCoy played up-and-down the defensive line for Carolina, and some of his production took a hit in result of that, but the Cowboys got a good one in Gerald McCoy.

One of the biggest improvements the Cowboys are getting from Maliek Collins to Gerald McCoy is in run defense. McCoy is an absolute force against the run, both from a penetration standpoint, and the ability to destroy zone-blocking by his lateral agility and strength. McCoy is a very in-control, balanced player that wins with his get-off, hand technique, and the power he possesses in his upper and lower half. In the clip above, you’ll see how well McCoy works laterally down the line of scrimmage to make the tackle on Titans RB Derrick Henry. McCoy still plays with tremendous quickness and twitch, which allows him to beat lineman to landmarks, and knife through for tackles, and tackles for loss.

Another excellent example of Gerald McCoy working laterally down the line of scrimmage against zone-blocking to make the tackle on Rashaad Penny. The quickness and football IQ McCoy plays with along the interior makes it impossible for zone-blocking teams to run the ball successfully his way.

By no means does McCoy play with the same quickness he played with in his prime years, but it’s still in the tank, and at times it can completely take over games. McCoy makes an incredible tackle for loss here on Green Bay RB Aaron Jones using that get-off, and reduction of his surface area to get in the backfield for the stuff.

An underrated aspect to the Gerald McCoy signing is the leadership and mentality he’ll bring to the Cowboys locker room. This play is a great example of something the Cowboys lacked at times in 2019. Effort. Against the Bears, Bills, Vikings, and Eagles the defense had moments of lack of effort, and allowed those opposing offenses to move the ball with ease. McCoy won’t stand for that, and this play is a great example of why. The Panthers were trailing to the Falcons 20-0 at this point in the game, and McCoy’s effort is tremendous. Not only does McCoy re-set the line of scrimmage with initial penetration, but he also chases the ball down all the way to the sideline while also laying a hit on the RB at the sideline. This relentlessness and effort was missed in Dallas in 2019, and McCoy’s addition will only help build that back up.

McCoy saw time at under-tackle, nose-tackle, and even defensive end for the Panthers in 2019. While he’ll likely spend most of his time at 3-technique in Dallas, he showed the ability to win from all three alignments in Carolina. McCoy’s go-to pass rush move in 2019 was his club-swim and that’s what he was using here. The swim wasn’t need because his initial hesitation to the outside got the Falcons RT so off-balance that when he clubbed back inside, the rep was already won for McCoy. “Position flex” is something Jason Garrett and Rod Marinelli has talked up for years, and while I don’t see it being much of a priority for the new coaching staff, seeing McCoy win from multiple spots on the defensive line is great to see.

Gerald McCoy only registered five sacks in 2019, but he just missed another three or four throughout the year. McCoy’s first-step is extremely dangerous, and he plays with such a great center of gravity that he’s able to muscle through offensive lineman’s attempts to recover. While this won’t show up on the stat-sheet for McCoy, it’s still a very nice pass-rush rep.

Double-teams? No problem for McCoy. He showed multiple reps holding up, defeating, and splitting double teams in 2019. McCoy’s quickness, power, and relentlessness makes it tough for teams to completely take him out of games with double teams. This is something Collins saw a lot of in the last two years, so it’s nice to know Dallas has a guy that can take them on, and beat them.

When evaluating the Gerald McCoy signing, while also keeping in mind Maliek Collins departure, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys upgraded at the under-tackle position due to McCoy’s ability to defend the run, stay on the field due to his durability, and offer consistent pass rush from the interior. He will make a big impact for Mike Nolan’s defense in 2020 and the foreseeable future.

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