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Film Room: Dontari Poe gives Cowboys much needed depth, size, and run stuffing ability at nose tackle

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What does Dontari Poe offer to the Cowboys defense?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the final days of week two of Cowboys free agency, the team has agreed in principal on a deal with former Chiefs, Falcons, and Panthers defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Poe, now 29 years old, is entering his ninth NFL season after being drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Poe spent his last two years in Carolina, and finished the 2019 season off with one of more productive season before missing the final five weeks with a quad-injury. Poe finished the year with four sacks, 22 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and six QB hits in 10 starts for the Panthers.

While we wait for the contract details on the Poe deal, we can pass the time by diving into Poe’s tape from the 2019 season to see what the Cowboys will be getting in their new nose tackle.

The biggest impact Dontari Poe will have on the 2020 Cowboys is likely the pass rush he’ll bring from the 1-technique position. Antwaun Woods has been a solid run defender throughout his two years with the Cowboys, but he just didn’t give them much from a pass rush standpoint. Poe plays with an extraordinary base, which allows him to generate pressure from the middle of the line with his bull-rush, chop’s, club’s, and combination moves to get to the quarterback.

On this rep, Poe is lined up at the 0-technique for the Panthers (over top of the center). Poe is just a tad-late getting home on Matt Ryan here using a chop-rip move to get the QB hit on Ryan. While Poe did not get the sack, he did force Ryan to get rid of the ball a tick earlier than he was hoping too. Even then, the ball is still completed, but this was a very quality rush from Poe to establish pressure from the inside.

At this point in his career, you rarely see Poe blowing up running backs in the backfield for tackles for loss, but you also rarely see him moved out of his gap, due to his strong-base and power he possesses in his upper-body. Poe does a nice job of controlling the blocker with his left arm, freeing up the right side of his body to plug up the A-gap to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage. Poe will make a living making stops at or just past the line of scrimmage due to the ability to hold his ground, and disengage from blockers as the ball comes his way.

Again nothing sexy here from Dontari Poe, but the ability to maintain his gap, work laterally down the line to get to the gap over from him is nice to see. If Poe is unable to get over to the B-gap, there’s a chance Matt Breida has a hole to get through. Poe uses is length well here to create extension, which allows him to control the offensive lineman while moving his feet laterally. Really quality rep here from Poe making a tackle away from his initial gap.

It’s hard for 340+ pound defensive lineman to get skinny between lineman to knife into the backfield against the run and pass, but Poe does an excellent job of that here getting the sack from the 1-technique spot. Poe does a nice job of getting initial push on the center by striking the inside shoulder of the center to get his weight all on his inside (right foot), by doing so, Poe has an opening in that A-gap to get to the quarterback. After gaining advantage to the quarterback, Poe swims with his right arm, to clear his shoulder/chest from the left guard who is looking to help the center on the pass block. Poe also does a nice job of muscling through the centers recovery to finish at the quarterback for the sack.

Another rep of Poe making a play outside of his gap while not playing out of control. You can notice just how powerful of a player Poe is with his ability to move the Tampa Bay center with ease. Poe does a nice job of lower his chest, to reduce his surface area while moving gaps. The leverage that causes allows him to get underneath both linemen’s hands which gives him the advantage in the trenches.

The one thing that kept popping up when reviewing Dontari Poe’s tape was the amount of plays Gerald McCoy made for other players on the Panthers defense. McCoy’s presence here results in a sack for Poe. Both in the running game, passing game, and twist-game, McCoy and Poe worked really well together and seemed to be very comfortable working together as a team throughout multiple games.

When Poe doesn’t use his length and hands to his advantage, he struggles to move laterally. Poe isn’t the most athletic guy in his hips and lower half, so once blockers are able to control his chest, he struggles to move. Here, you’ll see he allows the lineman to get into his breast-plate and shield him from move down the line of scrimmage to the ball carrier. When Poe uses that length and the hands, he’s very tough to handle when playing the run, but there are times where he fires out of his stance too high, and his length gets taken out of the play at the point of attack.


With the addition of McCoy and Poe, the Cowboys now have added size to the interior of their line that they have lacked for years. Both players are upgrades from what the Cowboys have had recently at the 1-tech and 3-tech positions, and should provide the Cowboys with their best interior defensive line combination that they’ve had since Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher days. The most important thing from these additions is it will allow the Cowboys to go into the draft not needing to reach for a defensive tackle like they did back in 2019 with Trysten Hill. Also, since Poe was a declined-club option, he won’t count against the Cowboys comp pick formula in 2021.