The Dallas Cowboys linebackers have taken a lot of flack recently for not being able to consistently get to the running back and make the tackle. Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and company weren't always in the best positions to make plays but they were also getting plenty of traffic from opposing offensive lines. The main reason for the latter has been the lack of a presence on the interior of the defensive line for the Cowboys. That lack of presence has led to the Cowboys linebackers being swallowed up by offensive linemen, making it easier for running back to pick up big chunks of yardage over the years.
The majority of the teams in the NFL have invested in either drafting or signing defensive tackles with the ability to take up space and stop the run. In the Cowboys case, they've invested in finding undersized defensive tackles that have the ability to get up the field but have the drawback of being able to be move with double teams by offensive linemen. The tackles they’ve taken in the draft, Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore, both have talent getting off the snap and getting up-field, but both have issues at times when dealing with double teams.
For some perspective, teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, and Indianapolis Colts all have defensive tackles with the same size as the current tackles on the Cowboys roster, but these players, instead of prioritizing getting pressure on the quarterback, take pride in stopping the run. The Cowboys best defensive tackle stat-wise in 2020 was Neville Gallimore who ended the season with 28 combined tackles (solo and assisted). Then you had Antwaun Woods and Trysten Hill who had 23 and 11 tackles on the season.
Now take a look at the Seahawks who had two defensive tackles, Poona Ford who had 40 tackles, and Jarran Reed who had 38 tackles. The 49ers had Javon Kinlaw with 33 combined tackles, the Colts had DeForest Buckner with 58 tackles and Grover Stewart with 53 tackles, and the Vikings had Jaleel Johnson with 44 tackles and Shamar Stephen who had 34 tackles. Now that shows a focus on stopping the run by investing in players whose sole job on the field is to go in and make it difficult for offensive linemen to get to the second level by holding their blocks, and then having the awareness to shed and get the ball carrier. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have poached players from the team’s practice squads, used undrafted free agents, or cheap bottom-tier talent in an effort to stop the run. They did use high draft picks on Gallimore and Hill and it showed that if you invest a quality draft pick on a defensive tackle it can work. It took some time for Hill to get the hang of things but when both were given the chance they showed promise.
If the Cowboys really want to turn this run defense around then the focus needs to finally highlight the glaring need for dedicated 1-tech defensive tackles that can hold the line against the run. Doing that will make things a lot easier for the Cowboys linebackers in helping against the run and also by forcing running backs to bounce runs outside and right into the arms of DeMarcus Lawrence and company. They have a few ways that this can be accomplished.
- Go into this draft and take another defensive tackle in the mid-rounds as you did with Gallimore in last year's draft. Players like Tedarrell Slaton (Florida Gators), Bobby Brown III (Texas A&M), and Marvin Wilson (Florida St.) are three mid-round defensive tackles that have a knack for taking on double teams to keep their linebackers clean and getting ball carriers on the ground.
- They can finally invest in a free agent defensive tackle that they can keep on something longer than a one-year deal. There is a large group of defensive tackles becoming free agents this season and they need to sign one. Here are a few that have been linked to the Cowboys in the past, as well as younger first-time free agents that they can get now. Ndamukong Suh showed that he still has a lot of football left in him after helping the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl. Damon “Snacks” Harrison has been someone the fans have wanted to see in a Cowboys uniform for a while now. Then you also have Dalvin Tomlinson who helped man the interior of the Giants defensive front the last four years, and Poona Ford who’s been a big contributor on the Seahawks defensive line.
- The last thing that they can do is trade a talented player to get a quality defensive lineman, with some extra picks thrown in to balance things out. Someone like receiver Michael Gallup for Quinnen Williams. The Jets are in desperate need of a receiver that can spread the field and has the potential to be a number one receiver in this league. Gallup would give them that and in return, the Cowboys would get a highly talented defensive tackle that has been rumored to be on the trade block last season under contract with the ability to control his fifth-year option.
If the Cowboys were to choose any one of these options they will be filling a major need for this team and helping this linebacker group in the process. Let’s hope they get it right this offseason.