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Trench warfare: A stout run defense could be key to the Cowboys defensive turnaround in 2021

Being better against the run could have a ripple effect throughout the Cowboys defense.

NFL: DEC 13 Cowboys at Bengals Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defense. Defense. Defense. When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys success or failure in 2021 it will likely depend on how well they play on the defensive side of the ball this season. From defensive tackle to safety, Dallas’ defense needs to improve by leaps and bounds from last year. Their primary focus though should be directly aimed at improving the run defense.

Prior to the 2020 season the Dallas Cowboys had a four-year stretch (2016-2019) where they didn’t surrender more than 104 rushing yards per game. Last season things changed for the worse, surprisingly allowing 159 rushing yards per game. We can blame it on lack of talent, blown assignments, or poor effort, but whatever the reason change is definitely needed.

The Cowboys defense is a mess right now, so much so that it’s nearly impossible to project who the starters will be for the 2021 season. Luckily, they still have training camp to try to sort things out and it’s up to Dan Quinn and his coaching staff to put the pieces in place between now and the start of the season.

That’s no easy task to take on, but it’s one Quinn was fully aware of when he agreed to be the Cowboys new defensive coordinator. Since Dallas’ offseason moves, both in free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, primarily focused on upgrading the defense, Quinn, at least, has been given more pieces to work with, especially along the defensive front.

The Cowboys were pretty close to wiping the slate clean along the defensive front. Only holdovers Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore will likely be in the mix for starting roles, but this year’s free agent additions and draft picks should really shake things up for the better. At least that’s what we are all hoping.

If Dallas is to have a defensive turnaround in 2021, it will start in the trenches. The NFL may have turned into more of a passing league, but a defense is doomed from the beginning if they can’t stop the run like the Cowboys were unable to do last year. Teams ran all over them in 2020 and it a negative ripple effect throughout the defense.

It’s time for the Cowboys to flip script this year. They need to get back to being a stout run defense like they were from 2016-2019. Becoming better in the trenches should improve everyone’s game behind them. If that comes to fruition it gives everyone one less thing to worry about.

The linebackers would have less trash to sort through to make plays. The secondary can focus more on coverage and less on supporting the run. It’s a win-win for everybody involved and it should dramatically help the entire defense play much better than the atrocious of performance we saw from them just a season ago.

Being more stout against the run of course isn’t the end all of the Cowboys problems on the defensive side of the ball, but it is the best place to start in my opinion to fixing things. Fortunately, there’s reason to believe Dallas is thinking the same thing the way things have played out so for this offseason. Fingers crossed it all comes together and works.