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Cowboys defense has been elite, but there is a glaring hole defending the run

The Cowboys are trying to correct course with their shaky run defense.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are heading into Week 10 with a 6-2 record and that is a very positive development. As each week passes, the chance of making the playoffs increases. In all three facets of the game, Dallas has proven to be very good.

For the offense, the season rankings aren’t a current marker of where this unit currently stands given the limited action seen by franchise quarterback Dak Prescott. As the season progresses, the expectation is for the offensive stats and rankings to improve drastically.

Special teams has been arguably the biggest surprise of the 2022 season thus far due to the many unknowns coming into the year. With a nice stroke of luck, the Cowboys special teams group from top to bottom is arguably one of the best in the league today.

The defensive unit has been the main catalyst for this tremendous run thus far in the season. Without their elite, consistent play, who knows where the prospects of this season would be at this stage of the season. It wouldn’t be 6-2 through the first eight games played. Although the defensive unit as a whole has been very much elite all season long, there is one area where they are lacking and that is defending the ground game.

Regardless of how elite this defense is as a whole, they need to fix how they are playing the run or it could spell trouble later

With eight games in the rear view, the Cowboys defensive unit has allowed over 100 yards on the ground in six of those contests. The two games the defense held their opponents under this mark of 100 were against the Bengals and Rams. The Bengals stumbled the first two games of the season and aside from Joe Mixon’s performance in Week 9, they haven’t run the ball very well. The same goes for the Los Angeles Rams, which have had their own drama to deal with regarding running back Cam Akers. Akers, and Darrell Henderson, have not been very effective in 2022.

In the other six games where the opposing offense rushed for over 100 yards, the Cowboys allowed an average of nearly 5.1 yards per carry. That means on average it only takes two rushes to gain a first down. That isn’t a good look.

The Cowboys, during the 2022 season, have made a few moves involving the interior of the defensive line which included waiving 2022 fifth-rounder John Ridgeway and releasing 2019 second-rounder Trysten Hill. With both Ridgeway and Hill out of the picture, the Cowboys traded a 2023 sixth-rounder to the Las Vegas Raiders and acquired a 2024 seventh-rounder, and Johnathan Hankins. Hankins has been in the league since 2013 when the New York Giants drafted him in the second round.

Has the front office done enough to fix the problem?

The depth the Cowboys feel they have at the position made Ridgeway and Hill expendable. Who knows what will happen with Hill as he currently found a new home with the Arizona Cardinals. Ridgeway however, just joined the team via the NFL Draft this year and thought they could sneak him through waivers with him landing back in Dallas. An NFC East rival had other plans as Ridgeway was claimed by the Washington Commanders.

So far, the returns on that waiver claim have already paid dividends when Ridgeway was ranked the 14th highest rookie in Week 8 and graded out for that week with a grade of 72.3. During Week 8, he helped the Commanders unit stuff one of the elite runners in the game, Johnathan Taylor. The early returns on Ridgeway in a Commanders uniform are promising, and this could be a move that Dallas regrets down the line depending on the performance of Ridgeway going forward.

The most recent acquisition of Hankins is already under a microscope because he was brought into shore up the run defense. In his first appearance for the Cowboys in Week 8, he played on 42% of the snaps and Dallas gave up 240 yards on the ground. But it has been noted that on the plays that Hankins played, the yards per carry for the Bears was significantly less.

The real question going forward is can this unit shore things up? Only time will tell.

The Dallas Cowboys possess one of the more complete teams in the NFL today. Their prospects of making the playoffs this year are very high and would take a massive collapse to change that outcome. With how things ended versus the San Francisco 49ers last year in the playoffs, when Dallas simply got bullied around to the tune of 169 yards on the ground, it would be the upmost of importance to shore up the deficiency that was the kryptonite for them in 2021.

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