Cowboys: What Hurts This Team More Than Anything


The Dallas Cowboys have numerous reasons to lament at 3-8 record, but there’s one reason above all else that this team is struggling the way it is in 2015.

The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2015 NFL regular season with what seemed like logical aspirations to reach Super Bowl 50 in Northern California early next year. This franchise had leaped from the ditch of three consecutive 8-8 seasons en route to a surprising 12-4 mark last season that saw the Cowboys lose in the NFC Playoffs just a game shy of the NFC Championship Game.

How long ago does that seem at this point?

For a season that carried so much in the way of enthusiasm and lofty expectations, the Cowboys have never really looked like a true contender in the NFC – no, I haven’t forgotten the 2-0 start in ’15.

Now, we can point to repeated injuries to starting quarterback Tony Romo, critical cornerback Orlando Scandrick at the end of training camp, the release of Joseph Randle and a couple of concussions sustained by linebacker Sean Lee, arguably the best player on the entire defense.

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What gets me is that the biggest area of weakness on the entire roster goes almost completely ignored by fans and media.

Simply put, the Cowboys defensive line stinks, just as it has for quite a few seasons now.

We can talk all we want about how owner and general manager Jerry Jones doesn’t draft quarterbacks, a clear fact that’s been highlighted more and more over the course of Romo’s absences and Dallas’ complete inability to win a single football game without its starting quarterback heading into Week 13.

But what about defensive tackle?

I recently had the chance to visit with former Cowboys defensive tackle Chad Hennings as part of the 2015 Crown Royal “Your Hero’s Name Here” campaign. Thinking about this very topic, I asked Hennings what today’s Cowboys lack that the early 1990s Cowboys teams did have.

"Unfortunately for the guys today, we had depth. You know, on the d-line (defensive) we were three deep at some positions. We could rotate guys and we were fighting for playing time. On the d-line we were so talented and that makes a big difference."

When Hennings talks about depth, he’s referring to fellow defensive tackles Russell Maryland, Leon Lett, Tony Casillas and Jimmie Jones.

This group of interior defenders was the foundation for a defense that was probably just a pass-rush away from the NFC Championship Game in 1991, instead of having to wait for defensive end Charles Haley‘s arrival in 1992.

That sound familiar?

In case you’re saying to yourself, “But the Cowboys drafted Randy Gregory and signed Greg Hardy to get that pass rush the Cowboys lacked in ’14.”

Yes, the Cowboys did exactly that.

What this franchise didn’t do, however, was grab anything at defensive tackle, period. In fact, the Cowboys haven’t spent a premium pick (Round 1-2) on the defensive interior since – well, since Maryland was chosen with the first-overall selection of the ’91 draft.

Think about that.

Through all of the 3-4 years, beginning in 2005 under head coach Bill Parcells, the Cowboys relied on nothing at nose guard but a dramatically undersized Jay Ratliff. I don’t have to elaborate on how that tale ended up as Ratliff wore down quickly as the Cowboys run defense suffered each and every year under that scheme.

Having returned to the 4-3 alignment under defensive assistant coaches Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli just two seasons ago, which spans three NFL drafts, the Cowboys have spent just one pick on a defensive tackle, that being Ken Bishop in the 7th Round of the ’14 player selection meeting – Bishop is currently an unrestricted free agent after having been released to make room for Hardy back in October.

According to, America’s Team currently has exactly two defensive tackles on the roster. These include Tyrone Crawford and Nick Hayden. Rookie David Irvin is listed simply as a defensive lineman, although he does line up at tackle.

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Three interior defensive linemen?

What kind of rotation does that provide?

But it gets worse.

Not only are the Cowboys very thin at this position, by choice, but they’re also not very good.

Almost two-thirds through this season, Crawford leads interior linemen with 4 sacks, Irving has 0.5 and Hayden has 0.

This is the problem facing the Cowboys more so than anything else and it completely explains why this defense doesn’t create turnovers more often. It also goes a long ways towards pointing out why this side of the ball has just 20 sacks on the season.

Don’t think that this problem is the result of the Cowboys defense having to spend too much time on the field either.

According to, the Cowboys lead the league in time of possession on offense, thus meaning that their defense spends less time on the field than any other defense in the NFL. Since head coach Jason Garret and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan have mastered he art of being ball-hogs while only kicking field goals in many cases, the defense never gets downhill game.

Simply put, the entire formula for the ’15 Cowboys is broken.

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Until Jones gets serious about acquiring defensive football players who consistently win in the trenches, his franchise can bring in as many edge rushers as they’d like, but it’s never going to matter. Opponents can continue to allocate their blocking schemes to protect the edges without much concern over what’s coming up the middle.

When Marinelli refers to his rotation of ‘rushmen,’ I think he’s referring to a few more than just three.