The most important defensive position to fill on the 2017 Dallas Cowboys may be nothing more than a role player. We discuss…
The Dallas Cowboys set out this offseason on a quest to upgrade their defense. Headlining the 2017 to-do list was finding a pass-rusher capable of producing down the stretch. After all, the Dallas Cowboys were bounced prematurely from the playoffs for the second time in three years largely because of their pass-rushing deficiency.
Obviously finding that elusive “war daddy” would be the optimal solution to Dallas’ postseason woes. But let’s be honest, every team in the NFL is looking for a war daddy yet very few teams ever actually find one. As we’ve discussed many times this offseason, pinning hope on finding a dominant pass-rusher is irresponsible because it’s statistically unlikely.
That’s why a role player could very well be the most important player on the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2017.
One thing prevented the Cowboys from advancing in the playoffs in 2015 and 2017 – failure to produce pressure on obvious passing downs. Aaron Rodgers beat the Cowboys both times with a predictable and unbalanced passing attack. Having well rounded linemen capable of stopping the run and the pass with equal proficiency, was pointless when facing him. Everyone knew Rodgers was going to sling it and yet the Cowboys were impotent to stop it.
it’s having a dominant nickel right defensive end that’s going to flip the script for the Cowboys this postseason.
It’s for this reason many of us lobbied to bring in a situational pass rusher in the draft. A player like T.J. Watt may have been a liability to the Cowboys on 1st and 2nd down but if he could rush the passer on passing downs he had the potential to make an impact in a way the Cowboys haven’t been able to in the past.
Producing pressure on obvious passing downs is the primary objective in 2017. Season sack totals are worthless in the playoffs when you’re facing Aaron Rodgers on 3rd and long. If teams are going to be obvious in their attack, the Cowboys must find a way to may them pay. That’s why finding a dominant pass-rusher , even if he’s only situational and/or poor against the run, remains the most important objective.
Nickel Right Defensive End
The Cowboys, like most teams, operate out of the nickel defense more often than not. The shift to a three receiver set requires the extra defensive back. But on passing downs (typically 3rd down) the defensive line transitions to their nickel defense. They replace stout interior linemen with pass-rushers making the entire line a dedicated pass-rush.
It’s at this point the Cowboys need to insert their most important player on defense – the nickel right defensive end. This pass-rush specialist needn’t pause to play the run. He need only pin his ears back and attack.
Last season the closest thing the Cowboys had to that was Randy Gregory. Blessed with an amazing set of pass-rushing skills (and an unfortunate affinity for the bud), Gregory has the ability to keep even the best left tackle on his heels. Suspensions have robbed him of ever fulfilling that potential but the skill-set is true.
Dallas didn’t invest big in this role this offseason but they invested nonetheless. Damontre Moore came to the Cowboys on a modest 2 year/$1.65M contract. The former third round pick has notoriously let items other than skill derail his career over the years. But the talented edge rusher has been turning heads in minicamps and seems like a prime candidate to be that much needed nickel right defensive end.
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Joining Moore in the battle to be the most important player on the defense is second year pro Charles Tapper. After a red-shirt rookie season, Tapper is champing at the bit to put his explosive skills to work. Like Moore, Tapper is built to rush the passer. As requested, he lost weight in the offseason and while that may prevent him from being an every down player, it does help him fit the mold of the most important role player.
Season totals are perhaps the most misleading thing in it all. It doesn’t matter if the Cowboys can produce one, two, or three double-digit sack players on the season. If someone can’t hurry the passer in obvious passing situations, the totals are pointless.
That’s who the Cowboys need. Because those are the type of attacks they’ll face in the playoffs. Dallas must find a way to pressure the Aaron Rodgers’, the Matt Ryans, and the Tom Bradys of the NFL. It’s all about making the opponent pay for getting themselves into obvious passing downs.
When looking at the defensive roster it’s easy to see the importance of cornerstone players like Sean Lee and Byron Jones. But it’s having a dominant nickel right defensive end that’s going to flip the script for the Cowboys this postseason.
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War daddy? The Cowboys don’t need a war daddy. They need a specialist. They need a role player. They need one of these young pass-rushers to hone their craft and to be able to step in on these obvious passing downs and deliver.