Dallas Cowboys: Issues at Linebacker may not be the Linebackers

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys have issues at linebacker, but the fix may not be as easy as people think.

All season long the Dallas Cowboys linebackers have looked out of position and lost. The shots Jaylon Smith has taken are well documented, and while valid, the fix for the issues may not be as easy as everyone wants it to be. There is a growing sentiment that drafting Micah Parsons will fix the linebacker issues, but we need to look at this possible “solution” a little deeper.

First, this is not a defense of Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch, but rather a realistic look at what is causing the issues and what, moving forward, the Cowboys can do in 2021. We are assuming the Cowboys will decide on being either a 4-3 or 3-4 before the draft, so some of this may change just a little, but the overall theme will remain the same.

Now, let’s look at the Micah Parsons “fix” that many are wanting. Parsons is certainly a freak athlete, however, he is still learning the position. He is a converted defensive end who has only two seasons of college under his belt. After sitting out 2020, his full knowledge of defense at the linebacker position isn’t where many think it is. He relies a lot on his physical abilities at this point, and much of his praise is based on what the perceived ceiling for him is.

What this means is that he will probably not be ready to handle starting inside linebacker responsibilities on day one. He will need time to know how to adjust the defense and call plays. He has the physical tools but is very raw in the knowledge side of the game. Drafting him, might require the Cowboys to slowly work him into the game and really look at him being the starter in 2022 full-time.

Going back to Jaylon, he provides the knowledge of how to adjust a defense and make play calls on the field. While he is certainly not without some blame, he does a fairly solid job at making adjustments. Playing in Mike Nolan’s hybrid defense has certainly not helped him and at times he looks to be making a play rather than play the defense that is called. Parsons probably means they either keep Jaylon, hand playcalling to Leighton, or they grab a free agent as a stop-gap.

However, the larger issue is the defensive line in front of the linebackers. Far too often Jaylon and Leighton have had to guess which gap to fill, and without the defensive tackles closing the gaps or getting pressure, it leaves too much for any linebacker to have to fill. Without a good defensive line, the inside linebackers become not much more than tacklers at the second level.

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The Cowboys have to find a way to fix their interior defensive line issues before really being able to address the inside linebacker position properly. If there is not a lot of effort to improve the interior, the linebacker play will continue to suffer. It may not be as bad, but it won’t be what many think it can be. Teams can neutralize linebackers far easier without having to worry about the interior pressure or gaps closing before the second level.

There may not be a great fix to the interior line in the 2021 draft, and the free agency market looks fairly paltry itself. That means a trade could be possible or perhaps the hope is Neville Galimore and Trysten HIll can be more than they already are. Either way, the 2021 defensive line has to be addressed somehow.

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Parsons may not be the answer in 2021, and free agency is a little thin. This does not mean the Cowboys won’t draft Parsons if he is there, but understanding some of the issues will help temper some of the expectations to what it means. It all starts on the line and trickles back. Fixing the linebacker situation may not be as easy as replacing a player, it could mean a whole lot more.

  • Published on 12/23/2020 at 12:00 PM
  • Last updated at 12/23/2020 at 10:08 AM