Dallas Cowboys: How Important is Upgrading DT Anyway?

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

With free agency nearly a month away, now is a great time to assess some of the Dallas Cowboys needs. One of those needs, defensive tackle, has been a hot topic in Cowboys Nation since the 2020 season began.

Dallas failed to adequately address their interior defensive line last offseason, and they paid the price in 2020. They were frequently bullied at the line, failed to maintain gaps, and routinely moved out of position. The trickle-down effect was felt throughout the defense and 2020 offered one of the worst defensive performances ever seen from a Dallas Cowboys defense.

Here in the 2021 offseason, the Cowboys get a change at correcting the position they so epically botched 13 months ago. How important is it that defensive tackle gets corrected? And how high should it rank on their to-do list?

The Dallas Cowboys can’t afford to screw up the defensive tackle position again in 2021

The problem with having inadequate interior defensive linemen, is it impacts their assignments as well as everyone else’s assignments behind them. If the DT in unable to stand his ground and keep blockers occupied, then we have +300lbs offensive guards running free on the second level.

50% of Jaylon’s and LVE’s struggles were because of the poor play in front of them at DT.

If you were upset by the play of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch last season, then you should be absolutely disgusted by the play of the interior defensive line and the impact their poor play had on the linebacker corps.

Jaylon and LVE are big guys by linebacker standards, but even the biggest linebackers in the NFL shy away from offensive guards breaking into the second level. It’s no wonder we started seeing the Dallas duo dodging and avoiding blockers last season. They were getting run over.

Here in draft season, we talk about linebacker prospects and their ability to shed blocks all the time. I got news for you – not many are very good at it and none of them can consistently withstand having to deal with offensive linemen repeatedly getting in their face.

I’ll go as far as to say 50% of Jaylon’s and LVE’s struggles were because of the poor play in front of them at DT. The Dallas Cowboys linebackers were either forced into repeated mismatches or they were predicting them and trying to avoid those confrontations altogether.

It wasn’t just the linebackers who felt the consequences of poor DT play in front of them, it was also the defensive backs – specifically whoever was playing in the box. If you think linebackers try to avoid offensive linemen, just think about defensive backs who are often giving up over 100 lbs.

There’s a reason teams value the defensive tackle position as much as they do. When comparing positional pay scales around the league, interior defensive linemen are paid the fourth most in the NFL. Top-10 DTs are paid more than top-10 OTs, more than top-10 CBs, more than top-10 SAF. Other than edge, they’re paid more than any other defensive position on the field. That’s because smart teams value their importance and understand their impact on the players behind them. Yet, for some reason, the Dallas Cowboys have been going cheap at DT.

The Dallas Cowboys are expecting to bring back Antwaun Woods, Trysten Hill, and Neville Gallimore in 2021. Woods is their best run stuffer and ideal candidate to man the 1-tech spot. Hill is valued for his quickness and therefore penciled in as a 3-tech/ under tackle. And Gallimore could do a little bit of both depending on how the rest of the rotation shakes out.

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Moving to more of a 1-gap attack is going to help, but whoever plays 1-tech is going to have to handle some 2-gap calls from time to time. Dan Quinn isn’t as gung-ho on 1-gaping as Rod Marinelli was so don’t expect this defense to go cleanly back to it’s 2019 version.

The Dallas Cowboys need to address the DT spot with a proven starter. Not an over-the-hill veteran. Not a rookie they have to develop. Not a diamond in the rough or reclamation project. They need a bona fide DT1.

How important is it to their other positions of need?

It’s the most important. If we have better DT play we have better linebacker play. If we have better linebacker play we have better defensive back play. It impacts the entire defense.

More. 1-gap vs 2-gap on the Dallas Cowboys. light

Next. The importance of positional value in the NFL. dark

Defensive tackle must be seen as the highest free agent priority for the Dallas Cowboys. It’s impact extends far beyond it’s own assignments and correcting DT corrects arguably the biggest issue at LB

  • Published on 02/09/2021 at 13:01 PM
  • Last updated at 02/09/2021 at 09:17 AM