Dallas Cowboys: 5 ways to generate more interior pressure on defense

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

The Dallas Cowboys struggled immensely with generating inside pressure last season. While it was their horrendous run defense that stole the headlines, it was their inability to apply pressure on passing downs that actually hurt them the most.

For as back-breaking as it felt to give up five yards per carry, it was the pass defense that gave up the most expected points per play. As a whole, the Cowboys finished 27th in the NFL in pass-rush win rate, a number buoyed by two top-10 defensive ends (DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory).

Here are some ways for the Dallas Cowboys to improve their interior pressure in 2021

The Dallas Cowboys interior was arguably the worst pressure unit in the league last year and if the Cowboys want to find any success in 2021, they’re going to have to fix this massive deficiency. Luckily for them, there are some ways for them to see improvement. We’ll look at five of them today.

No. 1: Stunts/Games

You don’t have to be a long-time Dallas Cowboys fan to know the effectiveness of running stunts on the defensive line. Not so long ago, stunts were a major element to Rod Marinelli’s defense here in Dallas.

A stunt is a coordinated twist between two defensive linemen meant to confuse blockers in order to generate pressure.  It’s a way to confuse assignments, exploit match-ups, and to change angles. Typically, the Cowboys do this by twisting an end and a tackle post-snap. This allows a defensive end a chance to penetrate inside while the tackle pulls attention outside.

Stunting comes at a cost, of course. It negatively impacts run-fits and often loses the ability to contain. In other words, it’s something you don’t want to do if you expect the play to be a run.

Against the pass it more than pays off. Not long ago Pro Football Focus tracked the effectiveness of stunting. They found when teams stunt (rushing four) on third down, pressure rate increased from 35.8% to 41.3% while sack rate increased from 6.9% to 9.1%.

Stunting is a great way to generate interior pressure without committing extra pass-rushers. And before the Mike Nolan experiment, the Dallas Cowboys were frequently at the top of the league in frequency of stunts. With a return to the old single high system, it would be wise to lean on this familiar attack to generate more inside pressure in 2021.