Dallas Cowboys: Why improvement at defensive tackle is a given

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys are going to improve at defensive tackle this season. That much is sure. The reason I can make such bold statements with such brazen confidence is because things simply couldn’t get worse.

The Dallas Cowboys had arguably the worst defensive interior in the NFL last year. Their run defense was 31st in the NFL, giving up a whopping 5.0 yards/carry and served as a weekly embarrassing reminder of how dysfunctional the team had become.

Watching the All-22 was as nauseating as it’s ever been. We saw players repeatedly abandon their assignments, fail in the their run fits, freelance, and generally play the kind of undisciplined ball that would be intolerable any coach on any level – let alone at the pro level.

Between changes to players, coaches, and scheme, the Dallas Cowboys will see big improvements at DT

Much of the disorder can be placed at the feet of the defensive coaching staff. Mike Nolan tried to make too many changes to a defense that had zero time to prepare. He never got to know his players strengths and weaknesses and generally just plugged and played whoever he wanted, wherever he wanted. When Nolan was promptly let go in the offseason, it was clear there was no love lost.

Dan Quinn immediately elevates the Dallas Cowboys interior by his presence alone. Seeing his hands-on approach in Cowboys Camp is both encouraging and well received. Players are responding and young guys are developing right before our eyes.

The Cowboys also brought in some new blood on the interior. Brent Urban, Carlos Watkins and a pair of rookies all figure to challenge for roster spots. They fundamentally change the ingredients in the run-stopping interior right off the bat. They represent the culture change and anyone who watched Dallas last year can tell you, the culture on defense was dysfunctional if not straight up cancerous.

The scheme also makes things easier on the defense. Regardless of whether the Cowboys are in a nickel look or a 3-man front, Quinn’s defense will rely on aggressiveness and single gap responsibilities. With the exception of one or two players, defenders will be tasked with penetrating and making plays. Run fits will be easier mentally and that should free up players to play more freely physically.

That’s not to say Quinn’s 4-3 under Cover-3 is simplistic, but rather that it’s more actively aggressive and more focused than what Nolan tried to do last year. It’s also familiar to most of the players since it was the preferred defense for years in Dallas.

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Did the defensive interior improve enough? That’s a question we can’t answer until we see them play against real competition. But don’t underestimate the improvement they have made just by changing up what they already have.