Dallas Cowboys: 3 solutions for the defensive line

Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports /
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. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports /

Play more Base Defense

SportDFW’s own Reid Hanson wrote about how Dallas should consider a 3-3-5 stack formation to account for the team’s depth at linebacker and EDGE while making it difficult for opposing teams to identify which linebacker is rushing the passer on passing downs. It’s a creative solution to a rather unusual problem.

However, it’s possible the solution might be too creative? The big issue with this alignment is it requires the defensive linemen to two-gap more frequently; the defensive line hasn’t done this much in the past and the linebackers struggled to read and react correctly when they played off these alignments last season.

It’s unclear how the front seven will line up on Sunday as the team hasn’t given any inclination towards anything, but it’s possible the defense can get away with playing a lot more base defense than last week. The Chargers’ offensive line is notoriously weak, the Cowboys have athletic linebackers, and Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is apparently better at throwing against the blitz?

Playing a 3-4 base defense in this situation gives Dallas more defenders near the line of scrimmage with a linebacker corp of Basham, Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jaylon Smith. (Hopefully Neal gets the nod over Smith, but I’m acting on precedent) The team can send as many people towards the quarterback from this look while also having big athletic guys (excluding Smith) drop into coverage hopefully overlapping routes in the hook and curl zones. Dallas can rush 3 or 7 from the same look, and with great disguising, it can be incredibly productive.

Whether the team chooses to line up in a 3-3-5 nickel or 3-4 base, Reid and I seem to be in agreement that the defense needs to use their linebackers for pass-rushing more often. We already know how lethal Parsons can be as a pass rusher, stand-up pass rushers like Basham and Anae need to be lethal as well.

The obvious issue here is Nickel is the new base defense because of how often teams use 11 personnel for passing. Fortunately for the Cowboys, most of the passing attacks the team will be facing over the next six weeks are average at best with the exception of Los Angeles.

In the case of Los Angeles, they have some great receivers in Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. I would expect Dallas to have Trevon Diggs shadow Williams the entire game while Allen does his typical damage in the slot. From this look, however, Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch are both athletic enough to cover Allen in the slot. Worst case scenario, the team could throw in Keanu Neal in lieu of a pass rusher to account for Allen as well.

However, against opponents like New York, Philadelphia, Carolina, and New England, the team can line up in base defense and confidently handle the opposing passing offenses because they could create enough pressure against below-average young quarterbacks to confuse them enough without having as many defenders drop back in coverage.

This formation would force the Cowboys to be heavily reliant on their linebackers, but what’s the point in investing significantly at that position this offseason if they aren’t going to challenge the position group. It might force the Cowboys to ramp up their aggression, which worked well for them at times during the preseason.