What’s wrong with the Dallas Cowboys run defense?

Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The last two games for the Dallas Cowboys have been brutal in run defense. Many feel that the Johnathan Hankins pickup was useless, based on the previous two games. However, upon looking further into both games, Hankins and the middle hasn’t been the major problem.

I’m not saying it’s been perfect, but the concern really needs to be looked outside. The answer also isn’t simply blaming the linebackers, it goes way deeper than that.

Before we get into the entire picture of the run defense, it is important to note that this is about the midway point in the season. This is important because teams have started to figure out tape and what the tendencies of teams are. I say this because the issues are not necessarily new, but rather are now being picked on by other teams.

In the last two games, the Dallas Cowboys run defense has been taken advantage of, the answer to why is deeper than it seems.

The Packers showed that the Cowboys’ run defense was suspect by attacking the outside and then cutting back. Dallas edge players are not “setting the edge” or getting off blocks to close the outside. They need to force the running back back into traffic or to take a wider path to the outside while the rest of the defense crashes. What’s happening now is the edge isn’t getting set and teams are getting outside.

Before I get to the linebackers, let’s look at the corners…

Dallas Cowboys corners are playing soft in coverage (which means keeping them back). They are not crashing down on run plays which leaves a bit of a vacuum between the edge and them. Instead of closing the gap, they sit back and wait for the running back to get to them. The goal is to allow the linebackers time to get to the tackle, but by then it is a bigger run than it needed to be.

This brings us to the linebackers…

When Micah Parsons plays off the ball, teams are trying to force him to choose between the running back, quarterback, or coverage in his zone. Even the smallest delay in reacting has given teams the ability to get the edge and keep Parsons from getting to it too soon. The backside linebackers are now in pursuit and trying to get through the trash. Which is when teams are cutting back and gashing the defense for large runs.

So how to fix it is a little more difficult…

It all starts with the defensive ends setting the edge better. Maybe they step outside instead of inside and try to get to the edge faster, but they have to get off blocks better. The corners have to react faster and come down to help the run. The corner should be able to help shut the corner as the running back is bouncing outside.

This would allow the linebackers to crash down toward the ball carrier rather than reacting to the running back getting into the second level before they can attack. Maintaining gap discipline if those things happen would cause the cutback to be shut.

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This is a harder task as the current edge players on the roster are mostly pass rushers and not really elite at shedding blocks. The corners coming down would help, and the backside linebacker could close the cutback instead of washing themselves out while getting through the trash. However, it all starts up front. Dan Quinn has to figure it out, there are some really good running teams upcoming.

  • Published on 11/15/2022 at 13:01 PM
  • Last updated at 11/15/2022 at 12:55 PM