(Editor's Note: Over the next month, the staff of DallasCowboys.com is looking to answer the 20 biggest questions facing the team heading into 2021. Today, we'll try to find out how they improve the run defense.)
FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys had their share of problems all over the defense in 2021, but the biggest issue was stopping the run.
They ranked 31st against the run last year and the schedule seems rather loaded with running backs again this year.
The Cowboys will see the likes of Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara and Josh Jacobs – to name a few.
So how does it get better for the Cowboys? Our staff writers try to figure it out.
8) How Does This Run Defense Get Fixed?
Mickey Spagnola: With Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator. With bigger, more talented bodies at defensive tackle, including veteran Brent Urban, Carlos Watkins, the return of Trysten Hill, a more experienced Neville Gallimore and the addition of big-bodied sixth-round pick Quinton Bohanna (6-4, 327). Just seems as if this defense is much more organized than it was last year, with guys being put in positions that better suit their talents. This also pertains to the linebacker position, with the addition of first-rounder Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch's return to health. Since Parsons hasn't played a down of football, nor has second-rounder Jabril Cox, LVE is the best linebacker on the team. Against the run and against the pass. Quinn will better utilize him, put Jaylon Smith in more favorable roles and have more matchup opportunities with the addition of Keanu Neal. Plus, come on, how does the NFL's 11th-ranked run defense in 2019, with little change on the defensive line, end up 31st and second worst in franchise history one year later? Quinn must make a difference.
Kyle Youmans: It may sound like a joke, but I'm completely serious when I ask, "could it get any worse?" It's hard to believe so after the run defense debacle of 2020. However, with the additions this offseason and the scheme changes on the docket, the defense seems to be headed in the right direction. Micah Parsons, Keanu Neal, Osa Odighizuwa, Quinton Bohanna, Chauncey Gholston, and Dan Quinn are all pieces to the puzzle that were missing a year ago but may fill the many holes this season. Having a healthy Leighton Vander Esch could open up Jaylon Smith for some success and the added pressure from a longer and quicker defensive line could allow for the edge rushers like Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory to contain easier than in the past. So, on paper, the run defense has already been improved quite a bit.
Nick Eatman: We can sit here all day and talk about Dan Quinn's scheme and the young defensive tackles, and the improved play of the linebackers and everything else about why the run defense can and should be better. To me, it comes down to Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott. Yeah, those two guys who have never played a snap of defense since their high school days – if that. But we all know the drill – and it's no different in college, high school or junior high. Teams will continue to run the ball until you stop them, or force them to score in a hurry. And that's where Dak and Moore can come in. This offense was efficient at times last year, but we saw way too many slow starts. The Cowboys were down in nearly every game last year and if this team wants to get better on defense, they can fix that right there. Get out to some leads. Play ahead and force teams to play catch up. To me, that's the easiest way the run defense will get fixed.