With the struggles against the run being up the middle again, should the Cowboys look at using DeMarcus Lawrence more at defensive tackle? We know he is excellent against the run on the edge, but he is also a strong, powerful force in the middle. With the depth the team has at defensive end, would moving Lawrence inside be an option? After the lowly Panthers averaged 4.8 yards per carry, I worry what the good teams will be able to do. Thoughts? – Matt Reis/Rochester, NY
Nick Harris: I like the thought, but taking Lawrence away from the edge only moves the issue to that exact area. Lawrence is best when he can get around a tackle and make a one-on-one play in a little bit of space. Having him line up over center and try to use his strength to clog running lanes isn't the ideal setup, in my opinion. Micah Parsons' utilization in the middle is used primarily for pass rush because of his ability to get around iso blocks against wider offensive linemen, but there's a reason he's not used in the run game with the same formation. I see it being the same issue for Lawrence if they were try using him in the run game.
Patrik: I agree that the Cowboys struggled to stop the run up the middle against the Panthers, but I disagree with an assessment that says that's a consistent issue this season. Johnathan Hankins has been exceptional all season, one or two games notwithstanding, as has Osa Odighizuwa. Neville Gallimore has made great impact and clearly quickened in his get-off and Chauncey Golston is making a bigger impact on a weekly basis, as Mazi Smith begins to flash a time or two (though he's still working his way toward consistency, I'll admit). The Panthers' passing attack is lowly, but Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders (you know him very well) are very, very capable but, still, yes, the Cowboys struggled to stop the run in that game. Making any decision to move DeMarcus Lawrence to the interior more than what they already do (Quinn is already giving him snaps there) will be counterproductive to protecting the edge. Dorance Armstrong is a force, sure, but as you said, nobody does it there like Tank does … while also getting after the QB on dropbacks. I believe Hankins and Co. will be fine, especially since the best NFC teams mostly prefer to get their backs to the edge, not up the middle.