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Mailbag: Fix The Offense To Fix The Defense? 


This may sound a bit contrarian, but I think it would really help the defense if the offense — in particular the O-Line — was improved to control the clock with the run game and boost play-action chunk plays downfield, thereby keeping the defense on the sideline and fresh. I know this sounds a lot like Jason Garrett's past philosophy, but it's hard to argue with the success of the formula during the 2014, 2016 and 2018 seasons when the run game was really cranking. So doesn't it make sense to draft the best offensive tackle available and then start drafting to fill gaps on the defense? — JOEY ARNEL SAYSON / SANTA MONICA, CA

David: The counter argument here is that you shouldn't need an offensive line full of first-round picks to run the ball well — especially if you also pay your running back $15 million per year. I'm not against the idea completely, but at some point you need to invest in your defense. You shouldn't have to put all your premium resources into the offensive line in order for it to be successful.

Rob: It's an interesting question because that's a big reason Zeke was drafted instead of Jalen Ramsey in 2016. The Cowboys thought Elliott could simultaneously help the offense and the defense with a ball-control approach. Given their cap constraints this year, I don't think one free agency period and one draft will completely fix the defense, so your point is well taken. But if they do expect Tyron and La'el to be 100% for next season, I just don't know how you justify drafting a tackle in the first round unless he's far and away the best prospect. The Bucs didn't win the title just on the strength of Tom Brady and the offense. Their defense was really, really good. Here, I think a more familiar scheme under Dan Quinn will help, but they also need an infusion of talent on that side of the ball.

Zeke's season was a constant topic of discussion, but I never hear about the way is used in protection and the subsequent beating he takes doing so. Do you think it's had an impact on his performance and has it changed his mentality/style as a runner compared to 2016? Is there another feature back that takes on as much as Zeke does game in and game out? — TODD F / SALT LAKE CITY, UT

David: There just aren't very many true feature backs in the NFL these days, so the answer to your question is probably no. Zeke really is a wonderful blocker, and it's an under appreciated part of his game. That doesn't change the fact that they need to get more out of him moving forward.

Rob: Yeah, Zeke does more of the dirty work because there's not a true committee here. But I don't think it has affected his running style. It wasn't a good season by his standards, obviously, but the injuries up front and the changes at quarterback also impacted his production. In 2019 he ranked fourth in the league in 10-plus-yard runs with 38. In 2020, he was 15th with just 22. That's not a coincidence. I don't care how much money he's making, sometimes the holes just aren't there. Put Dak and a healthier line on the field next season, fall behind on the scoreboard less often, and I think we'll see more normal production in the run game.

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