Since the divisional-round playoff loss to the Rams in the 2018 season, the Cowboys have not come close to being able to stop the run. They changed coaches, personnel, schemes and everyone from Rod Marinelli and Jason Garrett to now Mike McCarthy and Mike Nolan and the players have said stopping the run is the priority. Why? — BILL CONWAY / PALM SPRINGS, CA
David: I would say it starts in the middle. The Cowboys haven't properly invested in defensive tackle or safety in the last few years, and we're seeing the effects of that. Trysten Hill has been a bright spot, but that's about as much as you can say about the defensive tackle position. It's fair to note that Gerald McCoy got hurt during training camp, but you run that risk with veteran signings. We don't need to have the full safety discussion again, but we knew coming into the season that it was a problem spot — and that has certainly proven to be true. Combine that with the fact that the best linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch, is hurt, and the other top linebacker, Jaylon Smith, is struggling mightily so far this year, and I think you have your answer. The Cowboys are below average through the middle of their defense, and opponents are taking advantage.
Rob: They were 11th in the league last year against the run, but yes, there have been games the last three seasons where it's been a major problem. This was the worst yet. I need to watch it back, but the most glaring problem Sunday seemed to be edge containment to the outside. The Browns love those outside zone runs, and they had a field day even without Nick Chubb for most of the game. I thought the previous two games the run defense had improved from the opener against the Rams. But when they have problems, it's usually a combination of edge setting, tackling and sometimes simply overrunning plays.
The Cowboys' defensive struggles are very clear this season, but it appears that the breakdowns are across all three levels: line, linebackers and secondary. Based on what you've seen so far this season, is it an issue with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's staff not putting the team in the right positions to succeed, or a lack of execution from the players expected to deliver on the scheme Nolan has created?— ADAM PAGE / DOWNERS GROVE, IL
David:When you watch what we just watched, the answer has to be all of the above – doesn't it? Everything is fair game — from the scheme not putting guys in position, to the players not getting off blocks and not tackling. Sitting here on Sunday evening, it's hard to know what exactly went wrong. But there's more than enough blame to around after an outing like that.
Rob: You can't say it's just execution or just scheme. It's got to be both. We've seen big pass plays, like the Seattle game or the opening touchdown by Cleveland, when the right coverage was dialed up but there was either a miscommunication or a bad angle. The Browns also dominated the line of scrimmage Sunday, plain and simple. But I'm sure the staff will take a look at things and say, where is the scheme lacking and is the right personnel on the field? No question injuries are a factor here. They're without key players at every level on defense right now. But 508 yards and 49 points is beyond surprising.
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