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Mailbag: What's preventing defending the run?


Defending the run continues to be the Cowboys' Achilles' heel. Is it scheme, personnel or execution that prevents them from defending the rush? And how can they improve in that area of the game? – Anthony Kirksey/Glen Burnie, MD

Nick Eatman: Well, it's also execution from the opponent. Teams that are fully committed to the run, and have the personnel to do that and get the offensive line on the move like Buffalo did, can have success on this defense, which is clearly focused on getting to the quarterback. While that's great to have that mindset, it can leave you vulnerable to the run, especially when you have undersized linebackers. But it's also about the offense, too. The Cowboys have done a great job this year of attacking teams early and building leads, which can steer teams away from that commitment to run. But without a doubt, the Cowboys have to fix some of these issues, especially on the edge. Way too many running lanes and I have to think it's more than just Johnathan Hankins not being there. What doesn't help matters is that Miami has plenty of speed to run on the outside and Lions also have a couple of backs and usually commit to the run. So we'll find out here in the next two weeks if the Cowboys can fix these issues right now.

Kurt: It's probably a little bit of all three. If they executed better at times would they see better results? Sure. Still, this seems largely a personnel issue even though the personnel has played outstanding overall. In building the roster, the Cowboys have leaned towards speed, which has no doubt served them well most of the time. But when a team really wants to pound it out on the ground, Dallas has trouble because they simply aren't big enough. Take Markquese Bell. He's been solid, playing beyond expectations, but asking a 205-pound guy to consistently shed 300-pound blockers to make a tackle is borderline unreasonable. Or how about Micah Parsons? He's no doubt an elite pass-rusher, but he has yet to truly show he can make a real impact against the run. In fact, among the front seven, DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the best run defenders in the NFL and Osa Odighizuwa has been solid, but everyone else is graded no better than average in stopping the run, per Pro Football Focus. So is there a scheme that can counter that lack of size? Like in Buffalo, how do you work around the absence in the middle of someone such as 320-pound Johnathan Hankins? Realistically, the best run defense for the Cowboys is a strong offense. If they have the lead, opponents are forced to go to the air, which plays right into the pass-rushing hands of the Dallas defense. But if the Cowboys are trailing, it's a whole different ball game, which was unfortunately proven once again against the Bills.

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