With the addition of Mazi Smith strengthening the middle of the defense, will that push opposing runners outside? I recall quite a few instances last season when teams figured out that they could run the ball straight at Micah Parsons with success. Is there a way to scheme the defense so that Micah can still go full speed at the quarterback every down? Or will they have to ask him to play a tick slower and look for the run? – Samson Samonte/Ewa Beach, HI
Patrik Walker: That's certainly the goal and it's why it's always been paramount that the Cowboys figure out how to turn their beleaguered run defense into one worthy of a defensive unit that is otherwise one of the best in the league. Smith will not only be expected to be a plug-and-play monster in interior run defense, rotating at times with another dominant run-stopper in Johnathan Hankins, but the former Wolverine will also play alongside him in certain sets — making it that much more difficult for teams to run up the interior gaps. Funneling them outside to Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence (one of the best run-stopping edge rushers around) will pay off in a big way, and go a long way to making the opposition one-dimensional to allow Parsons, Lawrence and the secondary to have themselves a day … weekly. But don't expect Parsons to pin his ears back on every single play, because then he'd be predictable, and that's not what you want.
Nick Harris: I wouldn't expect an immediate hesitance from opposing teams to run at Mazi Smith as opposed to outside the tackles at Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence or any other edge rusher. After all, Smith is still a rookie and doesn't require the same opposing respect as some of the other defensive talents. That being said, if Smith can plug the running lanes early in the season and prove to be that dangerous force that you have to avoid to find success, then yes I would expect Parsons to see more action on the outside. I wouldn't say that Parsons is sub-par against the run and an easy target, so I wouldn't scheme him out of those situations, I just think it should be a point of emphasis as the season goes on between him and Dan Quinn to be as effective as possible in those situations. Regardless, Parsons as he is now with an exemplary Mazi Smith in the middle is already miles better in the run game than what was on the field in 2022.
Nick Eatman: The last thing any defense wants to be - whether it's in the NFL, college, high school or junior high - is one that gives up the run right up the middle. If you can't stop that, then you can't really do anything. So yeah, stopping the inside with Mazi Smith and Hankins is a huge priority. Getting a solid middle linebacker in there like LVE is also big and having safeties run downhill to prevent any big gains is also a huge part of the run defense. But after that, that will force teams to run the ball elsewhere and that's something the Cowboys have to figure out. Make sure the ends keep containment and figure out how Micah Parsons can be on the attack as well reactionary to those type of plays. It's like a fastball pitcher vs. a home-run hitter. It's all about a guessing game and chess match and trying to figure out when to be aggressive and when to sit back. Yeah, Parsons will have to be a versatile player if he wants to be great, and I think he has been in his first two years. The bigger question to me is how the corners tackle on the edge when the ball goes outside.