A Look at the Cowboys Defensive Line


In the coming weeks, I’ll be examining different units that make up the Cowboys. For this week I’m going to examine the components of our defense line and look at their strength and weaknesses. I’ll also try to give some comparison to other NFL examples and try to add the pieces together.

June 11, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett (left) talks with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin after minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this offseason, Rob Ryan was fired and Monte Kiffin was hired to replace him. There are a lot of uncertainties with the defense, since Kiffin has been out of the NFL since 2009. Kiffin is credited as the mastermind behind the Tampa 2 defense. However, when he came to Dallas he told the players to study Seattle’s defense. This caused some confusion because the Tampa 2 and Seattle defense were very different. Seattle ran more man-to-man coverage while the Tampa 2 uses lots of zone coverages. Monte will design a scheme that will fit the strength of the Cowboys. So let’s talk about our defensive line and investigate their strength and weaknesses.

Right now I’m projecting our starters to be Demarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff, and Anthony Spencer. When I look at these players, I immediately think pass rush. Ware is one of the NFL’s premier pass rusher. He’s an elite talent and is one of a kind. He’s quick off the ball and has a great speed rush. His bull rush is also very effective. To add to that Ware is a good run defender, making him the complete package as a defender. He’s a good size for a defensive end and should be able transition to a 4-3 defense.

Nov 22, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer (93) wait for the play to begin during the game against the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving at Cowboys Stadium. The Redskins beat the Cowboys 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Spencer on the other hand, is a bit smaller. Spencer was known for his run stopping ability as a 3-4 OLB. In Monte’s defense he’ll be a defensive end, probably the left end. This concerned me because I don’t believe he’s stout enough to hold the point of attack on runs. When I watched Spencer in the 3-4, he used his quickness and agility to get off blockers. However in a 4-3, he’ll have less space to do that. I’m predicting that Spencer will be less effective in the run game next year. As a pass rusher, he should see more opportunities to get to the QB. Spencer primarily uses a speed rush to get to the QB. Also, Spencer was dropped back more in coverage than Ware in the 3-4. In 2013, he should see more snaps going after the quarterback in the 4-3. I expect Spencer to have more pressures and sacks than before, but his run defense will regress.

Our defensive tackles will be Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher. Let’s talk about Hatcher first. When he first came to Dallas, Hatcher was mainly a rotational player on the defensive line. He was a 3-4 DE that specialized in pass rushing. Over time he’s improved as a run stopper, but was still great as a pass rusher. Hatcher uses a good bull rush to push offensive linesman back.  In the run game, Hatcher is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes he’ll be able to take two blockers and hold the point and at other times he’ll be pushed back by only one linesman.  Don’t expect anything special from Hatcher in the run game.  As a pass rusher, he’ll push his man back and should be able to create some pressure.

Ratliff was injured for most of last season and is an enigma going into 2013. We know what Ratliff is capable of doing; however has age and injury wore him down? He managed to play six games in 2012, but looked very sluggish. Usually Ratliff is a very explosive pass rusher, but he lacked that explosion this year. Hopefully, this is just because he was playing hurt. Ratliff has a great swim move, which compliments his long lean frame. In the run game, Ratliff usually gets worse as the season progresses. He often gets pushed back because of his smaller size for a nose tackle. In the 4-3 Ratliff will see as many double teams.  This should help him in terms of run stopping. Ratliff should also be able to use his swim moves to get to the quarterback.

Aug 27, 2011; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer (93) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb (5) as defensive end Jason Hatcher (97) and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (90) come to help in the second quarter at the Metrodome. The Cowboys win 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

This defensive line reminds me of the Colt’s defensive line in the mid to late 2000s. The Colts defensive line were great at pass rushing, but were poor run defenders. The Colt’s defensive line featured two star defensive ends in Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. In the Cowboy’s defense Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will fill in those roles. In addition, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher are exceptional pass rushers. There were some questions before about their run stopping ability, which parallel well with the Colts. Overall I expect the Cowboy’s defensive line to be great pass rusher, but will struggle to stop the run.

Tune in next week, when I’ll talk about the offensive line.