Will the Dallas Cowboys finally find a true run-stopper in the middle in 2021?
The Dallas Cowboys are focusing on defense early this offseason. That after posting one of the worst performances on that side of the ball in franchise history. The Dallas defense allowed opposing offenses to score an average of 29.6 points per game, fifth-worst in the NFL last season.
But where the Cowboys were particularly putrid defensively in 2020 was against the run. The defense allowed an average of 158.8 rushing yards per contest to their opponents last year.
As a result of that poor play, the Cowboys opted to part ways with both defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula last Friday. Earlier this week, Dallas hired former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn as the team’s new defensive coordinator and Joe Whitt Jr. as the team’s secondary coach and passing game coordinator.
While the Cowboys are likely not done adding to their coaching staff or possibly promoting from within, the focus will soon shift to the current roster and what kind of personnel Quinn wishes to add to the team. One position that Dallas is predicted to address is at defensive tackle.
Here’s what Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus wrote recently about a free agent he believes the Cowboys should pursue this offseason. Monson thinks New York Giants defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson would be a good pickup for Dallas after noting that the defense allowed 2.3 yards per carry before contact on average, a full half-yard worse than any other defense in the NFL.
"” … that stat speaks to a lack of strength up the middle, where a player like Dalvin0 Tomlinson would immediately change the outcome. Tomlinson has PFF run-defense grades of at least 70.0 in every season of his career, and this season added a little pressure, with 28 combined sacks, hits and hurries.”"
Tomlinson is a former second-round selection by the Giants in 2017 out of Alabama. He’s played and started in every single game for the G-Men since he was a rookie. Last season, Tomlinson racked up 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss,10 QB hits, and 3.5 sacks as a nose tackle.
The Cowboys’ current defensive tackles include Trysten Hill, Eli Ankou, Neville Gallimore, Antwaun Woods, Tyrone Crawford, Justin Hamilton, and Walter Palmore. None of whom are considered to be elite run-stoppers. Crawford and Ankou are unrestricted free agents in March. Woods is a restricted free agent.
Last season, Quinn employed an All-Pro defensive tackle to secure the middle of their line in Atlanta. His name is Grady Jarrett. The former fifth-rounder has posted back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons for the Falcons over the past two years. It’s easy to believe Quinn will look to find a similar interior playmaker for Dallas.
The defensive tackle position has typically been a position where the Cowboys have chosen to underinvest in as it was believed to be less critical than other more high-profile roles on the roster. But last offseason, Dallas uncharacteristically signed two big names in free agency at the position. Those veterans being former Pro Bowlers Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe.
But that investment backfired on the Dallas Cowboys with McCoy suffering a season-ending quad injury before Week One and Poe being released midseason for his poor play. With Dan Quinn now in place as the new defensive coordinator, it will be interesting to see if Dallas continues to look to free agency for their next run-stopper or if they’ll address the need in the 2021 NFL Draft.