Dallas Cowboys using youth to fix defense line issues

Dallas Cowboys DeMarcus Lawrence (90) Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys DeMarcus Lawrence (90) Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

How teams build their defense is a lot like the chicken versus the egg argument. Some teams have stacked secondaries. Others bring waves of heat from their defensive line. Either one is fine as long as you have one. Clearly, the 2021 Dallas Cowboys are going with the latter.

The Cowboys have seemingly struggled since the dawn of the century on the defensive side of the ball. A lot of that struggle is born out of an inability to rush the passer.

Over the last twenty years, the average sack total of the league leader in that category has been 56 sacks. The Dallas Cowboys have averaged just 38 sacks per year during that time. Only three times since the 2000 season, have the Cowboys finished in the top ten in total sacks.

Nine times throughout this time span, the Dallas Cowboys have finished in the bottom third of the league at sacking the quarterback. Consequently, their entire defense has suffered.

The few times that the Dallas Cowboys have been able to muster a fearsome pash rush, however, their defense has flourished which has had a positive effect on the entire team. This success was mainly due to having a consistent pass rusher to count on.

From 2006 through the 2012 season, DeMarcus Ware posted double-digit sacks Twice, he led the league in that category. Only once in those seven seasons, did the Dallas Cowboys end the season with a losing record. That sort of production has been sorely lacking ever since he left.

The brunt of the responsibility was passed to DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014 when Ware was released due to salary cap concerns. Unfortunately, he has only had one occurrence of a back-to-back double-digit sack performance in seven seasons. Part of that is due to the lack of a real running mate most of his career which has clearly been unhelpful.

After a few attempts to bring in a veteran and with a large amount of the salary cap tied to the offensive stars on this team, the Cowboys are trying a new approach. Heading into 2021, Dallas is attacking their defensive deficiencies with a combination of youth and numbers.

Heading into training camp, Dallas has eight defensive ends and seven defensive tackles on the roster. Eight of these 15 defensive linemen have three years of experience or less. Of course, Lawrence is still the anchor of the line. Even with his sack numbers suffering the last couple of seasons, Lawrence is still a premiere all-around defensive end.

Dallas is also hoping that getting a full offseason and training camp from Randy Gregory for once, gives Lawrence that true tag-team partner. Beyond that, there is a vast unknown.

The Cowboys are hoping that incumbents Bradlee Anae and Dorance Armstrong, blossom into bona fide threats in their second and fourth years, respectively. Third-round draft pick Chauncey Golston will also enter the mix for playing time and if all else fails, veteran free agents Tarell Basham and Brent Urban will also be in the mix for a roster spot.

Dallas is also hoping that a new group of interior linemen can help create some mismatches inside and shore up a run defense that is in need of a makeover. Youth and size are the soup du jour here as well. Five of the six defensive tackles are over 300-pounds and all are 6-foot-2 or taller. The Cowboys are putting huge men inside, a shift in philosophy from previous years. Three rookies, a second-year player, and a highly drafted third-year player are all competing for extensive playing time.

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When the final roster is set, all fifteen guys will not be on this team. Training camp will determine who earns a spot on this team but for the first time in a while, there is some intrigue and optimism for this unit. Whatever happens, there will be a lot of new faces around the Star. Hopefully, these young guys can bond through competition and start to create a new environment of success that will finally put this team over the top.