Johnathan Hankins, DL
The Cowboys have been gashed by the run at critical times in games ever since the injury to Hankins against the Texans. Teams have been able to maintain a running game during his absence and will add to that total against the Commanders this weekend with Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson taking the field. The loss of Hankins has been a big one for the Cowboys and his return to the lineup especially after an injury that has kept players out for much longer periods of time is a very good thing.
If the Cowboys want to do anything in the playoffs this season they will need to stop the run and they have a better chance of doing so with Haskins on the field. The ability to keep himself and Quinton Bohanna fresh throughout the game will be key against the likes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, San Fransisco 49ers, and Philadelphia Eagles.
In the NFC you’ll need to be able to stop the run to make it to the Super Bowl, and Hankins’s return boost the Cowboys’ chances of doing so.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB
The other major linchpin in the Cowboys’ effort to stop the run is the return of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who’s been out with a shoulder injury. While Hankins has been a force on the defensive line holding double teams and filling gaps, Vander Esch has benefited from it being able to come downhill and get to ball carriers earlier than he had been before. Once Dallas lost Vander Esch they lost their leading tackler on the team and while he can be a liability in the passing game at times when trying to cover running backs out of the backfield, his impact in the running game can’t be overlooked.
Anytime you get your leading tackler back on the field can mean the difference between an opposing running back being able to pick up a crucial first down or being stopped and getting a short yardage stop to end the game.
Vander Esch’s return also does what Farniok’s return does for the offense, it gives this defense more depth at linebacker, and for a team that is relying on the hit-and-miss play from veteran Anthony Barr, rookie Damon Clark who’s still getting acclimated to the speed of the NFL game, and second-year linebacker Jabril Cox, it couldn’t come at a better time.