One of the real question marks entering the 2020 offseason was how exactly this front office would improve an underperforming defensive line from a year ago. Along with the addition of Mike Nolan, the interior of that unit now has a whole new look and could ultimately set the rest of the defense up for success this fall.
Tuesday: What We Know Monday: What's New?
Don’t Forget About This Experienced Captain
Don't Forget About ...
It seems as if the returning members of the defensive line have been absolutely lost in the shuffle of the exciting new additions. However, keep an eye on the veteran duo of Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford. Each individual has his looming questions. For Crawford, it has to do with where he will be lining up and how he recovers from his hip injury. Woods is surrounded by uncertainty with his decreased role and pending Exclusive Rights tender.
If Crawford, a former team captain, stays at the defensive tackle spot instead of moving into the rotation at one of the ends, there will be a crowded room of worthy tackles that will be in the mix for playing time. Just because McCoy, Poe, and Gallimore are the shiny new toys in the position group, it doesn't mean there isn't still a seat at the table for the vets. Poe's snap count was slashed by more than half in 2019 compared to his time in Kansas City and Atlanta, mostly due to a torn quad in Week 12. While McCoy started every game for the Panthers last season, he was held under 700 snaps for just the third time in his 10-year career. And Neville Gallimore's role will hopefully increase as the season goes along with an impressive rookie season. But he's just that, a rookie that will take time to progress.
Together, Crawford and Woods had no sacks, eight pressures, and 16 tackles combined in 2019. Sure, the Crawford injury played a huge role to the lack of numbers, but after being multi-year starters in the NFL and have a lot of weight riding on them to perform this fall. Should they show an uptick in the ability to eat up multiple gaps and stopping the run, there is still going to be a seat at the table for both Woods and Crawford. Mike Nolan's defense will require multiple rotations and fresh bodies in the interior of the defensive line which makes having two former starters and well-respected veterans as the second or third line of reserves really beneficial.
Poe & McCoy Bring Size, Experience & More
What We Know
The signings of Gearld McCoy and Dontari Poe definitely allow a bigger physical presence at the front of the defense with a combined 640 pounds split within the two of them (40 pounds heavier than last year's starting duo). Both veterans have had multiple Pro Bowl appearances and have been at the top of the list of game wreckers throughout the past decade. However, 2019 didn't really pan out as planned for the duo in Carolina, as the Panthers were 29th against the run as a defense and was the next-to-worst run graded defense according to PFF. So why is that? How can these two have such a lack of success in stopping the run with the Panthers but bring so much excitement for doing so in Dallas?
First, Poe missed every game after Week 12 due to injury and the Carolina run defense took a massive nosedive because of it. Prior to his absence, the Panthers averaged a PFF grade of 67.1 which would have been good enough trajectory for around 22nd in the NFL. Not too bad compared to the 45.3 grade that was the average over the final six games which was the worst mark in the league by almost an entire ten points. The injury was obviously a huge setback for the Panthers' interior defensive line a year ago and displayed just how much impact Poe's ability to take up multiple gaps has on run-stopping.
Secondly, the scheme makes a massive difference in how effective they can be inside. In Carolina, a three-man front tried to utilize their multi-gap ability to allow some less effective outside linebackers to rush off the edge. This system really limited what both McCoy and Poe could do as offenses could effectively neutralize their pass-rush with a quick double team and trust their offensive tackles to hold off the linebackers. However, Mike Nolan's multiple look system should allow more pressure off the edge with the defensive ends instead of the linebackers. This hopefully would free up the interior defenders to face a single assignment and allow linebackers like Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith to make quicker decisions either in coverage or the run defense.
In theory, the 2019 struggles from Carolina had more to do with the injury to Poe, which forced McCoy to pull more responsibility, paired with the ineffective defensive scheme. Should things click for the two veterans in Nolan's 'new look' defense, they should each have an easy transition into being a dominant force inside.
New Faces, New Look & New Philosophy
Along with the fun new upgrades to the offense, the majority of excitement surrounding the 2020 offseason is centered around a revamped look in the interior of the defensive line. Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe were each signed early in the free agency period and add an experienced veteran presence to a position group that lacked impact in 2019. There's also Neville Gallimore, who was selected in the third round out of Oklahoma and has a chance to be an immediate contributor as a rookie after 8.5 sacks during his time in Norman.
The excitement is warranted after a disappointing 2019 campaign for the position that included an underperforming Trysten Hill, an injured Tyrone Crawford, a quick signing of Michael Bennett, and Antwaun Woods not taking the next step. But the change that will catch the eyes of Cowboys fans early in 2020 will have to do with the switch in scheme and different roles that will be given to the interior of the line.
The new way of thinking has to do with the addition of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Each have already set a blueprint that should look much different and closer to a hybrid style of scheme than in years past. Instead of going with the previous staff's method of thinking, one that includes smaller tackles to take up a single gap and allow the linebackers and edge rushers to really pull the weight, Nolan wants to flip that whole mindset around. He wants to let the big dogs eat up front which allows the linebackers to pick and choose what they want to attack for leftovers.
Ultimately, this led to the acquisition of the trio of players mentioned earlier to hopefully take on the more expansive roles with their raw physicality when talking about Poe and McCoy, or athleticism and lateral ability when mentioning Gallimore. All three should have no issue whatsoever taking on a significant workload during their first season in Dallas, and all of the possibilities they open up for Nolan could immediately improve the rest of the defense.
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