From the Inside Out: A Different View of Lineman Value


The National Football Post’s Dan Pompei offers a contrary view to conventional view of offensive and defensive line value today.  He notes that sacks by interior linemen jumped 13% last year over 2009 and quotes league personnel men who think that in the era of increasing spread offensive sets and quick three and five step drops, interior rushers, and consequently, interior blockers, are rising in value:

“One front office man pointed to the Saints offensive line as a model for offensive lines moving forward. The Saints feature Pro Bowlers at right guard (Evans), left guard (Nicks) and center (Jonathan Goodwin). At tackle, they have a couple of players who most scouts rate as average in Jermon Bushrod and Jonathan Stinchcomb.”

This may explain the persistent naming of Mike Pouncey as a Cowboys player of interest.  It also explains the team’s obvious interest in Danny Watkins and raises the question of whether Penn State’s Stefan Wisniewski might be a player lurking in the shadows of Dallas’ 2nd round board?

On the defensive side of the ball, it offers more weight to Rob Ryan’s claim that he intends to leave Jay Ratliff on the nose.  At the same time, it may also explain the need for another big defensive lineman, not to kick Ratliff wide, but to team with him and create interior push.  One coach interviewed by Pompei explained it this way:

“Because the ball comes out so quickly so you have to be able to push into the quarterback, take away his ability to step up and force him to stay deeper in the pocket, so an explosive pass rusher, whether it’s a three technique or nose, who can give you inside push has become more important.”

Dallas has that piece in Ratliff, but is subjecting him to roughly 700 snaps a season inside.  The ideal in Dallas’ eyes may be to find another big D-lineman who ran work up and down the line, who can stack over OTs on run downs and then slant over the center on passing downs, to let Ratliff play the 3-technique.  In addition, this player can open series on the nose, letting Ratliff pace himself on the sidelines, within a game and over the course of the long season.

This model of thinking may explain why Marcel Dareus is so valued at the top of the draft.  He’s 325 and can play any of the spots on a three-man line.  He gives a team the same type of flexibility that Haloti Hgata gives the Ravens.  On 1st and 2nd downs, the 350 lb. Ngata plays right DE, over the opponent’s left tackle.  On passing downs, he slides inside, to give an interior push and prevent quarterbacks from buying too much time stepping away from edge rushes.

Contrast Ngata with Baltimore’s other DE, the 298 lb. Corey Redding.  I overheard a scout talking about the trouble Redding had taking on OTs in the three-man line at the Texas vs. the Nation Bowl and the desire for bigger DEs, because the OTs they face week in and week out average 315 to 325 lbs.

Dallas started experimenting with rookie Josh Brent last year, rotating with with Ratliff on some early downs and playing him at DE on others.  The 315 pounder has an explosive get off and power, but needs to refine his rush repertoire;  at this stage he’s all bull-rush.

This inside-out school of thought also helps explain Dallas’ interest in Kendrick Ellis.  He’s 333 lbs.  He can play the 5-technique.  He can chase.  On passing downs, you could slant him over the center, letting Ratliff play the 3-technique over the opposite guard, certain to get one-on-one blocking because the center cannot slide over to help.

The are the objectives for a Rob Ryan defense, which has daddy Buddy’s Bear sets and the slant nose, what the Ryans call and Over-Ed front.  Both looks keep Ratliff over a center or a guard, and both have the added virtue of isolating Ratliff, so he can crack pockets inside.

It’s a different way of thinking about line play.  How much has Dallas embraced it?   If you match this philosophy up with players visiting Valley Ranch this past week, it seems the Cowboys are rather warm to the approach.


Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for