The Dallas Cowboys knew they had to beat the Washington Redskins in order to keep a solid footing in the NFC East. Not only did they come out of the game victorious, but the defense really showed an ability to bounce back from giving up 51 points the week before.
Their was a certain focus and intensity the defense played with, and it showed up even more after losing DeMarcus Ware to a quad injury. Give credit to both Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli for a solid game plan, showing the fans that this defense is capable of playing well and keeping Robert Griffin III in check.
But while the Cowboys can take a lot of positives out of this performance, one aspect that is a little troublesome with 10 games left is the dangerously thin defensive line. Again, credit Marinelli with pushing this group to hustle and get off the ball, but the lack of depth is simply alarming.
At the beginning of the season, the group of Ware, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff would easily have been a top five unit. But injuries and reality both set in, and that foursome will not play together this season.
I'm not saying that Kyle Wilber, George Selvie, Nick Hayden, David Carter and Drake Nevis are not capable of being consistent performers, but they do not have a track record. And that is the alarming aspect of not having adequate depth. A lot of the success of this team will lie in their hands.
It's now obvious that the search for defensive linemen will rest in the hands of the pro personnel department for the immediate future, but it's never too late to start focusing on college prospects. You never know what Jerry Jones will do regarding draft philosophy, but it's time to address needs.
Let's look at some draft prospects the Cowboys need to have their eyeballs on right now.
The Cowboys need to prepare for the potential departures of both Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher in the not so distant future. That's just the reality of time, age, salary cap and injury, and that's why Anthony Johnson is the perfect fit for this team come draft time.
Johnson is a 6'3", 295 pound defensive tackle that is explosive, fast, quick off the ball and has a huge ceiling. He would be perfect in a 4-3 defensive scheme similar to what the Cowboys employ and could play throughout the interior of the line.
There is a lot to like about his game and a good example of that was his play in the recent Georgia game where he had an athletic interception. So far, he leads LSU with five tackles for loss to go along with two sacks.
But where he excels, and where that would benefit Dallas, is his ability to take on blockers, he's skilled, he knows how to attack offensive linemen, and he plays hard from snap to whistle. This would be an outstanding prospect to pair with Rod Marinelli.
The Cowboys need to address their defensive line and this is the place to start. The only downside I foresee is that this is a rising prospect that would force the Cowboys to move up and target.
Murphy is a 6'6", 260 pound player who plays with tremendous fundamental ability. What's intriguing about his game is that he shows good speed as an edge rusher but can also play outside linebacker. This would be an interesting target as someone to come in and learn from Ware.
Murphy comes off a 2012 campaign, in which he posted 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, and just continues to make plays with his power. In Stanford's win over the Washington Huskies, Murphy had a complete game recording six tackles, two of those for loss, and two sacks.
That is the type of player this team needs as they look ahead into 2014. In that same game Murphy also had a critical pass deflection that led to an interception on a threatening drive by the Huskies. His fit in this scheme (assuming the Cowboys still employ a 4-3) fits with the model of creating turnovers.
It's a win-win situation for both parties and the Cowboys would benefit greatly.
Keeping the run on defensive linemen, Stinson is a 6'4", 282 pound defensive end that plays in Alabama's vaunted defense. The Cowboys won't be able to select Jadeveon Clowney, so they need to focus on prospects throughout the draft's stages.
Stinson is versatile, he can play in a 3-4 or 4-3, but his attributes make him a nice fit on this defense. The key here, again, is the ability to make plays, the ability to penetrate the backfield and have sound fundamentals when tackling.
Last season, Stinson finished second on Alabama with over eight tackles for loss to go with three sacks. Not eye-popping statistics, but another prospect who fits the scheme. He could start to be part of a young core of depth and would be a nice early to mid-round prospect.
The key to Van Noy's game is based on instincts, reaction to the play and quickness. In that department, this is like having another Sean Lee on this team, and that is a definite good thing to the last drop. Van Noy decided to come back to BYU this season and that could benefit the Cowboys.
Dallas has shown an inability and a difficulty in dealing with covering running backs, and tight ends from the linebacker spot and Van Noy would certainly mitigate that deficiency. He is a 6'3", 235 pound linebacker that could use a little more mass on his frame, but that will come.
What you have here is a football player that brings it every play. He pursues plays in the same manner that Lee does, he's well-rounded and he brings intangibles and intelligence. Having a player like Van Noy available to the Cowboys would be hard to pass up.
It would also strengthen this defense in an area of weakness.
The more I watch PAC-12 football, the more I like watching Washington Huskies' defensive tackler Danny Shelton. He is a junior, but with stock rising, he would be hard pressed to pass up a chance at the draft. He is consistent in his approach, and he is physically very strong at 6'1" and 320 pounds.
He could be viewed as a classic old-school nose guard, but when you watch him play he does more than just stuff the run. He has some explosiveness off the ball, he's able to match his power with anybody and he creates penetration.
His best attribute is becoming disengaged from his blocks and stuffing the running lanes, but this is a player with room to grow, room to improve and he just does his job. At a time where Dallas finds themselves dangerously thin at defensive line, this is a player worth keeping an eye on.
By adding an element of size on the defensive line who can be strong at the point of attack, that will allow other people to make plays off the edges and while attacking the shoulders of the guards and center.