For the second straight season, the Cowboys have a new “starter” at the 3T DT position. After Maliek Collins’ dominant play as a rookie forced veteran Tyrone Crawford out to DE, Collins now finds himself transitioning to the 1T spot as David Irving wrecks games at DT alongside him.
The 3T position is the most important spot in Rod Marinelli’s defense, and Maliek Collins was projected to have a very productive season there in 2017. Stephen Paea’s retirement and Brian Price’s season ending injury have caused a need for bodies at the 1T position though – where Collins has filled in admirably with his unique skill set.
In this edition of Sean’s Scout, we will take a closer look at how Collins has performed in this new role, and what it means for the rest of the Dallas Cowboys defense.
The primary role of the 1T DT is to hold the line of scrimmage, eat up blockers, and stuff lanes in the running game. More athletic than most playing the position around the league, Collins has found ways to work up field as he would playing the three while still being an effective one technique.
On this first play, Collins’ initial push with leverage against the center causes the right guard to hesitate coming over to block Sean Lee. This disruption also allows David Irving to scrape his way to the running back, getting in on the tackle with Lee as Jeff Heath also came down to play the rush lane well.
I wrote in my Monday morning Sean’s Scout that the Cowboys’ defensive tackles deserve a ton of credit for the overall play of this front seven, as they’re ability to control the game inside and generate push has led to not only stellar defensive line play but great play behind them at linebacker too.
When studying this game against the Chiefs, there was such a noticeable difference between any DL pairings that featured the duo of David Irving and Maliek Collins inside compared to the snaps that Richard Ash or Price got there.
For his size and frame, Collins has the rare ability to win with his hands in tight and free himself to rush the quarterback. These strong and quick hands have also helped him hold the point of attack at his new 1T spot.
Maliek Collins’ most polished rush move is his swim or counter. Opposing linemen trying to block Collins are well aware of this counter move that often frees Collins up to dip and pressure the quarterback in his face, making it even easier for Maliek to steer blockers and free up other defenders with it as well.
On this play, the Chiefs actually do a pretty good job handling the inside twist game from Collins and Irving, as they get Irving up the field on this delayed give to Kareem Hunt. As Hunt avoids Tyrone Crawford flying down the line from the RDE spot, he is forced to cut right into the face of Sean Lee due to Collins recovering nicely and using his pad level to push the guard back.
Collins’ pad level also stood out on film, as there were several plays where he was able to either work under his blocker and play with his hands above his eyes or keep them away with his hands and use his lower body strength to anchor.
This last play I’ll show is a fantastic example of everything that is going right for the Dallas defense right now. Collins being able to play the 1T has not only allowed Irving to thrive at 3T with DeMarcus Lawrence doing his thing at LDE, but it has surprisingly put Tyrone Crawford in a position that suits him well at RDE.
As is, this defensive front is imposing against the run, and plays like the one above show off why. Off the snap, the only player on the Cowboys’ front that doesn’t end up being blocked by two Chiefs is DeMarcus Lawrence. Lined up in one of his tighter 1T stances, Collins bursts into the block of both the center and guard to free up Lawrence on the inside move.
Lawrence doesn’t make the stop in the backfield, but his pursuit of Hunt allows Sean Lee (who else?) to once again make the stop.
The best thing the Cowboys have going for them in the front seven right now is their strength in numbers. With enough bodies to keep this front line fresh, Irving and Collins playing inside cohesively has meant so much to this team. Some players in Collins’ position would be displeased when asked to come off of the 3T spot, where sacks and tangible stats can be had, to play the less “glamorous” 1T position. Seeing Lawrence, Irving, and Crawford make plays thanks to his efforts is all Collins needs though, as this Cowboys defense should only improve up front the more these defensive tackles work together to blow up game plans they way they did against the Chiefs.