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All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part I: Defensive Line

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All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part I: Defensive Line

By Vince Grey

I thought since it was kind of a dead period between actual football and the draft, I’d have some fun creating my version of the all-time Dallas Cowboys team.  After some consideration, I decided to do it as a 53-man roster and coaching staff, as if I were building the team to compete this upcoming season in the NFL.

A couple of notes. . .First, I took some “artistic license” as it were, in order to include players from the distant past.  Obviously, an All-Pro 260 pound offensive tackle from the 60s, large for that time, would be 50-70 pounds light by today’s standards.  I went with the assumption that had that same player been of this era, with better training and diet, he would have added size/speed to equate to this era’s players.  Also, I decided to only include a player at his level of play during the time he was with the Cowboys. For example, Herb Adderley was a HoF defensive back for the Packers, but only played for the Cowboys at the tail end of his career.  He couldn’t make my team because he wasn’t “All-Pro Herb” with us.  Got it?  Good.

And one last thing. . .I’m very much a 4-3 guy, but even if I wasn’t, all the great Dallas Cowboy teams have played a 4-3 defense, so that’s what I’m going with here.

  • DEFENSIVE LINE (Eight players)

This is one of the deepest and most talented areas of the Cowboys since their inception.  Even if someone wanted to play a 3-4 by design, they’d be insane to do so with such a great and deep talent pool of defensive linemen.

First-team

Bob Lilly, Randy White, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Charles Haley

Second-team

Jay Ratliff, Russell Maryland, Demarcus Ware, Harvey Martin

  • Starting DTs

As far as the starting defensive tackles go, the choices are stupid easy.  A couple of no question Hall of Fame players, both great against the run and the pass.  Not much to add here, other than I might give Lilly the slight edge as a run defender and White the slight edge as a pass-rusher.

There’s a considerable drop-off in talent when looking at the backups defensive tackles, but that’s really due to the level of talent from the starters than the poor quality of the reserves, who ain’t bums by any stretch.

Russell Maryland wasn’t much of a pass-rusher inside, but was rock solid as a run defender, and made one Pro Bowl.

Jay Ratliff will play defensive tackle in my 4-3 scheme.  He’s a multi-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All-Pro.  He’s cat-quick 300-pounder with excellent inside pass rush skills and a solid run defender.

  • The DEs

Defensive end wasn’t nearly as easy as defensive tackle.  You have four quality guys who all deserve starting spots:  Haley and Jones (listed), along with Martin and Ware.

So, how did I choose?  I went with “Too Tall” at one end spot because in a 4-3, you need at least one end who plays the run first, at least on first down, and guards against draws and screens.  With White/Lilly inside, no one’s running up the middle much on this team, so that leaves sweeps and other off-tackle plays.  Jones was an outstanding run defender who used his height and long arms to ward off blockers and reach out to grab runners.  He was also underrated as a pass -usher.  No, he wasn’t a sack guy, but Ed knocked down or deflected a ton a pass attempts.  There’s also no telling how many passes the opposing quarterbacks threw off-target, or never attempted, because the 6’ 9” Jones was in his face.

It’s easy to say I chose Haley to start because of his three Super Bowl rings (remember, I only count what a player did for Dallas), but it’s a little more complicated than that.  Harvey Martin, during his prime years in the mid-70s, was a more dominant pass rusher than either Haley or Ware.  The man was a true quarterback killer, one season (1977) recording an incredible 20 sacks.  And recall, this was at the height of the so-called “dead ball” era, when teams didn’t have anywhere near as many pass attempts per game as they do now.  Less pass attempts, fewer chances for sacks.

However, Harvey was never close to that dominant again.  Once the rules were changed in 1978 to help the offensive line, his sack totals began to drop dramatically.  To keep his sack totals in the double-digit range, Martin had to focus more and more on that aspect of his game, and his run defense suffered for it.  He was still a fine pass-rushing end, but no longer a dominant force.

Since I’m building this team to compete under today’s rules, I feel I have to move Harvey back a notch from starter to second string, but that’s no knock on Martin.  Not bad, having a four-time All-Pro as a backup, huh?

So it came down to Ware versus Haley for a starting position.  Right off the bat, I can tell you I’m hesitant to name a guy still playing as a member of my All-Time team.  Still, there are a couple of notable exceptions and Ware is certainly one of them. I know he’s an outside linebacker in our scheme, but I think the guy could play the rush end spot in a 4-3 with absolutely no drop-off.  If I don’t consider the difference in championships (3-0), this call isn’t so cut and dry.

Ware’s per season sack totals are superior to what Haley put up during his time as a Cowboy, and Ware hasn’t had the advantage of playing with the same level of team that Haley often did.  That said, I break this down to my “eyeball” test, and for those of you who didn’t see Haley during the three -out-of-four Super Bowl run, I can tell you that Charles was a more consistently dominant end than Ware, despite the sack differential.  The main difference between the two was that Haley seemed to always be around the quarterback, pushing and harassing.  Even when he didn’t get the sack, his presence was definitely felt.

DeMarcus, on the other hand, has long periods of time where he’s not a factor much at all.  Ware gets his sacks and pressures, but he’s not the consistent force (yet) that Haley was.  To be fair, that could well be because of Haley’s superior teammates, but then I also have to consider Haley’s rings.  They are a factor, just not the factor.

Haley gets the nod as starter.

There’s an interesting little tidbit about pass-rushers Ware, Martin, and Haley:  Despite playing decades apart, they’re all virtually the same size.  All three stand 6’ 4” or 6’ 5” and weigh about 250 pounds. It doesn’t really mean anything I suppose, as great pass-rushers come in all shapes and sizes, but still intriguing.

  • The Rest

Well, that’s it for the defensive line.  What an awesome group.  Two current Hall of Fame players, along with one who will be there soon (Haley), and another who possibly should be there (Martin had 114 sacks. If Richard Dent is a HoFer, then Martin is too).  I can’t think of another franchise whose all-time defensive line group could compare to this one.  Maybe the Rams, with Decon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Andy Robustelli and Jack Youngblood, but I can’t see them matching our depth after that.

Defensive end was so incredibly deep.  I mean, I had no room for George Andrie, a five-time Pro Bowler with the Cowboys in the 60s. Andrie was no runt.  He was 6’6” and would likely be around 300 pounds if he played today.  Then there was Jim Jeffcoat.  Excellent player for many years.  At defensive tackle, there’s rock steady Jethro Pugh, or even underrated John Dutton.  Heck, even though he was kind of an idiot and definitely a pothead, you could add Leon Lett in there as well.  The man made a lot of big plays for Dallas during his time there.  Any of these players would be worthy of a slot (and would certainly take one on a lot of other squads).

NEXT: Linebacker

———————————————-

Note from JB. . .

I won’t get too in-depth with my selections as Vince has already gone into great detail regarding many of the great Cowboys defensive linemen of all-time, but I wanted to put forth my first and second-teams as well.

First-Team

Bob Lilly, Randy White, DeMarcus Ware, Too Tall Jones

Second-Team

Jay Ratliff, Leon Lett, Jim Jeffcoat, Greg Ellis

Here’s an interesting note: of all the great Cowboys pass-rushers of all-time, only 11 have recorded 20+ sacks in Dallas.  Of course the NFL didn’t keep track of sacks when guys like Bob Lilly played, but still a bit strange.

And do you know which player leads that entire list?  Jim Jeffcoat, with 94.5 sacks.  He was an extremely underrated player.  He still has 354 more career tackles than Ware.

I know Greg Ellis’ presence on my list will surprise some people, but he is third all-time in sacks for Dallas and was really out of position at the end of his career in the team’s 3-4 defense.  Charles Haley was undoubtedly a more dominating player, but he wasn’t in Big D long enough for me to rank him ahead of Ellis as a Cowboy.

Plus, we all know I’m new-school.

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11 Responses to All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part I: Defensive Line

  1. Vince_Grey says:

    JB, Interesting group, but again, my criteria for this was the idea that I was building a team to compete in the NFL for the next 3-5 years. “Drafting” as it were, players from the Cowboy’s all time rosters.

    With that in mind, I just cannot see leaving Haley and Martin off your list or anyone elses. Both were dominant, All Pro level players, while Ellis and Jeffcoat both fall under the “good players who played a long time” category.

    All that said, I should at least mentioned Greg Ellis. He was good enough for that. The man just totally slipped past me.

  2. Vince–Point taken…if I were truly drafting players to play, they’d be almost all current guys. With your criteria for judging players in their own era (which I think is good), however, the choices certainly change.

  3. Kevin Keithley says:

    What, no mention of DE George Andrie? Entire 11 year career with the Cowboys 5 time Pro Bowl .The NFL didn’t start recognizing quarterback sacks as an official stat until 1982; however, the Cowboys have their own records, dating back before the 1982 season. According to the Cowboys’ stats, Andrie is unofficially credited with a total of 97 sacks,[1] leading the Cowboys in sacks each year from 1964 to 1967, with a high total of 18.5 sacks in 1966.[2] Andrie also had eight straight games with a sack from 1966–1967, making it the fourth longest such streak in club history. He ranks fourth on the team’s all-time sack leaders list..

  4. Vince_Grey says:

    Kevin – Actually, I did mention Andrie, and even talked about how good he was, even though he was really before my time. That said, I can’t see him being picked over the 4 DE’s I selected. Part of my criteria was championships and post season awards, which I rate, in order, 1st team All Pro, 2nd team All Pro, then Pro Bowl. George has 1 SB ring, but he was All Pro only once. That rates him a shade below the other 4 DE’s IMO.

  5. Vince_Grey says:

    JB – Obviously, you’d choose today’s players because of the size/speed difference, but I covered that with the idea of the older guys being of this era via artistic license, ie, “use your imagination”.

    Had Lilly been born 40 years later (`39 – `79) I can’t believe he wouldn’t play now at around 300 pounds rather than the 260 he did play at back then, plus being quicker, faster, and much, much stronger.

    I do understand about the difference in actually seeing these guys play in person. I was a teen of the 70′s, so those 60′s players are really before my time. With them, I’m having to go by what I’ve read and heard about them. No big deal with a HoFer like Lilly, but it probably will hurt some others.

  6. Kevin Keithley says:

    My bad Vince. My comment was directed at JB. Andrie would be my pick over Ellis

  7. Kevin–Andrie was an option, but only because of what I’ve heard. I’ve honestly never seen the guy play, so it’s kind of difficult to judge him. I’m not even 30 haha

  8. Kevin Keithley says:

    He played with Lilly. I”m assuming you didn’t see Lilly either, yet you included him. Andrie made the ProBowl 5 times, Ellis made it once and that was as a Linebacker. Andrie was a !st Team All Pro – Ellis never. Andrie (unofficial) sack total 97. Ellis had 84, but 29 of those came as a LB.

  9. Pingback: All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part II: Linebackers | Dallas Cowboys Times

  10. Kevin–I’ve at least seen plenty of Lilly’s highlights. I can honestly say I haven’t seen anything from Andrie. I’m exposing my youth.

  11. Pingback: All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part III: Cornerbacks | Dallas Cowboys Times

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