Dallas Cowboys: Sione Pouha

Cowboys position series: Defensive line

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
11:00
PM ET
This is the seventh installment of our 12-part series breaking down the Cowboys roster. Today we look at the defensive line.

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Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJason Hatcher (4.5) and Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff (2.0) had the lion's share of the 10.5 sacks compiled by the Cowboys' defensive line last season.
Players: NT Jay Ratliff (signed through 2017), DE Jason Hatcher (signed through 2013), DE Marcus Spears (signed through 2014), DE Kenyon Coleman (signed through 2012), NT/DE Sean Lissemore (signed through 2013), NT Josh Brent (signed through 2013), DE Clifton Geathers (exclusive rights free agent), NT/DE Robert Callaway (signed futures contract)

Top free agents: DE Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals; DE Mario Williams, Houston Texans; NT Sione Pouha, New York Jets; DE Jason Jones, Tennessee Titans; DE Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions.

Top draft prospects: DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina; DT/DE Michael Brockers, LSU; NT Brandon Thompson, Clemson; NT Jerel Worthy, Michigan State; DT Devon Still, Penn State.

2011 review: The defensive line performed respectably against the run for the most part. However, it left a lot to be desired in the pass-rushing department. The Cowboys’ defensive line combined for only 10.5 sacks, led by Hatcher (4.5). Ratliff made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance despite his sacks total declining for the fourth consecutive year. He finished the season with two sacks, tied with reserve Lissemore for second among the team’s defensive linemen. Coleman and Spears were solid against the run but nonfactors against the pass, which is particularly a problem with a secondary as vulnerable as the Cowboys'.

Offseason preview: The Cowboys need more playmaking at this position. Maybe they get that by moving Ratliff to defensive end, a subject that gets discussed every offseason but has not been seriously considered since he established himself as the starting nose tackle. Coples and Brockers, the best 3-4 defensive end prospects in the draft, are likely to be gone by the time the Cowboys get on the clock with the 14th overall pick. Arizona’s Campbell, who dominated Doug Free when the Cowboys played the Cardinals this season, would be a major upgrade in free agency. However, there’s a decent chance that the Cardinals will use the franchise tag to prevent one of the NFL’s best 3-4 ends from testing the open market this offseason.

Bryan Broaddus' Scout's Eye: When the Cowboys played well on defense last season it was usually because the defensive line was handling the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. When things were going badly, I could usually tell on tape it was because the line wasn't getting off blocks and struggling with the pressure. The biggest problem I had with the line was at defensive end. The team lost Stephen Bowen to the Redskins and in my view, that was a tough blow for the defense. The club brought back Spears and Hatcher but also signed Coleman. Hatcher moved into Bowen's role with Spears and Coleman as the starters. As the season wore on, Coleman wore down and his play hurt the defense. Spears was up and down as well. Where there is a need of an upgrade would be at end. I am a big fan of Lissemore and I would not be surprised to see him in the starting lineup next season for Coleman or at nose if Ratliff shifts to end. Speaking of nose, Ratliff made the Pro Bowl which surprised me. I like Ratliff and respect the way he played, but there were times where he was clearly better than the centers that he was playing against and he didnt always take advantage of the matchup. Ratliff doesn't always face double teams. Where Ratliff struggles the most is when he gets wore down. That's why guys like Brent and Lissemore are key to keeping him as fresh as possible. I like the nose men on this team but the front office needs to find some upgrades at end to give the defense a chance.

Need meter (0-5): 3

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Jets review

September, 13, 2011
9/13/11
10:12
AM ET
My thoughts from the Cowboys’ loss to the Jets:

Scout's Eye

Defense


Coordinator Rob Ryan had his defense ready to play, and he did an outstanding job of mixing his coverages and fronts. When Ryan took this job, the one thing he told us that he was going to find ways to put his players in positions to make plays. He did just that against the Jets.

Ryan used slot and linebacker blitzes. He used three-man lines. He played safeties on the outside in coverage. He brought pressure from the edge and used “gut” blitzes to put pressure in Mark Sanchez’s face.

It was the first time where it appeared that the timing and the execution of the blitzes were in sync, whereas in the pre season, the linebackers looked confused when to rush and from what angle they were to attack.

Ryan did a great job of attacking the Jets’ pocket. He never allowed Jets QB Mark Sanchez to feel comfortable with his reads or getting rid of the ball. There were no easy throws for Sanchez to make.

The communication in the secondary was outstanding as well. There was only one time where it appeared that there were some problems. Gerald Sensabaugh was trying to get Bryan McCann to move from his corner spot to the free safety at pre-snap, but in the direction, Sensabaugh lost track of Santonio Holmes in coverage and Sanchez was able to hit him on the move for a big play.

The Jets are not a pass-heavy team but for some reason their offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer felt that he needed to try to allow Sanchez to make plays with the ball in his hand. To Ryan’s credit, he was able to still function as a defense with a banged-up secondary and the level of play did not drop off that badly.

It appeared that Ryan and his staff made the most head way from the preseason in how the front seven played in the running game. There were too many times against the Broncos, Chargers or Vikings where there was a struggle to get off blocks and make plays in the running game. In this two-gap scheme, it is about playing with your hands and shedding blockers.

The Jets have run the ball well in the past, but in studying them, I really wasn’t that impressed with how they did it scheme wise. I was expecting an offensive line that came off the ball and really hammered you. That was not the case at all in this game. The front seven for the Cowboys did an outstanding job of playing on the Jets side of the line.
Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears, Kenyon Coleman, Josh Brent and Jay Ratliff didn’t struggle to get off blocks.

Sean Lee has always been mobile and at times even too aggressive, but he was able to read quickly and move to fill the gaps. Lee looked like a different player than what I saw in the preseason. He played with confidence, awareness and with a physical tempo.

The key for Lee going forward is to build on this type of game like he had against the Jets. He can’t have a great game one week then miss tackles or play out of position the next. We have seen this before with Lee in that he appeared to turn the corner against the Colts last season only to struggle in other games.

Has the fact that he has been named the starter helped him relax and focus on the job ahead, making him think less and just go out and play? Against the Jets, Lee looked like a player that just cut it loose and the result was one of the best games of his young career.

Offense


There were plenty of questions how the Cowboys’ offensive line would hold up against this Jets defense on the road. I knew it was going to be difficult for them to run the ball because the Jets have a physical group inside at nose and three-technique tackle.

I thought the Cowboys would have some success if they were able to get the ball to the outside and to the edge. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas were outside linebackers that I thought might give up the edge against the run. Thomas was much better in the game against Jason Witten and John Phillips which hurt the Cowboys in the running game.

The Cowboys had success in the pre season running the ball in this scheme by securing the down guys then working linemen to the second level and handling the linebackers, giving Felix Jones the ability to press the hole then makes cuts from there.

Against the Jets, linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott were able to make plays at the point because they went unblocked. Harris and Scott were able to make plays running through because of the way that their defensive line was able to tie up blockers.

When the Cowboys tried to stretch, they had problems handling Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha, Muhammad Wilkerson and Ropati Pitoitua. These Jets defensive linemen are powerful players and to be honest, the Cowboys do not have power players.

The offensive lineman that struggled the worst for the Cowboys was Bill Nagy. I didn’t see a mental struggle for Nagy but more of a physical one, mainly in the running game. Nagy just doesn’t have the power to move his man off the spot. He can run with his man and work the edges, but to move his man will be a struggle for him. In pass protection, Nagy was able to work in front of his man, but there were times where he was rocked back. Remember that the guards are responsible for the depth of the pocket, so Nagy needs to be careful in how he sets and not getting pushed back into Tony Romo’s lap.

Special Teams


There are many that point to Romo’s fumble as the real turning point of the game, but the Cowboys were able to get the ball back the very next series without giving up any points to the Jets. I understand that Romo’s fumble did cost the Cowboys an opportunity to make it a two-score game, but to me, the blocked punt was the real turning point of this game because it allowed the Jets to get points without running an offensive play.

The Cowboys’ defense had been outstanding to that point and there was little doubt in my mind that if the Jets were going to have to drive the football on the Cowboys and score a touchdown, it was going to be difficult for them. The blocked punt gave them life and it was a horrible mistake by the Cowboys special teams.

Let me try to break down what happened on the play. It was fourth-and-22 on the Cowboys 40. With the team on their own side of the 50, it was a green light for Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff to go for the block. If the ball was on the other side of the 50, then he would have most likely opted for the return.

The Jets were in an alignment that the Cowboys had seen in the previous punt and were able to block with some success, so it wasn’t like Westhoff came up with something that the Cowboys had not seen. The Cowboys were in their protect right scheme with five blockers to the right of deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur. The Jets had six rushers to the Cowboys’ right side. On the back side of the protection, Victor Butler and Martin Rucker were left to handle the two Jets rushers to that side.

In this look, Ladouceur, Phillips and Jesse Holley were responsible for the three inside guys and Barry Church, Sean Lee and Alex Albright had the outside guys. At the snap, Church, Lee and Albright all worked to their right. Holley worked to his right as well, which left no one in the middle of the formation. Phillips took a step to his left to try to help Ladouceur. Again Albright was already moving right, thus creating a hole inside and a free run at Mat McBriar and the block.

This whole block is confusing because the Cowboys punt team had blocked the look correctly before, but this time a mental lapse at a key point in time of the game cost them six points.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Jets preview

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
3:00
PM ET
It’s never easy to open on the road in the NFL, and the league did the Cowboys no favors by sending them to New York to face a squad that has played in the AFC Championship game the last two seasons.

There is no doubt that the Jets are a talented team on both sides of the ball. Here are some things to watch this weekend:

Scout's Eye
*A big pressure point for the Cowboys offense this week against the Jets will be how guards Bill Nagy and Kyle Kosier along with center Phil Costa handle nose man Sione Pouha and tackle Mike DeVito. I know that Pouha and Devito are not household names, but when you study the games of both of these defensive linemen, you come away with a respect for what they mean to this defense.

Pouha is an active load in the middle at 325 pounds. He is a big man that plays very light on his feet. Pouha has tremendous upper body strength and can be difficult to move at the point of attack. It is surprising to watch a man of that size move down the line controlling offensive linemen, shedding blocks and making tackles.

DeVito lines up as a three technique on the outside shoulder of the guards and he can be disruptive in the way that he attacks his gap. Pouha is more about holding the point; Devito tries to create problems in the offense’s blocking scheme through penetration.

If Pouha and Devito have a weakness, it is that they don’t show outstanding technique as pass rushers. But the Cowboys have to be careful handling the push in the front of the pocket that the Jets’ interior duo can get.

Of the inside players for the Cowboys, Costa is more of a leverage player than Nagy, who will at times struggle with players that try to walk him straight back. With Kosier, there is less strength, but more smarts and technique than pure power.

In the running game, it will be the responsibility of Costa, Nagy and Kosier to secure the down guys first, then work up to the second level to handle linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott.

If there was a positive area about the Cowboys in the preseason, it was the club’s ability to run the football with Felix Jones in this scheme. The Cowboys should have a chance to run the ball in this game if they do not allow Pouha, DeVito and first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson to control the front because linebackers Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas on the edge will get tied up on blocks and don’t always hold up strength wise like they need to.

If the Cowboys can manage to control the middle of this Jets defense, the offensive game plan has a better chance to succeed both run and pass.

*Going into to this game against the Jets, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his staff will need to find a game plan that will limit the Jets in their ability to run the football.

During the preseason, the Cowboys did a poor job of handling the run and the way that the Jets are set up, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer likes to run the ball to set up other opportunities for easy throws in the passing game on boots and waggles. If the Cowboys can find a way to play ahead of the chains and force the Jets into passing the ball, it will play right into Ryan’s hands, allowing him to focus on bringing pressure.

If the Jets have to pass often, I look for Ryan to try and put a great deal of pressure on quarterback Mark Sanchez to see if he can force him into some mistakes or more importantly create some turnovers in this game. When watching Sanchez play, the first thing you notice is that he will throw the ball into coverage regardless of whether the receiver is open. Sanchez is going to make that throw because he has the faith that his receivers will come down with the ball.

Something I also noticed about Sanchez’s game is that he isn’t always accurate with his passes. I was surprised by the number of times his receivers were open but he made them work for the ball. These receivers do a great job of adjusting to the ball and bailing him out when the pass is not perfect or off target.

In studying Sanchez, I am sure that Ryan was preaching to his front seven to get their hands up when rushing because Sanchez has a tendency to get his passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. It was shocking to see the number of passes that were knocked down or tipped at the line.

Sanchez also doesn’t throw the ball down the field much. There are quarterbacks in this league that you study that are always trying to work the ball down the field. Sanchez isn’t one of those guys. I went back to check his numbers from last season and his yards per attempt were at 6.5, which was low for a team that made the playffs.

An area that I was impressed with of Sanchez as a quarterback was his ability to move in the pocket and avoid the rush. There were times where tackles D’Brickashaw Ferguson or Wayne Hunter would get beat to the edge and he would find a way to duck or dodge the rush and get rid of the ball.

If the Cowboys are going to have success defensively against the Jets, it’s going to have to be controlling the Jets running the football. If they are able to do that, it will set up opportunities for pressure in the passing game and force Sanchez into situations where he has had his struggles.

*One of the adjustments for the way in which the Jets play their defensive scheme is to take cornerback Darrelle Revis and put him on the opponent’s best receiver. The question in Cowboys staff meetings was who will Revis take in coverage, Miles Austin or Dez Bryant?

It will take the Cowboys a series or two to figure out what direction the Jets might go with Revis. The Jets love to play press man coverage, so look for the Cowboys to try and get them out of that coverage as quickly as possible.

One way to do this is to get into a bunch formation with three wide receivers and scatter at the snap, getting into their routes as quickly as possible. If the Jets try to play man coverage out of this look, it will cause them to potentially get confused or lose their men in coverage, creating an opportunity for a successful play.

The Cowboys know they can’t line up in regular formations and feel like they can throw the ball against this secondary. The Jets have three corners that can cover in man, so look for Jason Garrett to try and dictate when and how often they play it.


Memo to Jerry Jones: You don't pay age in today’s NFL. And you don’t pay players -- even good ones -- who are playing out of position.

No one would argue that Jay Ratliff has given the Cowboys more bang for their buck, since he signed a five-year, $20 million deal a few years ago.

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But that doesn’t mean he deserves a new deal -- not now anyway.

First, Jerry needs to see how Ratliff fits into Rob Ryan’s new defense and whether the scheme can make him more effective since he has two years remaining on his contract.

Ratliff is a 30-year-old undersized nose tackle in a scheme that has traditionally demanded the nose tackle be a 330-pound run-stuffer who commands a double team and allows the linebackers to make tackles.

The Cowboys have tried to compensate by aligning him to take advantage of his quickness, which often compromises the integrity of the defense.

Ratliff is probably better suited to be a 4-3 defensive tackle playing on the outside shoulder of the guard, where his quickness and agility would be a significant asset.

Think Warren Sapp or La’roi Glover.

As a nose tackle, Ratliff’s body takes a beating limiting his effectiveness.

We’re talking about a player on the field for 733 plays, who did not record a tackle for loss.

Not one.

Buffalo’s Kyle Williams, who just signed a six-year, $39 million extension with $17 million guaranteed, had 10 tackles for loss last season. So did Miami’s Paul Soliai.

Ratliff, a high-energy and high-character player, had 31 tackles last season for a unit that allowed the most points in franchise history.

The run defense starts with the nose tackle.

Former Texas star Casey Hampton, who’s listed at 325 pounds and weighs at least 40 pounds more, can’t be moved. He had only 20 tackles, but Pittsburgh allowed just 2.7 yards per carry.

At 325 pounds, the Jet’s Sione Pouha anchored a defensive line that allowed just 3.0 on carry.

Each of those teams were particularly good on first down run defense, which puts the offense into obvious passing situations.

Then, the defense has the advantage.

The Cowboys? They allowed 4.45 yards per carry and 5.24 per carry on first down.

Obviously, it’s not all Ratliff’s fault, but he certainly played a role in the Cowboys’ raggedy run defense.

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