Though the offense had their worst performance of the entire season, the Cowboys defense rose to the occasion on Thursday night and had their best.
In particular, the Cowboys defensive line caused more havoc than they have all year long. This occurred in part because of how weak the Vikings offensive line is, of course, but Cowboys rushmen playing to their best ability also played a part.
For my money, DeMarcus Lawrence was the best defensive lineman for the Cowboys last Thursday. Even though he failed to record a sack, Lawrence had several successful rushes against Vikings tackle TJ Clemmings, and hit quarterback Sam Bradford multiple times.
Let’s take a look at the film to see where Lawrence was good, and where he was bad during the Cowboys win over Minnesota.
On the Vikings first offensive possession, DeMarcus Lawrence makes his presence felt immediately. Working on left tackle Clemmings, Lawrence breaks his hands quickly, and swims around him. This quick swim move keeps Clemmings off balance, and allows D-Law to get a hit on Bradford.
While Lawrence does execute a nice rush on this play, I think the hit has more to do with the ineptitude of Clemmings, who is leaning forward and gets next-to-no punch on DeMarcus.
On the very next play, Lawrence hits Clemmings with a spin move and wins once again. After setting the tackle up with the outside swim the play before, Lawrence comes back inside after faking outside, and gets by the tackle on a nice rush.
Unfortunately, Lawrence’s spin move is just a tad too slow, a problem which will rear its head again later in the game.
Side note: I hate cover 2.
On his 2nd quarterback hit of the evening, Lawrence once again shows the ability to break the tackle’s hands, and get around the edge to create pressure. What I really love about this rush is Lawrence’s bend around the corner.
Too often, his bend has been too awkward or nonexistent this year, but he shows good burst and bend on this rush, and delivers a solid hit on Bradford.
Clemmings leans, Lawrence wins: the story of week 13, 2016.
Say what you will about the competition, but DeMarcus sensing the deficiencies of his opponent and using those negatives against him is certainly a cause for enthusiasm over the young pass rusher.
He knew that Clemmings is bad with his hands, he knew that Clemmings has the tendency to lean forward and lacks a punch. He then used this knowledge to his advantage and developed a plan to win on each and every rush.
DeMarcus Lawrence rarely looked lost on plays, he took every step and made every move with a purpose. It is because of that, that he was able to create pressure and cause havoc in the Vikings backfield all game long.
Are you feeling good about his performance yet? Feeling like DeMarcus can carry this over into next week and get after Eli Manning? Okay, now let’s take a look at the bad from Thursday night.
Earlier I mentioned how Lawrence showed good burst and bend at times against the Vikings. This is not one of those times.
Lawrence tries to break Clemmings’ hands and get around the edge like he had multiple times during the game. This time, however, Clemmings stays patient and uses Lawrence’s momentum against him.
Lawrence is unable to bend around the edge, and gets shoved onto the ground and disposed of quickly.
Remember earlier I mentioned that Lawrence seemed sure on most of his rushes, which helped him win on multiple snaps?
Once again, this is not one of those times.
DeMarcus is slow out the gate, and then seems unsure of himself when trying a spin move on Clemmings. Once again staying patient and avoiding leaning too far ahead, Clemmings is able to force Lawrence into no-mans’ land.
Lawrence’s spin move needs some work, as was evident all game long, but his uncertainty from the snap of the ball is alarming on this play.
All in all, Lawrence played a pretty solid game. As I’ve said, though, the competition (or lack thereof) which he was facing certainly has to be considered when evaluating his play. The key for DeMarcus Lawrence, and the entire Cowboys defense, will be to string together a few of these solid performances, creating some momentum heading into the playoffs.