The Dallas Cowboys dominant win last Sunday against the rival New York Giants included a seemingly improved pass rush. Considered the team's biggest weakness for the last several seasons, pass rushing was a focal point of the Cowboys offseason and will be heavily scrutinized throughout 2017.
Like most of you, I was elated to see the Cowboys take Eli Manning to the ground three times in last Sunday's game. I was especially thrilled to see those sacks come from DeMarcus Lawrence and Charles Tapper, two guys who joined the team with a lot of hype and have been held back by health issues.
Three sacks is a great number. If the Cowboys can average three sacks per game then that would give them 48 total for the year. The Arizona Cardinals defense led the NFL in 2016 with 48 sacks. With guys like David Irving and Damontre Moore not even in the mix yet due to suspension, there's certainly reason for optimism about what this year's defense might be able to accomplish.
However, as is generally the case in all life, optimism needs to be tempered. I'm not trying to be Debbie Downer with the rest of this article, just Reggie Reality.
Last year, the Cowboys had some three-sack games. Heck, they even had a few games with four sacks. You might be surprised to know that the Dallas defense actually finished 13th overall in the league with 36 sacks.
Sometimes we can overrate weakness based on a team's comparative strengths. Remember, this Cowboys team went 13-3 (and Week 17 was a giveaway). To say that the pass rush was its biggest weakness is accurate, but that's like saying Jason Bourne's biggest weakness is his memory. The total package is still pretty darn lethal.
That said, there's no denying that the Cowboys were vulnerable through the air. They finished 2016 ranked 26th in yards allowed (4,167) and 24th in opponents passer rating (94.1). Some of that is scheme-based; Rod Marinelli allows teams to chew up yards but then tries to choke them out in the redzone. Dallas was near the top of the league in denying opponent touchdowns.
If the Cowboys are really going to change the narrative about their pass rush then it's going to take a lot more. Last year they had four games in which the team only had one sack and two games with none. That's almost a third of your season with only four sacks; you won't move up the NFL leaderboard with those numbers. The production has to stay more consistent, and obviously we can't know that after just one game.
A big part of making that happen is for one or two individual players to take the lead. You've never heard of a great pass rush that didn't have at least one key player at the forefront, usually a guy with at least 10 sacks or more. "Spreading the wealth" doesn't work; there needs to be a guy who commands the focus of the blockers and opens up things for teammates. This is especially critical in those clutch moments when one play can swing a game.
If you really want to get excited about what happened Sunday, DeMarcus Lawrence could be your focus. Credited with two sacks against the Giants, Lawrence did something in Week 1 that only one Cowboy did all of last season. Only Maliek Collins had a game with two or more sacks; Week 9 against the Cleveland Browns. The most any other Cowboy had in a single game was 1.5 sacks, which happened a few times.
As I've written about more than once, DeMarcus Lawrence has the potential to be a catalytic player on this defense. He showed that in 2015 with a late-season tear that produced seven sacks in the final eight games. Unfortunately, that same guy didn't show up in 2016 due to a four-game suspension and nagging injuries.
If Lawrence can finally live up to his potential then the Cowboys will have something they haven't had since another DeMarcus played here. For several seasons, Dallas has been trying to produce sacks without that one guy who demands extra attention. That is a tough way to make a living in the NFL, which is made clear by our repetitive complaints about the team's pass rush.
A breakout season for DeMarcus Lawrence would do wonders for the entire defensive front. Now couple that with David Irving's potential when he comes back in Week 5, second-year development from Maliek Collins, new weapons like Charles Tapper and Damontre Moore.....
Yes, there's reason to be excited. This Cowboys pass rush may finally stop being a weakness. But one week against an awful offensive line is too soon to know. A larger sample is needed, and we'll get another case study this Sunday in Denver.
Free Agent WR Allen Hurns Plans to Sign With Cowboys
It looks as if the Dallas Cowboys will be adding yet another wide receiver through free agency. According to sources, Allen Hurns plans on signing with the Cowboys.
WR Allen Hurns just told me, "I'm going to sign with Dallas." #Cowboys
This is a move that seemed unlikely after the Cowboys signed Deonte Thompson a few days ago, but I know a lot of Cowboys Nation will be excited about this transaction.
While this move is exciting, it does create more confusion for the Cowboys and their wide receivers. It's difficult to imagine all of these WRs sticking to the roster, which means there will be some tough decisions that need to be made.
What will the Cowboys do with Dez Bryant?
Will Cole Beasley be cut or traded?
Are the Cowboys comfortable absorbing Terrance Williams' cap hit if traded or released?
Will this keep the Cowboys from drafting a WR early?
All of these questions and more will have to be answered eventually. But, one thing is for sure, things are definitely about to get interesting.
Of course, there is a bonus here for the Dallas Cowboys. Since Allen Hurns was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he doesn't count against the Cowboys compensatory picks next season.
Please stay tuned and we will continue to keep you updated on contract details and any other news involving Allen Hurns as it becomes available.
What do you think about the Allen Hurns signing?
What Signing Thompson Means for Hurns and Cowboys WR Position
UPDATE: News of Hurns saying he will sign with the Cowboys broke as this article went live.
Free Agency began a bit late for the Dallas Cowboys, but they've already done enough to get fans discussing about the latest additions to the roster. Adding help on offense, defense and special teams in form of tier-2 free agents may not be what Cowboys Nation wants to see, but I'm certain they wouldn't have enjoyed giving Sammy Watkins a three-year $48M contract, either.
However, the Cowboys are clearly in the wide receiver market after an offensively disappointing season. They have quite a few of this year's class of wide receivers prospects scheduled to visit Dallas, and they've hosted some WR free agents as well.
This week, they even signed one.
Deonte Thompson, who started seven games for the Bills last year, is coming to Dallas on a one-year $2.5M contract. The 29-year old could be the burner receiver this offense is missing and could end up being an improved version of Brice Butler for the Cowboys in 2018.
He hasn't had a great career but last season was his best year so far. Starting three games for the Bears and seven for the Bills, Thompson was able to rack up a career-high 555 yards and two touchdowns.
His best attribute as a player is definitely the speed he brings to the table and his ability to separate down the field, which he'll be looking to do on Dak Prescott's offense this season.
But there was another wide receiver visiting Dallas this week and now we wonder whether or not the Deonte Thompson signing will keep the Cowboys from targeting former Jaguars' WR Allen Hurns.
According to Todd Archer, that won't be the case.
Told the signing of Deonte Thompson does not close the door on the Cowboys' interest in Allen Hurns, who visited the team Wednesday and had dinner. Things could get interesting in the Cowboys' wide receivers' room. https://t.co/Ivt5uk9kBN
It shouldn't be. First of all, Hurns is a much better player than Thompson and would provide this offense with a receiver who can play in the "X" or in the "Z" role. We've been talking about getting Prescott a reliable target to try to give him a "best friend." Allen Hurns could be just that.
Sure, he's had a couple of down seasons, but the talent is there to take.
Simply put, the Deonte Thompson signing shouldn't stop the Cowboys from looking at WR in the first round of the NFL Draft. Allen Hurns would.
It sure would make things interesting in the wide receiver room for Dallas. Despite what many believe, Dez Bryant will probably remain a Cowboy even if Hurns is signed. Let's say the Cowboys go out there and get the 26-year old from Jacksonville and have to decide which six receivers to keep for the season.
They'd possibly have to decide among these:
- Dez Bryant
- Terrrance Williams
- Cole Beasley
- Ryan Switzer
- Allen Hurns
- Deonte Thompson
- Noah Brown
- A drafted rookie?
This is where a lot of dilemmas start taking form. Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer are basically the same player and if you're not going to use them both at the same time, do you keep them anyway? What about Terrance Williams? He could be the worst receiver to make the cut just because of his contract.
Noah Brown showed promise in 2017, are they ready to move on from him? And finally, a rookie could very well end up beating Deonte Thompson, who was guaranteed a million in his contract.
Wide receiver is indeed one of the top needs for the Dallas Cowboys. They could head to the 2018 NFL Draft needing one in the top rounds or they could be fine signing Hurns and taking a late-rounder receiver to compete in training camp for a spot on the roster.
As long as they're having a tough time deciding because they are all good, it should be fine.
Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
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