If not for Tony Romo, this week's return of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence would be the most-anticipated debut of the season. He was arguably the team's second-best defensive player last season, behind Sean Lee, and will be bringing his talent to it's most beleaguered position.
The question is just how much Lawrence can help this anemic Cowboys pass rush. Can he really make enough of a difference?
After four weeks, Dallas' defense is near the bottom of the league with just six sacks. Only five teams have less. For comparison, the top-ranked Broncos defense has produced 17 sacks. Most other teams have at least nine or more sacks this year.
Last season, DeMarcus Lawrence had eight sacks in 16 games. That's certainly not a huge number, but you have to dig deeper.
Of those sacks, seven came in the last eight games of 2015. Still just a second-year player, Lawrence's "light bulb" seemed to come on during that season-closing stretch. He would have had 14 sacks if that same production had applied the entire year.
Coming off a suspension instead of an injury, Lawrence should be able to hit the ground running. He's been able to work out with the team and got to participate fully in the team's offseason program, training camp, and preseason.
Even if there's a touch of rust from a month without practices or games, Lawrence's talent far outweighs any of the Cowboys other defensive ends. He will certainly be an upgrade.
However, will that be enough to make the pass rush effective?
Last year, despite having DeMarcus Lawrence and Greg Hardy, Dallas was still near the bottom of the league in total sacks. Hardy's production fizzled as Lawrence emerged, leaving the team still relatively ineffective.
What's more, Lawrence will likely be playing from a new position. Last year he was the "strong side" defensive end, going against other team's right tackles. Now he will probably be playing on the other side of the line and facing the left tackles, often the far better pass blockers.
This isn't to say that there's no reason for hope. Lawrence's return could be the catalyst for improvement across the line. The Cowboys will be hoping in the following:
- Tyrone Crawford's move to the LDE will prove to be the right fit. He has two sacks this year already playing from the left edge.
- Lawrence's presence on the outside will create more opportunities for Maliek Collins, Terrell McClain, and Cedric Thornton to disrupt the pocket from the middle.
- If Lawrence can draw some double teams, blitzers could find clear paths to the quarterback.
- Guys like Jack Crawford, David Irving, and Benson Mayowa can be more effective as part of a rotation than with heavy responsibility.
Even without pressure on quarterbacks, Dallas' secondary has been performing better in 2016 than in the last few season. Any semblance of a pass rush could lead to more turnover opportunities; more of the ripple effect.
Obviously, nobody expects that DeMarcus Lawrence is going to suddenly turn this defense into the '85 Bears. However, the Cowboys have managed to get to 3-1 despite their pass rushing woes. If Lawrence can bring any kind of consistent improvement to the pass rush, it could be enough to counter the improved offenses that Dallas will face as the season goes on.
Lawrence and the Cowboys will be tested over the next two weeks. The Bengals' Andy Dalton is steady and efficient, with the potential for big numbers thanks to A.J. Green. It's probably the best offense Dallas has faced all season.
The following week, Dallas will head to Lambeau for Aaron Rodgers. In their 2014 playoff matchup, the Cowboys' inability to get to Rodgers was the real reason they lost that game. He should be much healthier this time around than he was then.
When Dallas goes into their bye week after that Green Bay game, we'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect the reason of the season from the defense. Hopefully, Lawrence is ready to play to his full potential.
Otherwise, 3-1 could turn into 3-3 pretty darn fast.
Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal
At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.
The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.
Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.
Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.
A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.
Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.
Cowboys Trade for FB Jamize Olawale from Raiders
Less than a week after the Cowboys lost fullback Keith Smith to the Raiders in free agency, the two teams have worked out a trade to send FB Jamize Olawale from Oakland to Dallas.
Fullback trade! The #Raiders are sending FB Jamize Olawale to the #Cowboys, sources say. Dallas has its fullback, one who was with Oakland since 2012.
To facilitate the trade, the Cowboys will send their fifth-round pick (173rd overall) to the Raiders for their sixth-round pick (192nd), moving back just 19 spots.
In return, Dallas not only brings in a veteran replacement at FB but a player they already know.
Jamize Olawale was an undrafted rookie free agent of the Cowboys in 2012. Despite a strong showing in that preseason, Dallas did not have room for him on the roster. He was on the team's practice squad until December, when Oakland poached him.
Since then, Olawale has been a regular roleplayer in the Raiders' offense. He's missed just six games since 2013.
Jamize brings more offensive firepower to the FB position than Keith Smith had. He's scored at least one touchdown in each of the last three seasons. He can be effective both running and receiving.
Through the trade, Dallas picks up the final year of Olawale's current contract. It calls for a $1.5 million base salary in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys to Re-Sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for 2018
Continuity is the key to good special teams play in the NFL. Already losing long-time Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia to the Raiders - who promptly snatched ST aces Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber in free agency - the Dallas Cowboys have announced their intentions to re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur for the 2018 season.
Returning on a one-year deal, the fan favorite Ladouceur will be back to do what he does best in cleanly executing almost every special teams snap for Chris Jones or Dan Bailey to handle.
Long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will re-sign with the Cowboys on Monday, according to sources, on a one-year deal. He will be in his 14th season with the franchise. Only Jason Witten, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei will have more years of... https://t.co/yTQbMYyrIv
While Jones has improved as the Cowboys' punter with each passing season, Kicker Dan Bailey actually enters 2018 as another question mark on this unit. With the general belief around the team being that Bailey will be just fine moving forward, the Cowboys will no longer have to worry about who handles long snaps next year either.
L.P. Ladouceur is back in the silver and blue, and in this moment, everything can be alright with the world.
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