If you spend much time on social media looking around Cowboys’ fan groups or on Twitter, you might see someone say DeMarcus Lawrence isn’t playing well or isn’t worth the $105 million dollar contract he signed in the offseason. Those people would be wrong. They’re the same people that spent the last two years arguing that Lawrence didn’t deserve to be paid like a top-five edge player in the NFL.
Fans look at Lawrence’s sack and tackle for loss totals and come to the conclusion that he’s not playing well. However, if you spend a reasonable amount of time looking at his play or even some metrics that provide context to the first four games of the season, then you come to realize that Lawrence has not only been good, he’s been great.
His impact goes beyond the traditional box score or stat sheet. As much as I like stats and what they can imply, a singular statistic, like sacks, often leaves us without a complete picture of a player’s value, especially on defense. Lawrence is one of the most well-rounded edge players in the NFL, make no mistake. His impact isn’t always going to show up on the broadcast or in the box score, but his impact is felt, nonetheless.
Through the first four weeks of the season, there isn’t an edge player in the NFL that’s seen as many double teams as DeMarcus Lawrence.
Top five edge players in double team rate (ESPN metric using raw data from Next Gen Stats). pic.twitter.com/UI7fWWV8ck
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 2, 2019
Despite facing the number of double-teams he’s faced to this point in the 2019 season, Lawrence is still getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawrence leads the Dallas Cowboys with 15 total pressures. Sports Info Solutions has Lawrence at eighth in the NFL among defenders with 16 quarterback pressures. Though he only has 2.5 sacks through the first four games, he’s still making life difficult on opposing offenses with his pass rush.
Per Pro Football Focus, Lawrence is one of only 12 edge defenders in the NFL that have a run defense grade and a pass rush grade greater than 70. He joins the likes of Khalil Mack, J.J. Watt, T.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, Kyle Van Noy, Brandon Graham, Bud Dupree, Joey Bosa, Danielle Hunter, Ronald Blair, and Dante Fowler, Jr. That’s a who’s who list of edge players in the NFL.
Teams are paying attention to Lawrence and it’s having a positive effect on the rest of the defense, even if the Cowboys defensive end isn’t making as many splash plays as some would like. Some are pointing to Robert Quinn’s success in his first two games of the season as evidence that Lawrence isn’t playing well. Quinn is playing great to start the season, but he’s also getting the benefit of a lot of one-on-one opportunities. Lawrence’s ability to draw the attention of the opposing offense’s game plan has a trickle-down effect that benefits the rest of the defense.
Sure, Quinn has a half-sack more than Robert Quinn, but Quinn may not be putting up these kinds of numbers without Lawrence on the other side of the line.
Not only does Robert Quinn benefit, but so does Maliek Collins, the linebacker groups, and the cornerbacks attempting to tackle on the edge. Lawrence’s ability to set the edge in the run game and rush the passer creates opportunities for the rest of the defense to make plays.
If sack totals were the be all end all, then we need to apply that same logic to a player like Aaron Donald. Donald only has one sack this season, but his impact can be felt across the defensive line where Clay Matthews and Dante Fowler Jr. each had four sacks heading into their week five matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. Both of those guys are good players, but like Robert Quinn, they’re getting the benefit of offenses focusing on Aaron Donald.
Despite all that, Lawrence has had a sack in each of the last two games, which indicates he’s finding a rhythm after sitting out of practice and the preseason since his surgery in April. Prior to week one of the regular season, Lawrence had practice for a little more than a week. His five weeks of practice equate what he would have had if he were available for training camp when the team left for Oxnard at the end of July. Instead, Lawrence has had to get up to speed all while playing in games that matter.
And in the Dallas Cowboys 3-1 start, he’s been a difference-maker. With 2.5 sacks through the first four games of the season, he’s on pace to post his third double-digit sack season in a row. With Robert Quinn coming on strong since his return from suspension, Lawrence might get to benefit from what he provides others; fewer blockers.
He’s dealing with some minor injuries right now that may limit how much he plays this weekend against the Green Bay Packers, but you can bet that if he’s given the green light to play that DeMarcus Lawrence is going to give it everything he’s got. His talent combined with his effort makes him one of the most difficult defensive players to account for in the NFL. DeMarcus Lawrence has been every bit the player the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for when locked him up with a five-year contract that made him one of the richest non-quarterbacks in the NFL.