It’s difficult to draw any conclusions about the Dallas Cowboys’ pass rush after the first two weeks of the 2020 NFL season. After signing Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen, expectations were high for the Cowboys’ revamped defensive front. Talks about a hybrid defensive front emerged under Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan, and we got to see those formations on weeks 1 and 2.
But things could be changing over the following weeks after the struggles from a few key players on the Cowboys defense.
Through two weeks, you could call the team’s ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks quite a disappointment. It wasn’t much of a concern after the season opener given the Los Angeles Rams’ gameplan of attacking the defense with quick passes from Jared Goff, but the team didn’t put to much pressure on Matt Ryan either as the Atlanta Falcons QB worked with a clean pocket consistently.
Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith are the only two players on the team to record a sack, and Griffen’s was more of a coverage sack than him getting rapidly to the quarterback. Now granted, it’s still early in the season and this unit has had to play from behind in the first two games.
According to Next Gen Stats, the Cowboys are the 8th best team in the NFL when it comes to pressure rate, but they’re pretty close to league average, which doesn’t tell us much.
The #Steelers defense has been generating pressure with a blitz-heavy scheme – the unit ranks first in the NFL in pressure rate (45.6%) and blitz rate (57.8%).X-Axis = Blitz RateY-Axis = Pressure RateThe rest of the league through Week 2 (entering MNF): pic.twitter.com/Soa5qSaqqL
While the Cowboys’ defense isn’t below average, it hasn’t fulfilled expectations. According to Griffen himself, they still have a long way to go. “These past two games, we haven’t been generating pressure that well, to be honest with you guys,” the defensive end said in a press conference on Wednesday.
One of the biggest issues we’ve noted with the Cowboys defense after two games is how difficult the transition from a 3-point stance to a 2-point stance has been for Griffen and DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence has zero quarterback hits yet as he played in only 37% of the week 2 defensive snaps.
Although the coaching staff pointed out a knee injury as the reason for DeMarcus’ limited playing time, questions have arisen on Lawrence’s reason for being on the sidelines.
Griffen’s comments from Wednesday suggest the Cowboys will be letting players do what they feel comfortable with to win ballgames on Sundays. Griffen talked about going back to playing from a 3-point stance.
Cowboys DE Everson Griffen said it’s a “big difference” between rushing the QB from a 2-point stance vs. a 3-point stance. Experiment is over: He plans to have hand in dirt more moving forward. “That’s what I’m more comfortable at.” Better technique with hand usage, footwork.
While Griffen doesn’t speak for D-Law, it’s fair to assume #90 will also be playing with his hand in the dirt more often. Mike Nolan’s defensive front might be better off doing what his personnel does best.
Maybe a change as simple as that is enough to push this unit to the level we expected from the Cowboys’ front seven. Trysten Hill has looked like a totally different player, constantly freeing himself up from opposing linemen and giving himself chances to make plays.
If Griffen and Lawrence get going paired with Aldon Smith playing like he never left the gridiron, this unit can be special.
Since the Cowboys’ secondary is the primary concern on defense as injuries continue to pile up, the pass rush needs to step up to give this team a chance to be competitive when the defense is on the field.
The Cowboys face one of the best offenses in the NFL on Sunday as they square up to Russell Wilson’s pass-first Seattle Seahawks. Pressuring him won’t be enough, but it’d certainly help.