Ever since the first day of the 2015 off season, Dallas Cowboys fans everywhere have been calling for this team to address the defensive end position. The pass rush was severely lacking, Greg Hardy was gone, and nobody in the front office seemed to care that one of our Staff Writers was dangerously close to appearing on the depth chart at DE by the time the preseason rolled around.
Suddenly, Benson Mayowa was here to save the day. A restricted free agent, the Oakland Raiders did not match the Cowboys three-year deal offered to the young edge rusher, sending him off to Dallas to work with defensive-line guru Rod Marinelli.
After dealing with injuries through the preseason, Mayowa started and saw 45 defensive snaps against the New York Giants in week 1 - getting off to a good start by sacking
the most incompetent quarterback in the division not named Kirk Cousins Eli Manning once.
However, since then, Mayowa has failed to record a sack, seeing a drop in his playing time with just 35 and 28 snaps respectively against the Redskins and Bears. This dip in playing time is concerning for a number of reasons, mainly because Mayowa is just a few weeks in to a three-year deal with the team. While the signing might have been sparked by the large need that the team had at his position, the Cowboys clearly saw some long-term potential in Mayowa (he did have flashes in Oakland) that he has yet to display.
His failure to make a larger impact is also concerning because of the players behind him taking his snaps at RDE, mainly Jack Crawford, who hasn't fared much better playing well out of position as a weak side edge rusher.
I watched Benson Mayowa's tape against Ereck Flowers of the Giants - a struggling second-year left tackle - and Trent Williams, who is one of the best in the business for the Washington Redskins.
Its time for some "Reel Talk" on what I saw:
All Some Trades, Master of None
In starting with Mayowa's performance against the Redskins, it was clear why this team simply needed to take him off the field at times. While nobody not named DeMarcus Lawrence may have been able to generate pressure off the right side in this game, Mayowa was a liability in the running game.
On Matt Jones' touchdown run, Mayowa completely conceded the edge by getting off the ball unbalanced and falling to his knees. Sean Lee and Barry Church were unable to ever recover from Jones receiving a clear lane to the outside, as he stretched the play to the pylon for a score.
As a pass rusher, Mayowa also had issues with his balance, especially when trying to get wide around the edge and finish. This is a player that is forced to resort to getting wide and trying to use his strong legs to capture the edge, because he simply looks lost trying to set up blockers with any rush moves.
While Mayowa will turn in some positive plays thanks to his legs and power, he is just not strong enough or quick enough laterally to consistently make any impact.
Instead, Mayowa needs to focus on his bend as a RDE, as he was caught too many times bending into a good position before coming back upright and allowing his blocker to sit on him and disrupt the angle towards the quarterback. To me, this is Mayowa's most workable trait, but it is only going to be more difficult to refine considering how predictable of a player he is.
Mayowa will get his hands inside on blockers and show the ability to steer them and eventually rip his hands through to disengage, but #93's lack of knock back on first contact makes it hard for him to get home in time.
As you'll see in these pictures, even his sack against the New York Giants was a result of Eli Manning being forced to hold onto the ball and then slide in Mayowa's direction, after he did a nice job beating Flowers for the edge.
Right here, you would love to be able to see Mayowa set up his blocker with another move and use his long arms to get to Manning.
Instead, you see him get lucky to be put in a position to finish off this play, after essentially losing contain. When Manning slides to his left, Flowers could not contain the quick reaction from Mayowa, as he eventually freed himself for the hit from behind.
A Positive Outlook
All is not lost through three games for Benson Mayowa. As we know, Dallas' defense is built around throwing different looks at opposing offenses at the defensive end spot, relying on waves of pass rushers to get the job done.
The team's best pass rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence, will be back after this Sunday's game against the 49ers, which will help the entirety of the line.
Some are speculating that Lawrence will be called upon to kick over to the right side of the line, where he played his injury-shortened 2014 rookie season. If this is the case, Mayowa could find himself in a much more rotational role, where he can be much more effective.
Also factoring into the team's plans for the following two years under contract, Mayowa has a chance to be here as the Cowboys hopefully put some serious work into revamping the depth chart at defensive end entirely.
If this turns out to be the case, Mayowa can absolutely shine as a situational pass rusher, coming in with fresh legs to pressure quarterbacks with his speed.
The Dallas Cowboys are in San Francisco on Sunday with a chance to get to 3-1 on the season - an absolutely huge opportunity for a team that has help on the way at numerous positions.
One of those positions is at defensive end, where they must first rely on guys like Benson Mayowa to get the job done this week. We'll keep an eye on how much Mayowa gets onto the field against Chip Kelly and the 49ers' up tempo offense, and how much of an impact he can make when he lines up.
What are you hoping to see from Mayowa as the season goes on? Comment below to share your thoughts, or email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
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