At this point, we all understand the dire situation that is the Dallas Cowboys pass rush.
The already questionable group has lost two projected week 1 starters, Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence, to four game suspensions, and will be looking to fill these holes with rookies and inexperienced players.
Dallas let Greg Hardy, 2nd on the team in sacks last season, walk and then decided to bypass on potential additions to the defensive line during the free agency period.
While I was behind both of these decisions for moral and monetary reasons, it does leave the team with some serious question marks at defensive end this season.
Typically when we think of sack leaders and pass rush, we think of edge rushers. The Demarcus Ware’s and Von Miller’s of the world who line up in a 5, 7, or 9 technique, pin their ears back, and go for sacks.
Based on their offseason moves and current roster, the Cowboys are going to have to rely on a different type of rush this year, however.
Dallas’ major free agent signing came when defensive tackle Cedric Thornton decided to ditch the Eagles for their NFC East rival. Thornton is a stout run defender, but he has also demonstrated a quick burst, good first step, and swift lateral movement.
All qualities which are vital for a defensive tackle to have when rushing the passer.
The Cowboys then drafted Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive tackle Maliek Collins 67th overall, another interior lineman who can make quick lateral movements and create a pass rush.
Known-stud Tyrone Crawford will finally be healthy this season after a successful offseason shoulder surgery this winter. You could tell Crawford wasn’t right last season, and yet he still finished 3rd on the team in sacks as a defensive tackle.
Terrell McClain is also returning from injury this season, and if he can stay healthy, he can be a good addition to the tackle rotation defensively.
Many expect David Irving to take a big step forward in 2016. He showed flashes a year ago, but with a full year in the Cowboys’ system under his belt, the big, athletic Irving has a chance to give the Cowboys a ton of quality snaps.
Dallas also re-signed Jack Crawford, a hybrid defensive lineman who can move inside and out to give the Cowboys whatever is needed for that particular down.
Ok, I already knew what moves Dallas made this offseason, but how does it translate to an improved rush?
In simplest terms, you can have the strongest edge rushers that money can buy, but if you are weak in the middle of your defensive line, it won’t matter.
Think back to the Denver Broncos a season ago. While Denver plays in a hybrid 3-4 scheme, some comparisons to the Cowboys can still be made.
Of course, Von Miller and Demarcus Ware led the team in sacks with 11 and 7.5 respectively. But, their pressures would mean nothing if it wasn’t for their interior defensive linemen collapsing the pocket and giving the quarterback no room to step up and avoid the rush.
Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson, both listed as defensive ends but would translate to 3-techniques in Dallas, were third and fourth on the Broncos in sacks. Nose-tackle Sylvester Williams only accounted for 2.5 sacks, but time and time again the interior pass rush of the Broncos got into the quarterback’s face and allowed for Miller and Ware to get home.
In a perfect world, your edge rushers will force the quarterback to move up in the pocket, while your defensive tackles penetrate the line of scrimmage and get their hips at least two yards into the backfield. Then, the defensive line swallows up the quarterback and it goes down as a sack.
Von Miller Highlights (AFC Championship) | Patriots vs. Broncos | NFL
Here is a perfect example of what I am talking about. Ware and Miller both bring pressure from the outside, but if it wasn’t for the strong side 3-technique’s effective bull rush, Brady might have found a way to escape.
This all brings me to the Cowboys. No, Dallas doesn’t have a Von Miller on their roster, but they do have effective interior linemen who can get into the quarterback’s face and force mistakes.
Dallas hasn’t been this strong up the middle in a while. Even during the Ware days in Dallas, we consistently saw Ware get a pass rush, only to run right by the quarterback as he stepped up into an empty rush lane.
That won’t happen this year. Especially not with the defensive tackles the Cowboys will be using each week.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has young, versatile, athletic, and hungry defensive linemen to work with this season, and I fully expect these young pups to find ways to get it done.