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Cowboys To Set Their Quarterback Hunters Loose On Giants' Eli Manning

On Sunday, with Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy both playing, the Cowboys will finally see their pass rush vision come to life as they set their quarterback hunters loose on Eli Manning.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Immediately before the Cowboys drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014, assistant director of player personnel Will McClay leaned on the war-room table and said:

"Lawrence," McClay said matter-of-factly, "is a Quarterback Hunter."

For the Cowboys, Lawrence offered something that had been in short supply since they let DeMarcus Ware walk: pass rushing options.

And since drafting Lawrence, the Cowboys have added more pass rushing options when they made an improved pass rush their top offseason priority in 2015. They signed Greg Hardy, the top pass rusher available in free agency. They drafted Randy Gregory, the top-rated pass rusher in the 2015 draft. They gave Jeremy Mincey a raise this year, and they gave Tyrone Crawford a long-term contract extension, all in an attempt to jumpstart their stagnant pass rush.

Against the Giants, the Cowboys will have their collection of quarterback hunters playing together for the first time all season.

  • Randy Gregory had had three pressures in just 19 snaps against Eli Manning in the season opener before spraining his ankle.
  • Greg Hardy had two sacks, a forced fumble, and five QB pressures in 41 snaps against the Patriots in his first NFL action since Week, 1 2014.
  • Meanwhile, DeMarcus Lawrence leads the team in QB pressures with 10, closely followed by Tyrone Crawford with 9, though both have only combined for three sacks so far. Even recently acquired David Irving got into the mix against the Patriots, recording two QB pressures and two tackles for loss.

The Cowboys will likely start with DeMarcus Lawrence and Jeremy Mincey on the left side, while Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory will rush from the right side. But where it could get really interesting is in their nickel defense, where the Cowboys have the option of moving both Mincey and Hardy inside.

Moving Mincey and hardy inside is something the Cowboys have worked on in training camp last year (with Mincey) and this year (with Mincey and Hardy). And as Mincey said last year, playing defensive tackle feels more like his natural position anyway:

"I’ve always been a good inside rusher," Mincey said. "That’s what’s kept me around the league for a while. I’ve got real quick feet. I was a hooper in high school and I use those same crossover techniques on the inside. You’ve got a short field of space. It’s a quicker route to the quarterback."

Greg Hardy also notes the speed at which the inside pass rush has to work, something that will be key to stop Eli manning from stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure.

"The game happens faster inside," Hardy said of his work as an interior pass rusher. "There’s a lot of detail that goes into being a tackle or a nose. But when you’re outside, you got that space, you got that freedom, you got that ability to stretch the end and at the same time collapse the pocket. That’s a unique ability and a unique opportunity."

On Sunday, with Gregory and Hardy both playing and all other pass rushers also available, the Cowboys will finally see their pass rush vision come to life as they set their quarterback hunters loose on Eli Manning.

"Four pass-rushers getting after the quarterback? Can’t get better than that," Lawrence said. "We keep practicing the way we practice, I feel like we’re going to be pretty good."

"It’s just about us going out and doing what we’re supposed to do to get to Eli."

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