All signs are pointing up for the Dallas Cowboys when it comes to rushing the passer. Late last season DeMarcus Lawrence started putting it all together and it appears that he might be ready to assume at least part of the responsibilities once held by the other DeMarcus that once played for the team. The team took matters a step further when they went out and signed Greg Hardy despite serious character concerns. Having his suspension shorted to just four games will greatly boost the Dallas defense. 2015 draft addition Randy Gregory will bring something to the dance as well.
The Cowboys should be a much improved team when it gets down to pressuring opposing quarterbacks in 2015, but the above mentioned reasons are only part of the picture. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is going to have a few other tricks up his sleeve thanks to some other pieces that he did not have at his disposal last season.
Option one would be blitzing outside linebacker Sean Lee. Through 46 games Lee has yet to record his first sack as a professional player. Prior to turning professional, Lee recorded 11 sacks in 36 outings as a Penn State Nittany Lion. The ability is there, and I would not put it past the Cowboys to look for a few opportunities to get their WILL linebacker involved in the pass rush.
Another option for the Dallas defensive brain trust to consider is how to work Byron Jones' athletic ability into the equation. With Jones at safety the Cowboys will have a player that is athletic enough to rotate over and cover Orlando Scandrick's man. This would free up the Dallas cornerback to come hard on the occasional blitz from the corner. He has been good for a sack or two each season except for his rookie year, and the next one that he records will put him in double digits for his career.
Jones might be a blitz option as well. He is a solid tackler with the gift of being very athletic. With the Dallas rushmen tying up offensive linemen, Marinelli might consider sending his most athletic player right up the middle and into the quarterback's face. Think about how many times we have seen the pass rushers with Eli Manning in their sights only to have him step up and burn the Cowboys. Now imagine how good it would feel to have Jones introduce himself to the younger Mr. Manning and the rest of the National Football League on opening night. Sacking the passer is something that Jones was not asked to do as a UConn Husky, but with his talents it might be something for the staff to consider having him do on occasion.
The 2015 Dallas Cowboys should not have to rely on the blitz to get pressure on opposing passers, but in every game there are a few opportunities where the defense can justify taking a gamble. With the blitz it is alway a matter of placing a bet that your man can get to the quarterback faster than he can make them pay for leaving a section of the field wide open. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. It is another piece of the puzzle that will be available once the team starts playing football for real.
Rod Marinelli may not dream up exotic blitz packages the way that one of his predecessors did, but a well-executed and properly-coordinated surprise can go a long way in changing the momentum of a game.