DeMarcus Lawrence is back. The Cowboys have managed to win three of their four games without him, largely in part due to the surprising play of Dak Prescott and the offense. But don’t sell the defense short. These guys are hanging tough as they are holding opposing teams to, on average, less than 20 points a game. This ranks them in the top 10 for points allowed. It’s easy to feel good about how things have gone so far, but if there is one glaring weakness on this team, hands down it’s the pass rush.
Expectations weren’t very high for this group of quarterback chasers. The Cowboys have quite an assortment of players rushing on the edge, but none of them have demonstrated anything that gives people much hope. It’s just an area where the team is vulnerable and nothing has changed over the last four weeks to indicate otherwise. The Cowboys only have six sacks on the season as they only sack the quarterback 3.9 % of their passing plays according to sportingcharts.com. This puts them in the bottom quarter of the NFL ranks.
There is some bitter-sweetness to this statistic. The bad news is what we already know - the Cowboys struggle getting to the quarterback. But the good news is that the opportunities to go after the quarterback are there. The Dallas defense is allowing the 12th-most passing attempts so far this season. In contrast, when teams were mostly running on the Cowboys last season, they finished 31st in passing attempts allowed. That’s not a good environment if they’re trying to create some big plays like sacks and turnovers. But if you go back to 2014, when the offense was moving the ball and scoring points, the Cowboys finished 15th in pass attempts allowed.
This year’s team has the same opportunity as it did in 2014 to put opposing offenses in passing situations to where the defense can tee off on quarterbacks. They just need some competent pass rushers to do the work.
And that is where Lawrence comes in. Tank is coming off an eight sack season last year and was looking strong in training camp. There were times he was giving Tyron Smith fits. Expectations were that this could be a breakout season for Lawrence, despite missing the first four games. The kid definitely makes this defense better.
Lawrence gives the team a dynamic pass rusher who has that great first step, but the question will be - will he posses enough power to handle the strength of a left tackle? He’s going to be a welcome site for a team that has been completely inept at getting to the quarterback. And it could start as early as Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. While Jason Garrett and company will look to ease him back into action, there’s a good chance we get to see him right away. Jerry Jones thinks he’ll be out there.
"I wouldn’t necessarily speculate in any way when he’ll hit the rotation," Jones said on his weekly radio show on 105.3 The Fan. "But as I see it right now, I think he’s going to be an active part of what we’re doing out there Sunday."
With Lawrence back on the squad, he should take over the RDE spot, keeping Tyrone Crawford on the left side. Crawford has only been on the edge for a little more than two games, but he’s already gotten two sacks. This new combination could help the Cowboys get more pressure on the quarterback.
There are a lot of things to be excited about with this Cowboys team, but the lack of pass rush is an Achilles heel that is going to torment this team until they get it fixed. Having Lawrence back in the mix is a good first step.