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Three Underrated Defensive Linemen That Are Leading The Charge For The Cowboys Pass Rush

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Don’t look now, but the Cowboys have found themselves a pass rush. It’s not DeMarcus Lawrence or Tyrone Crawford bringing the heat, but rather three young players who have stepped up their game in recent weeks.

Chicago Bears v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

When the 2016 season began the Dallas Cowboys had a large assortment of pass rushers that the team was hoping could muster up some pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. It was anyone’s guess as to which player would emerge, but fans were hopeful that someone would. While it has been a rough road in terms on generating a consistent pass rush, things are starting to look promising thanks in part to three players who many have forgotten about.

When the Cowboys signed Benson Mayowa to a three-year, $8.25 million deal this offseason, there were mixed feelings. Rather than throwing a lot of money at one of the more established pass rushers in free agency, the front office opted to invest in the potential of a backup defensive end from the Oakland Raiders. Mayowa was an undrafted free agent signed by the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. He only played in two games before getting cut. The Oakland Raiders signed him in 2014 where he played in all but four games over the next two seasons, however he only started three games during that span and collected two sacks. That’s right, the Cowboys were giving eight million to a backup player who only had two career sacks.

That’s a risky move, but the Cowboys coaching staff saw something they liked in him. Mayowa is one of those quick-burst, first-step guys, and even with his lanky 6’3” 240 build, he is strong enough to be effective in the run game. In the first part of the season, Mayowa got some decent playing time, but failed to really make an impact on the defensive line. By the time DeMarcus Lawrence rejoined the team from his four-game suspension, Mayowa was reduced to a much smaller role, only receiving about 20 snaps a game. And in weeks 10, 11, and 12, he wasn’t even on the active roster for those games. The Cowboys free agent expenditure was looking like a bust.

But over the last month, Mayowa has turned a corner. He has gotten more opportunities due to Lawrence missing additional time over the last few weeks and he has really taken advantage of his chances. He has gotten to the quarterback in each of the last four games, including a sack fumble against the New York Giants in Week 14.

On Monday night against the Lions, he was up to his old tricks again, quietly making an impact. Mayowa got in on two quarterback sacks (one of which he shared with David Irving), but was constantly applying pressure on Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford. He was able to force Stafford out of the pocket and cause him to make an errant throw into coverage that was tipped and picked off by J.J. Wilcox.

Mayowa currently leads the team with six sacks.

While Mayowa’s impact is flying under the radar, the same is not true for David Irving. He has been splashing around in a handful of games this season and has been given a lot of attention from the game announcers. He won the NFC Defensive Player of the Week against the Green Bay Packers in Week 6 despite only playing 19 snaps and was also awarded the honorary game ball for the Sunday Night Football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week when he took control of the fourth quarter. He was just throwing people around like rag dolls.

Like Mayowa, Irving is also an undrafted free agent. He was signed by Kansas City last season and placed on their practice squad. The Cowboys signed him off the Chiefs practice squad in the beginning of 2015 to a cheap two-year, $960,000 deal. He was a complete wild card who had an appealing upside due to his size and athleticism.

The great thing about Irving is that he can do damage anywhere on the line of scrimmage. He’s made plays inside and he’s made plays on the edge. He has the strength to shove tackles back into the quarterback. He has the height to knock down passes as he has five pass deflections. Against the Lions, he made another big splash play when he had the sack/fumble after Detroit had 1st and goal down at the five yard line. That was the second time this season (he also did it against Green Bay) that he’s spoiled a great scoring opportunity inside the ten-yard line by stripping the ball away from the quarterback.

Irving played in a season high 67 snaps against the Lions and should be an integral part of the rotation going forward.

So much has been made of how the Cowboys front office has gotten a gold star for such a remarkable job during the 2016 draft. Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are both Pro Bowlers who are battling in a two-man race for rookie of the year. And both have also been in MVP conversations. Without a doubt, those guys are super-fantastic. And Cowboys Nation has fallen in love with the great play of sixth-round gem Anthony Brown. Like Dak, Brown got a boost in playing time due to teammates getting injured and has taken full advantage of it.

But the stellar play of the rookies doesn’t stop there. The Cowboys third-round pick, Maliek Collins, has been playing extremely well over the last few weeks. Like Mayowa and Irving, Collins also had a sack against the Lions. He is regularly blowing up the interior of the line, which has helped the team hold down the league’s best rushing defense. He’s another electric get-off player who has extraordinary lateral quickness to sneak into the backfield.

The Cowboys pass rush is still a work in progress. Rod Marinelli has lined up his “orphans” in a variety of spots as he continues to find match-ups that work. While nothing has been fortified just yet, fans have to be excited about the contributions of these three young Rushmen. Joey and Landon mentioned this tweet in their podcast and it really opens yours eyes to the impact these three players are having.

These three defensive linemen are providing a huge spark to the Cowboys defense. Against Tampa Bay, the Bucs only gained 10 yards in the fourth quarter. And against the Lions, the defense shut them out in the entire second half. While none of these three players were on the team during the Cowboys 2014 playoff run, but you can bet they will play a meaningful part in this year’s quest for Super Bowl #6.