The Cowboys haven't been very good at getting to the quarterback for quite some time now. In fact, the last time the Cowboys ranked in the Top-10 in sacks was in 2011, two years before they made the switch to the 4-3 defensive alignment. That year they were able to eclipse the 40 sack mark with 42 total sacks. Why is the 40 mark so important? Well, getting to 40 sacks on the season usually ranks teams either just inside or just outside the Top-10 sacking teams in the NFL.
It is true that sacks aren't everything, but in a passing league they certainly help your cause in becoming a better defense. A sack is the second-most detrimental play a defense can make except for causing a turnover. They're a pretty important measure in the success of the pass rush.
We've talked all offseason about the pass rushing woes but we really have no idea whether this pass rush is going to be good or not until they play a down of football. What we know is that this is a very young pass-rushing unit where 28 is considered the oldest man on the line. We don't require the Cowboys to be All-World on the defensive line but can we get them to up their sack totals by nine this season? Let's look at the eight guys that will probably be of the most service to the pass rush in 2016.
Tyrone Crawford, 3T, 11 sacks
Crawford will have the tallest of tasks but the Cowboys need a double-digit sack artist and he's been routinely the guy that Marinelli has credited with the most pressures. Now that Crawford has a more athletic counterpart in Cedric Thornton, the hope is that they can collapse the pocket with more ease. Crawford will have to live up to some lofty expectations but this is a guy who improved his sack totals to five last season while playing through a torn rotator cuff. At one time, he couldn't even bench press 225 pounds, it may be tough but don't bet against him.
DeMarcus Lawrence, LE, 7.5 sacks
Lawrence's sack totals will all depend on the help he receives on the right side. He's been increasingly better each season and it's hard to overlook that. Even if he misses a few games for a PED suspension, it's not too far-fetched to expect a decent pull from him. He's starting to get the hang of what it takes to beat offensive linemen in the NFL and went from two sacks (all postseason) in 2014 to eight sacks in 2015. If he can get close to that number again then that will be music to ears of his coaches and fans. He's the most likely candidate to break our goal we have set at 7.5.
Randy Gregory, RE, 5 sacks
If all the glowing reviews that we are hearing about him show this season, he could be a lot better than what we're asking here. However, he will miss four games this season and didn't record a single sack last year. Still, the Cowboys have high hopes for him in his second year to do something similar to how Lawrence was able to break out. Gregory has the natural ability to be a polished pass rusher in the NFL, the Cowboys need him to come along quickly.
Benson Mayowa, RE, 5 sacks
Mayowa will get the first crack at the position with Gregory serving a four-game ban. The Cowboys liked him enough to poach him from the Raiders even though he was a restricted free agent. They chose him over anyone else that on the market at the time of free agency. If Mayowa can bring forth the kind of efforts he did against the Broncos last season, he may be a surprising force for the defensive line. If he and Gregory can get 10 sacks between them, that'll help get our numbers moving in the right direction.
Jack Crawford, 3T/LDE, 4 sacks
He'll get opportunities to rush from inside and out but will serve primarily as a backup to Tyrone Crawford. He just may have to play more time early in the season as the Cowboys try and combat suspensions. After getting four sacks last season, we hope he can mirror those numbers in 2016. Crawford only signed a one-year deal and may be trying to make the most of each of his opportunities. I mean, he did take down the NFL's former Golden Child in Tom Brady. With another year in the system Crawford should be able to add a few highlights.
David Irving, DE, 3.5 sacks
It sounds more likely that the Cowboys are going to try and make a defensive end out of Irving. He showed up in small doses last season and especially on special teams. Irving gives the Cowboys some versatility but his long limbs and frame are desired on the edges. The Cowboys have been very excited about his prospects after spending an entire offseason in their program. He's not being asked to do anything that he's incapable of, 3.5 sacks gets us to the final stretch.
Ryan Russell, DE, 2.5 sacks
Russell was the scapegoat for all of Marinelli's rage last training camp but has been someone that the coach has lauded in his second year. Marinelli has always shown the ability to turn a player or two that many have discarded into something special. Russell could very well be his pet cat for that type of envision. Remember, the Cowboys kept a watchful eye on Russell throughout his Purdue days. 2.5 sacks may not seem like much, but it will be an improvement for a player that is a project.
Cedric Thornton, 1T, 1.5 sacks
He averages one sack per season in the NFL, but that's not his modus operandi. Thornton is a guy that helps others make the play and that's what the Cowboys expect out of him in 2016. If he and Crawford can clean up in the middle, it will free up the ends to make the sacks. On the flipside, the tackles are the stronger of the position groupings on this defensive line, so if Thornton can free up Crawford, that's how number 98 will reach those high expectations for 2016. Thornton is equally as valuable an asset to the success of this pass rush.
This piece is solely based on the defensive line getting to 40 sacks and we've done it. Now, they could easily get past that mark with a few linebacker or cornerback blitzes, but 40 is the mark to achieve. Everything after that is pure icing on the cake. What do you say, can the Cowboys get to the 40 sacks mark? Maybe my count is not satisfactory, what's yours and who do you see taking down quarterbacks in the near future?