[Ed Note: Heavy GIF load coming, be patient.]
There’s a lot of fan reaction to the game. Some things, like Dak Prescott’s performance, are very evident. Others, like Chaz Green’s struggles are misleading (Green actually played pretty well in my opinion, but needs better conditioning to finish the game stronger). That’s why coaches and players obsess over game film. The tape doesn’t lie and there is much to be learned from what went on. Rarely is a performance as dominant or terrible as it looked the first time through.
Such is the case with the defensive line. Reviewing the game film I saw some interesting, and hopeful developments. I stopped watching some players after a while as the down-the-line players like Rodney Coe and Mike McAdoo were largely ordinary. Newcomer Shaneil Jenkins had a sack and some nice plays, but also got manhandled a few times as well. So I tried to concentrate on the second line players who the Cowboys are hoping step up in the absence of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. To that end I focused on Ryan Russell, David Irving, Cedric Thornton, and Jack Crawford.
One of the first things that stood out to me was that Ryan Russell and David Irving played a lot of snaps and both were dropped into coverage like Irving was on this play late in the game. He lines up at left defensive end and drops about eight yards deep.
Its almost as if they intended to tire those players out and definitely it seemed that the coaches wanted to test their endurance.
Russell didn’t fare so well. He didn’t use his pass rush moves much early, and when he tried them later he was clearly gassed, as his spin looked sloppy and ragged... miles removed from the devastating ones he showed in one-on-ones in Oxnard.
Irving, on the other hand, looked quite good, I thought. His first step was a tad slow, but he more than made up for it. On the first pass rush of the game he had a nice push, extending his arms and getting near home from left defensive end (top of the .gif).
As the game wore on he continued to attack with strength and length, pushing his blocker back and getting free to run at the quarterback or ball carrier. Note how similar this play is to the last, on Irving’s part.
But more importantly he held up, making big pushes late in the game on big plays. Unfortunately for Dallas, Sean Mannion was able to complete some big throws under pressure, but Irving was impressive here on a big conversion leading to the Rams first fourth-quarter touchdown. He has a nice spin move and hits Mannion square in the chest, causing the ball to sail high. Only a nice leaping catch allowed the completion.
And on the final touchdown of the game, Irving was again doing all he could to prevent the play. Using length, strength, and quickness to beat the right tackle and put another hit on the quarterback.
The other nice surprise came from the defensive tackle position. While many were impressed by Cedric Thronton’s ability to penetrate the backfield and disrupt (here from playing cocked nose tackle)...
the defensive tackle that jumped out at me was Jack Crawford. He was consistently quick and disruptive, though the play was often away from his rush. But here, let me take you back to the first pass play of the game. I already talked about Irving, but watch Crawford, from right defensive tackle, come off the ball and press the QB.
The guard rides him past, but he’s crowding Case Keenum and preventing him from escaping the oncoming David Irving. That is a very important task for this defense.
But Crawford just kept penetrating over and over, reminding me of the guy on the other team, Aaron Donald. Watch Crawford beat his man to the inside here for a quarterback hit (still from right defensive tackle).
And here blast through from the left defensive tackle spot to knock the fullback into the runner, disrupting the entire play (Cedric Thornton is nice on this play, too)
While Russell was a bit of a disappointment, Thornton had a solid outing. David Irving showed more of the promise that he started last year during the season with strong play. And Jack Crawford who, remember, had four sacks last year as a rotational 3-tech/DE hybrid, was near dominating when attacking with quickness and had, to my eye, a very impressive and encouraging game.
It’s only one pre-season game against a mediocre offense, but it was also twos against ones, with some truly encouraging signs. A performance that can be built upon for some. One that needs to be greatly improved for others.