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Cowboys News: Can DeMarcus Lawrence get 20 sacks this season?

Latest Cowboys headlines: Dallas with best special teams unit? Lawrence a 20-sack man? Bryant still a No. 1 WR?

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New York Giants vs Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys: Can Lawrence be a 20-sack man? - Drew Davison, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
DeMarcus Lawrence leads the league with 13.5 sacks, but how far can he go this year, especially with a broken Giants O-line awaiting on Sunday?

Lawrence leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks going into the stretch run. He’s on pace to finish with 18 sacks, but has gone through four-game stretches where the 20-sack mark isn’t unfathomable.

Lawrence opened the season by getting 7.5 sacks in the first four games. If he does that to end the season, not only will he join the 20-sack club, he’ll also set the franchise record for sacks. Longtime great DeMarcus Ware owns the record with his 20-sack season in 2008.

Asked if Lawrence had a chance at it, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli smiled and said: “Fourteen-and-a-half is the one he has to aim for. The next one.”

Lawrence wouldn’t disagree with that statement and has to feel good about his chances of getting closer this weekend against the New York Giants.

Final Thoughts: Big Boost For D-Law; More - Bryan Broaddus, Dallas Cowboys
Broaddus shares a lot of pregame thoughts, two of them are about the defensive line:

The Giants ruled Justin Pugh out for this game on Friday, which should be a huge boost to the Dallas pass rush. With Pugh limited by injury recently his backup, Chad Wheeler, has been less than stellar. Wheeler was limited at practice this week, as well, dealing with a concussion, but when he has been in the lineup, he has been a liability. What has been interesting about the Giants is that they’ve refused to give help to him during games. Rhett Ellison is generally their inline blocking tight end, but he goes out on routes while Eli Manning continues to take a pounding from opponents. With Pugh out of the lineup, DeMarcus Lawrence could easily add a few more sacks to his league leading total.

David Irving will not be making it through the concussion protocol, so now the focus will shift to his replacement. Maliek Collins could move back to the under-tackle and Richard Ash would start at the nose. The coaches could also leave Collins at nose and give Lewis Neal his first NFL career start. Neal has been getting plenty of work this week, and against a Giants offensive line that has had its share of problems inside, it would not be a bad option to see what he has going forward.

Cowboys set to go with three rookies in secondary against Giants - Todd Archer, ESPN
With Orlando Scandrick out for Sunday, the Cowboys will look to deploy the three rookies they drafted to remake their secondary against Eli Manning.

Chidobe Awuzie, the team's second-round pick, made his first start of the season at outside cornerback in the win over the Washington Redskins, with sixth-rounder Xavier Woods handling nickel spot. Jourdan Lewis, a third-round pick, is looking to replace Scandrick.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said he has never had rookies as his top three cornerbacks.

"The key is you just keep peeling your defense back," Marinelli said. "Make sure you don't make mistakes, keep everything in front of us. They're the ceiling to the whole house, keep it in front of us and make them earn it down the road. Got a lot of confidence. They've got a lot of energy right now. They're excited. And so that's fun. Ears are open. They're ready to play so it's our job to help them."

Why Xavier Woods thinks Cowboys' young DBs could evolve into one of NFL's best secondaries - Kate Hairopoulos, SportsDay
The Cowboys' rookie defensive backs will likely see a ton of playing time against the Giants.

The youth movement is born of necessity in part, because veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick isn't expected to play because of a back injury. But it's also part of the Cowboys' plan, resulting from letting veteran defensive backs walk in free agency, then reloading in the draft with players who are capable of playing multiple spots in the secondary. Dallas also secured cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis with their second and third draft picks.

The rookies provided a promising glimpse of the future in last week's win over Washington, when they all played significant snaps. The coaches shook up the secondary lineup after a three-game losing streak. They had to do something considering the way Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and his teammates toyed with Dallas, leaving the secondary scarred by 434 passing yards on Thanksgiving.

"We said this before even rookie minicamp, we want to be one of the best DB groups as a whole, not just the rookies," Woods said. "That takes time. We haven't been. But we have the athletes and the ability to do so."

Cowboys athletic trainer on Jaylon Smith: 'Wait until you see this guy next year' - John Machota, SportsDay
Jaylon Smith got off to a slow start this year but has shown significant improvement since. And there's much more to come, apparently.

During a recent SiriusXM NFL Radio interview with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones called Smith one of the young players they plan to build around.

"Visiting with Britt Brown, our rehab trainer who worked with him throughout this process, he just says, 'Wait until you see this guy next year. He's going to be a totally different guy than what he is right now.' It's only going to get better for Jaylon," Jones said. "He has gotten better each and every game this season. And I do think he can ultimately be the player that everybody thought he was going to be coming out of Notre Dame had he not had the horrific injury there in the bowl game."

Good news for Cowboys, bad for Giants: Sean Lee good to go Sunday - SportsDay
The General is back.

Lee was a full participant in all three practices leading up to the game and will be back in the starting lineup against the Giants.

"You never want to miss time, but it becomes worse when we have some tough losses and you're not out there with your teammates and you're letting them down,'' Lee said. "That's what I think the hardest part of dealing with injuries have been, is feeling like you're letting your teammates down in situations where you can help.''

NFL Quarterbacks Are Leaning On The Short Pass — And It’s Not Working - Scott Kacsmar, FiveThirtyEight
Kacsmar looks at how aggressive and conservative 2017 quarterbacks are at throwing the ball far enough for a successful play. A successful play is a pass that gains at least 45 percent of the needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

The list of the most aggressive QBs may contain a surprise for some Cowboys fans who've bought into the dink-and-dunk-Dak myth:

1. Jameis Winston (TB)

2. Dasahun Watson (HOU)

3. Carson Wentz (PHI)

4. Dak Prescott (DAL)

5. Tom Savage (HOU)

6. Russell Wilson (SEA)

7. Tom Brady (NE)

Seven quarterbacks had a combined z-score below 2.0 standard deviations. That includes the trio of favorites for the MVP race in Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz, whose aggressive styles this year have been a positive for their offenses. Similar things could have been said about Deshaun Watson before Houston’s standout rookie tore his ACL.

In Dallas, Dak Prescott is throwing aggressively, but his receivers are getting the fewest yards per carry after the catch in the league.

Is Dez Bryant still a No. 1 WR? - Aaron Bloch, Pro Football Focus
Bloch breaks down why Dez Bryant should still be considered a top end wide receiver in the NFL, and explains that his percentage of catchable pass targets has declined significantly the last two years.

Despite it all, Bryant still sits with a good overall grade at 81.7, which ranks 20th out of 116 qualifying WRs. Combine that with all of the aforementioned information, and there are plenty of reasons to believe Dez still has enough left in the tank to be considered a No. 1 WR, even if he hasn’t put up the similar numbers that his lofty standards demand.

2017 NFL Special Teams rankings - through Week 13 - Eric Eager, Pro Football Focus
If you give any credence to PFF's grading system for special teams play, you'll be pleased to find that the Cowboys rank as the No. 1 special teams unit in the league this year.

At least something has gone well recently for the Cowboys, with both sides of the punting game coming up big. Chris Jones has given up the least amount of return yards (58) among qualifying punters this season, while Ryan Switzer has generated a long kick return (for 61 yards) and a long punt return (for 83 yards and a touchdown) the last three weeks.

Yes, Cowboys running back Alfred Morris is a cereal killer - Drew Davison, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
I'm a Lucky Charms man myself, but I respect Morris' choice.

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