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10 Burning Questions: #5 - Can Dallas Generate A Top-10 Pass Rush?

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In this series we will count down (from 10 to 1) some burning preseason questions for the Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In the last piece in this series, we linked to a recent article by Bob Sturm that looked at the Cowboys pass rush since 2011, and compared it to the NFL average and the NFL leaders.

In total sacks Sturm’s chart looks like this.

Bob Sturm, DMN

In sacks per snap, Sturm’s chart looks like this.

Bob Sturm, DMN

The good news is that the Cowboys generated their second most sacks of the last six years in 2016, with 36. Dallas has also increased its sack totals over each of the last two seasons as it has turned over its defensive line. This increase also went against the grain, as NFL sack totals have been declining over the last three years.

In 2014, the defensive line was: Jeremy Mincey (6 sacks), Henry Melton (5) George Selvie (3), Tyrone Crawford (3), Jack Crawford (2), Nick Hayden, Anthony Spencer, and Demarcus Lawrence.

In 2016, the defensive line was: Maliek Collins (5 sacks), Tyrone Crawford (4.5), Jack Crawford (3.5), David Irving (4), Terrell McClain (2.5), Benson Mayowa (6), Demarcus Lawrence (1), Cedric Thornton (1.5), and Randy Gregory (1).

The 2016 line was younger than the 2014 line, which had Mincey, Melton, Selvie, Hayden, and Spencer at or near the end of their careers. (All are retired now.)

The 2017 line should be younger still, with Taco Charlton and Charles Tapper, and the potential additions of Jordan Carrell and Joey Ivie displacing the departed Terrell McClain (29), Jack Crawford (29), and Ryan Davis (28).

In terms of numbers of sacks, the Cowboys were just outside the top-10 last year, which required 38 sacks. Dallas generated 36. In sacks per drop back, the Cowboys have farther to go. That’s because most teams played catch-up to Dallas and therefore passed the ball much more often. According to Pro Football Reference:

  • Dallas was behind for 163 plays, and generated four sacks, for a 0.024 rate.
  • Dallas was tied for 147 plays, and generated seven sacks, for a 0.04 rate.
  • Dallas was ahead for 699 plays, and generated 25 sacks, for a 0.035 rate.

The lesson here is to get ahead, although the opposing quarterback rating was highest when Dallas was ahead (98.3), and worst when Dallas was behind (70.3).

The quality of Dallas’s opponents surely also makes a difference in these totals.

To get solidly in the top 10, Dallas is likely going to need to get to 40 sacks. Can they do it? It seems possible. Bob Sturm had his own guess as to how Dallas might get there.

Now they need DeMarcus Lawrence to exceed six. Let's put him at nine. David Irving and Mayowa with six. Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins with five each. That is 31 right there. Can Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper, Cedric Thornton and my linebackers and defensive backs combine for nine more? If so, 40 can happen.

What about Chidobe Awuzie? He had four sacks each of his last two years at Colorado. Xavier Woods also had three sacks last year. Jaylon Smith had 3.5 sacks one year at Notre Dame. Sean Lee had 2.5 sacks in 2015. Orlando Scandrick is also usually good for a couple of sacks per year.

It’s going to take a concerted effort from everyone, and perhaps some more aggressive play calling from Rod Marinelli for Dallas’s pass rush to move into the top-10 in 2017. Can they do it? That is burning question number five.

Burning question #10 - Can The Cowboys Return Game Return?

Burning question #9 - Can Dez Bryant Become a Cowboys’ Monster Again?

Burning question #8 - Will the Cowboys’ Underachievers Step Up This Year?

Burning question #7 - Will Rico Gathers and Ryan Switzer Improve the Cowboys’ Offense?

Burning question #6 - Will the Cowboys Force More Turnovers This Year?