Everybody is convinced that the Dallas Cowboys don’t have a pass rush, but is that really true? They may not have any brand-name players or double-digit sack artists, but to say that they don’t have anyone that can rush the passer may be a stretch. They aren’t exactly a group of scrubs.
Dallas started out 2016 with a definite lack of a pass rush, accumulating 20 sacks in 12 games, an average of 1.6 sacks per game. At that point, the notion they are a weak pass-rushing unit would have been accurate. However, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
It may trip some folks up but the Cowboys ended their season with 16 sacks in their final five games including the playoffs. That was the best by any team in the NFL at an average of 3.2 sacks per game, well above that paltry number in their first 12 games. After blanking in the stat sheet on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys went on a pretty decent tear to end the year.
Dallas improved their sack totals from 31 in 2015 to 36 in 2016, which was good enough to go from 25th in 2015 to 13th last season. There were only three teams in the playoffs that ended the season with more sacks than the Cowboys. Those teams were the Steelers, Packers, and Seahawks. The two eventual Super Bowl teams were tied for 16th in sacks. Let it be noted that the Cowboys also finished higher in sacks than the New York Giants, who committed a substantial amount of free agent spending in that department last offseason. Even one of the league’s best defenses, the Houston Texans, were 24th in sacks for the season.
Are the Cowboys a consistent product at pass rushing? Absolutely not. And has been noted by many, there is more to pass rushing than just sacks. Dallas has tried to improve their pass rush but some of those moves have not panned out. Lately, the Cowboys are being much more patient with their approach and are not seeking high-dollar free agents, or free agents that are in the back-nine of their careers.
The Cowboys want to build their own pass rush, mainly through the draft or taking a chance on young, cheap talent with upside. Benson Mayowa, a restricted free-agent pick up with little experience led this team with six sacks. Maliek Collins was outstanding in his rookie season notching five sacks. Tyrone Crawford and David Irving each recorded at least four sacks. They most definitely need more contributions from guys like DeMarcus Lawrence and Cedric Thornton. They drafted Taco Charlton, who improved every year in college. They hope they found something in Damontre Moore, a guy who is determined to make the roster.
It’s very much a stretch to just write all these guys off by saying there are no pass rushers on this team. The Cowboys aren’t rolling with a Vic Beasley, J.J. Watt, or Khalil Mack but are trying to work a group approach to the pass rush. They just may find a breakout guy in 2017 but if you asked Rod Marinelli, he’s more about having everyone contribute than having one pass-rush demon.
It’s kind of silly when you see talking heads say the Cowboys don’t have anyone that can rush the passer. Those knee-jerk reactions look even worse when you look at the statistics and see otherwise. In the past three seasons, the Cowboys have continuously improved their sack totals. They were only two sacks away from cracking the Top-10 last year and if they can find a way to get four more sacks than the 36 from 2016, they just may nestle into the Top-5.
Understandably, having a good pass rush is not just about sack totals, it’s about building a consistent amount of pressure and getting quarterbacks uncomfortable. This is a young stable of pass rushers that are getting their opportunities to change the narrative. If anyone can change the “orphans” into pass rushing perfectionists, it’s Rod Marinelli. Before folks write them off, let’s give the guys a chance to show what they got.