After three games, the Dallas Cowboys have 11 sacks, led by DeMarcus Lawrence with 6.5 sacks, Maliek Collins with 2.5 sacks, and Tyrone Crawford and Charles Tapper with one sack each. That ties the Cowboys for second in the NFL with the Steelers, Chargers, and Chiefs, two behind league-leading Jacksonville. The Cowboys’ sack rate, however, is only 8.5%, which ranks the team seventh in the NFL.
Is there still room for improvement? Obviously. Where’s it going to come from? That’s less clear. Let’s take a look at the current line and rank them.
1. DeMarcus Lawrence
Lawrence should be officially classified as a War Daddy. 6.5 sacks after three games is highly impressive.
2. Maliek Collins
As a hyper-active 3-technique, Collins’ push inside is a big reason why Lawrence has his 6.5 sacks. Collins has 2.5 himself.
3. Tyrone Crawford
Crawford may not ever hit high sack marks, but he’s a solid lineman.
4. Benson Mayowa
Mayowa led the team with six sacks last year after being benched for three games off his slow start. He’s currently fifth on the team in snaps.
5. Damontre Moore
Moore just came off a suspension. He’s in direct competition with Mayowa for defensive end snaps.
6. Stephen Paea
The starting 1-technique. He’ll never be a high-sack guy, but he’s currently fourth on the line in snaps.
7. Taco Charlton
Charlton has a long way to go to move up this list, but the Cowboys seem committed to giving him 20-30 snaps a week to help him figure things out.
8. Charles Tapper
Tapper has a sack, but when the Cowboys activated Moore, they deactivated Tapper. Cowboys aren’t likely to let Tapper go, as he’s under contract through 2019 on a cheap contract. But he’s going to have to keep getting better to get back into games.
9. Brian Price
The newest Cowboy, who was picked off the waiver wire just before the season, seems to be making tackles inside, but he’s a bit of a project.
The tenth guy is David Irving, who will be back when the Cowboys take on the Green Bay Packers. Where does Irving slot in this group? Let’s start with some highlights from last year.
It really depends on which David Irving is going to show up to play. Against Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and Detroit last year, Irving had big games. He was player of the week in Green Bay, with three forced fumbles, one of which he recovered, four tackles, and a pass defensed in only 19 snaps. In that game, Irving played defensive tackle.
At the end of the year, Irving played mostly left defensive end - where Lawrence is playing now - and had three sacks in two games against Tampa and Detroit.
David Irving recorded 1.5 sacks to notch double-digit sacks in consecutive games for the first time in his career. #DETvsDAL pic.twitter.com/g7Mwalp7Qr— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) December 27, 2016
The hope has to be that the Cowboys get the mature and dominant David Irving when he returns from suspension. That player was the best defensive lineman at times, playing either from the tackle, or the end spots. If he’s that guy, he should slot either second or third among the Cowboys defensive linemen.
The temptation would be to put him opposite DeMarcus Lawrence as a bookend defensive end. There’s a lot to like about that plan, as Irving has looked very good matched up one-on-one with offensive tackles.
But in terms of providing a bigger upgrade, it may make more sense for Irving to line up next to Maliek Collins and rush up the middle. This would allow the Cowboys to use Moore, Mayowa, and even Taco Charlton on the edge, where they are better suited.
It will be very interesting to see which direction Rod Marinelli goes. My guess is he’ll experiment a bit with combinations to see what works the best.
The good news for Dallas is that if Irving is the impact player we all hope and expect he will be, he could make a huge difference that will keep Dallas near the top of the sack/pressure leaderboard in the NFL.
Just check out some DeMarcus Lawrence highlights to imagine how he might pair up with Irving and Collins to wreak havoc.