The Cowboys are off to a 3-1 start to the season, and the elite play of their defense has been a big reason for the strong start. Whereas last year’s defense wowed everyone with their ability to generate takeaways seemingly at will, this year’s group is just getting in the opposing quarterback’s face on nearly every play.
Four weeks in and the Dallas defense, in their second year under Dan Quinn, is third in the league in sacks and second in pressure rate. Micah Parsons has been the ringleader here, and his 22 pressures are second among all defenders. So, too, is his pass rush win rate of 33%.
But it’s not just Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence has been on a tear as well. His 16 pressures are tied with Aaron Donald for 11th most in the league. Lawrence has also recorded a 26% pass rush win rate, eighth best among edge rushers. Dorance Armstrong, who has stepped into a more prominent role since Randy Gregory’s departure, isn’t too far behind with 12 pressures.
Between these three pass rushers, the Cowboys have 10 total sacks - three each for Lawrence and Armstrong and four for Parsons. While they’re not the only capable pass rushers on this defense, it’s clear that this trio is the cream of the crop. So a comparison of their respective pass rush win rates vs double team rates is eye opening:
Double team rate at edge (x) by pass rush win rate at edge (y), updated through Week 4. pic.twitter.com/Zkd3BuGf7m— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 7, 2022
Both Parsons and Armstrong are among the top five of edge rushers in double team rate, drawing extra blockers on roughly 35% of their pass rush reps. Lawrence is a bit lower at about 25%, which is certainly curious given his status as the most accomplished pass rusher on the team.
Parsons has, by far, the highest pass rush win rate of any EDGE with a double team rate of at least 30%, which isn’t surprising to anyone who’s seen him play. Lawrence is also performing at very high level despite his well-above-average double team rate. Armstrong, on the other hand, is putting up a pretty underwhelming win rate, but his high double team rate likely explains that; the more important thing is whether Armstrong can still affect the quarterback, which his numbers prove he can and is.
Arguably the most important piece of information to pull from this data, though, is the effect these edge rushers are having on opposing offensive lines. All three of these players have played on more than half of the Cowboys’ defensive snaps so far this season, and they’re all in the top 15 of edge rushers in their rate of double teams.
Naturally, this creates some great opportunities for the Cowboys’ interior players to get some favorable one-on-one matchups. Osa Odighizuwa has the eighth best pass rush win rate among interior defenders, and Neville Gallimore recorded his first sack of the year against the Commanders thanks in large part to the attention Washington paid to the trio of Parsons, Lawrence, and Armstrong. This was broken down in detail by Marcus Spears and Dan Orlovsky:
This is the best play in football! The @dallascowboys pass rush-if you get into obvious pass situation you’re done. @mspears96 so good on this stuff DL wise. #nfllive@bloggingtheboys @cowboysnation pic.twitter.com/F6wEbfDyI8— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) October 6, 2022
Dan Quinn has the Cowboys pass rush firing on all cylinders, and he keeps digging deep into his bag of tricks each week. But the bag is so deep because his edge rushers are such formidable threats to the quarterback.