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The Cowboys have the two best pass rushing seasons of the last 6 years by one metric

You can never have too much pass rush in the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It wasn’t that long ago that the Cowboys, in the process of transitioning back to a 4-3 defense, were desperately looking for any semblance of a pass rush. Neither DeMarcus Ware or Anthony Spencer adjusted all that well to Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli’s new scheme, and they weren't getting any younger either. Bargain bin free agents like Benson Mayowa, George Selvie, and Jeremy Mincey provided short-term sparks, but that was all.

Of course, the Cowboys traded up in the second round to draft DeMarcus Lawrence the year they got rid of Ware, and while it took Lawrence some time to reach his potential, the former Boise State pass rusher has ascended to the upper tiers of his position group.

Last year, though, Lawrence was joined by another pass rusher in Dallas in Micah Parsons. Technically an off-ball linebacker, Parsons gets plenty of run at the quarterback, whether it be as a blitzing linebacker or a more traditional edge rusher. Credit is due to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who smartly tweaked his traditionally rigid, blitz-free 4-3 scheme to maximize Parsons’ elite skill set.

Parsons finished his rookie year with 13 sacks, good for ninth most in the NFL. Lawrence missed the first half of the year with an injury but came on strong once he returned, finishing with three sacks. But as has been said in the past, sack numbers can often be misleading. Pressures correlate much more directly with quality pass rush skills than sacks do.

With that in mind, Parsons’ 47 pressures last year ranked fourth in the NFL. Lawrence had just 12 pressures, but his pressure rate was tied with Randy Gregory for 29th in the NFL. Furthermore, this historical look at single-season pressure rates from Sports Info Solutions is illuminating as it relates to the Cowboys’ top two pass rushers:

On one hand, this puts into perspective just how incredible Parsons was as a rookie. It also reminds us of how utterly dominant Lawrence was in 2017, when he recorded a career-high 14.5 sacks.

Lawrence hasn’t matched this mark since, but he’s continued to apply pressure at a very high rate regardless. His sack numbers have also gradually declined, itself a reflection of the unreliable nature of sacks. Still, Lawrence remains one of the top edge rushers in the NFL; defensive line guru Brandon Thorn recently ranked Lawrence as the 12th best edge rusher.

It’s also interesting that Lawrence’s 2017 season remained the best single-season mark until Parsons’ 2021 season just now. No one managed to top Lawrence’s best year until the guy who’s already getting compared to Lawrence Taylor.

This also brings up the possibility that Parsons sees a regression towards the mean after such a stellar year. While Lawrence has still been one of the best in the league, he hasn’t maintained that kind of respect as his numbers predictably regressed to the mean. If Parsons sees a similar trend, will his perception shift in a similar way as well? Only time will tell.

For the time being, though, the Cowboys can hang their hat on the fact that they’ve fielded the two of the best pass rushers in the NFL in the last six years. That’s quite the accomplishment considering where this unit was at before the arrivals of Lawrence and Parsons.

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