Dallas Cowboys edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence made a name for himself during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He would amass 25 sacks over that span with multiple Pro Bowl nods and an All-Pro selection sprinkled in. Since then, his sack numbers have slowed, but that doesn’t mean he is still not playing great football.
With edge rushers, the focus can end up solely on sack numbers. That has happened with Lawrence since his sack numbers have dropped over the years. However, as he's done for so long, Lawrence has continued to be an elite run defender in 2023. Lawrence's 91.5 run defense grade ranks first among all edge rushers according to Pro Football Focus, which would be the second highest of his career if he maintains it (93.2 in 2021).
Lawrence sets the edge in the run game as well as any defensive end in the NFL. He can do so with power, but he can redirect and showcase his athleticism if need be and chase plays from the back side. While this might sound like praise for Lawrence’s run defense at the expense of his pass rush, he also produces in that part of of the game. Lawrence has two sacks with 21 pressures and 18 hurries. Also, his 80.6 pass-rush grade is 14th in terms of edge defenders, per PFF.
I finally got around to watching the #DallasCowboys D on tape vs. the Chargers, and man, I don't know about you.— Harrison Reno (@HarrisonReno) October 25, 2023
But I haven't seen many edges just spin off a seal block like DeMarcus Lawrence (left) did here to keep this toss sweep to a short gain. pic.twitter.com/8i9xMnjIWC
Cowboys' defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has the luxury of lining up Lawrence on the interior on occasion as well, which gives the team the flexibility that makes this defense so tough to deal with for the opposition. Lawrence has a defensive grade of 90.9 for the season so far, which is fifth in the league for all edge rushers behind Myles Garrett, Nick Bosa, T.J. Watt, and Maxx Crosby. This also makes Lawrence the highest-graded player on the Cowboys in 2023 at the moment.
The ability of Lawrence to be stout against the run is critical because it forces running backs to the inside for guys like Osa Odighizuwa who is having his best season, and even Micah Parsons who is the unicorn of the Cowboys' defense. His prowess for making quarterbacks uncomfortable and forcing throws early cuts down on the time the secondary has to cover.
Lawrence may not get the glory that others on the defense get like Parsons, Trevon Diggs, or even DaRon Bland, but he's equally important with what he brings to the table. Games are won and lost in the trenches.