Dallas Cowboys Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence Must Make Plays to help this defense

There’s a reason that quarterbacks like Colt McCoy of the Washington Redskins and Austin Davis of the St. Louis Rams had the kind of performances they did against this Dallas defense.

McCoy completed 25 of his 30 passes for 299 yards in a surprising upset over the Cowboys. The former Texas Longhorns star quarterback hadn’t been heard from much since getting hammered by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison while with the Cleveland Browns in 2011.

Davis, a third stringer making just his second NFL start back on Week Three, diced, sliced and spiced the Dallas defense for 327 yards while connecting on 32 of 40 pass attempts. It took Davis barely a quarter to chalk up his first two career touchdown passes—he finished with three that afternoon along with two interceptions as well.

A big reason for this is something lacking that, hopefully, Lawrence brings to passing situations much sooner than later:

A pass rush.

The Cowboys have a mere nine sacks this season, a clip that simply won’t keep this team in contention down the stretch. Only defensive tackle Henry Melton has more than one sack (3.5) while last season’s sack leader George Selvie currently has—well, one.

There simply isn’t enough pressure on any opposing passers to control a game. This is a common problem throughout the NFL, otherwise everybody would have a pair of Pro Bowl rushers off the edge and life would be great.

In the real world, pressure matters in football, period. Sacks certainly aren’t the only barometer of a good pass rush either. The psychological impact that constant disruption adds to a quarterback’s plate is often what ends up breaking an offense’s back. Beyond sacks there’s also fumbles, interceptions, knockdowns and simple incompletions. There’s often an additional lack of deeper passes due to the limited time available for that type of play to develop.

Lawrence should arrive as the fastest and quickest defensive lineman on the depth chart. Having missed most of training camp and all of this regular season with a foot injury, Lawrence’s youth and athleticism will probably be obvious beginning on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. So much for easing Lawrence into action while more established veterans make the lion’s share of big plays.

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News captures these thoughts from Lawrence as his first real game action rapidly approaches:

This won’t be here soon enough. I’ve got to make sure I know the play calls, my footwork and my fundamentals are down. I ain’t going to say they need me because they’ve been doing it and winning games with me not being there. I’ll just say I’ll be a help to them when I get back. There’s not any pressure.

Well, wrong and wrong, Mr. Lawrence: The Cowboys do need you and there’s absolutely pressure.

The Cowboys gave up a lot in order to get Lawrence and it’s critical that his abilities at least provide a spark for this Dallas defensive front that really needs it. Considering there’s 32 selections in the first round of the NFL draft, remember that Lawrence was selected with just the 34th overall selection, thus making him a near-first round pick at a premium price.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones doesn’t have the strongest track record when it comes to trading up for defensive playmakers early in drafts. I think the name Morris Claiborne says all that needs to be said on that.

Anyway, Dallas must avoid another Claiborne situation, especially at this position.

The bounty could be significant for the Cowboys if Lawrence can bring the heat early. What began as a starting defensive end duo of Tyrone Crawford and Selvie has gradually evolved into a pair of rushers named Anthony Spencer and Lawrence. Regardless of what players continue starting for this unit, the simple fact that the combination of those latter two pass-rushers is available now for obvious passing downs could prove immeasurable.

When you factor in the expected return of defensive tackles Josh Brent and delayed arrival of Amobi Okoye, this Dallas defense starts to look more like a group that might become a significantly bigger problem for opponents than it was over the first half of the season.

This defense already plays hard. While pressure hasn’t been abundant this season, Dallas has found other ways to compensate, especially when given a lead and plenty of rest throughout games. The Cowboys might have had their best two performances this season against the defending world champion Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans, both on the road. In these contests, Dallas simply played keep away from the offense and the whole thing just worked.

Every defense needs as much talent as it can get, but the Cowboys came into this season rather strapped in that area, especially with the departures of former star defensive linemen Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware, the latter being the franchise’s all-time sack leader.

Yes, there’s big shoes to fill for Lawrence. His first name alone places some added interest on his getting to Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer at the first possible moment. If there’s any greater emotional lift that could be had following a Lawrence sack or two on Sunday, I can’t think of what that might be.

First thing’s first, however.

Lawrence has to get on the field and start his transition from the Broncos of Boise State to the NFL. It’s probably a good idea not to expect a whole lot from this particular rookie right away. His position is among the most difficult to play in this league and his learning curve will likely be steep.

But if Lawrence ends up playing anywhere close to his ’14 draft billing, it could mark a distinct turning point for a Dallas defense that really needs to double it’s current total of sacks over the second half of the season. Nothing else could come closer to ensuring that Jones doesn’t miss the postseason for a fifth consecutive year as chief of the Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence Must Make Plays to help this defense Dallas Cowboys Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence Must Make Plays to help this defense Reviewed by Mr. DCStands4 on 7:43:00 PM Rating: 5

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