The Dallas Cowboys have been lacking a pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware left years ago. They have found one by the same name.
The Dallas Cowboys have had two Super Bowl-caliber teams in the past three seasons. In 2014 and in 2016, their rosters were absolutely good enough to compete for and win a Super Bowl. They had high-quality play from their quarterbacks each season. They had two of the best offensive lines that we have seen in the last decade and they had elite runners that helped highlight their brilliance. They also had better than average defenses that continued to make big plays in big moments.
All the ingredients were there for the Cowboys to be serious contenders.
However, there was one reason why they were not able to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs in either of those seasons. The sole reason? They didn’t have a dominant rusher off the edge that teams were forced to gameplan around. While defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is fantastic at generating pressure without having star talent, it’s much tougher to do consistently without a real force on the defensive line and it’s even harder to do so against great teams.
That’s why Jerry Jones made the statement this offseason that they would look everywhere and pay whatever price was to find that “war-daddy” on defense that can dictate how an offense operates. Entering the season, many criticized Jones for not pursuing a great edge rusher and instead, sticking with the home-grown talent on the defensive line.
But what Dallas didn’t know was that their “war-daddy” was already on the roster and was primed to explode in his fourth year in his career. His name is DeMarcus Lawrence. But before we get into the film room to show why Lawrence put on one of the best individual defensive performances in Cowboys’ history, we need to back-track some to explain why this performance and his play this season didn’t really come out of nowhere as many are suggesting.
After the 2013 season, the Cowboys decided to move on from their all-time leading sack-getter in DeMarcus Ware. In his final year in Dallas, Ware accumulated just six sacks and the team decided it was time to move on. They eventually released him and decided to start rebuilding their defensive line through the draft.
Heading into the draft, the Cowboys zeroed in on two impact defensive lineman with their first-round pick (16th overall). Per a source close to the team, the two players the Cowboys wanted were Aaron Donald and Anthony Barr. After the two defensive linemen were selected within the top-13 picks, they then set their eyes on linebacker Ryan Shazier. Dallas was actually on the phone with Shazier, telling him that he would be the selection if he was available, but instead, he was picked by the Pittsburgh Steelers just one spot ahead of them.
Dallas remained calm and selected offensive guard Zack Martin, which turned out to be an O.K. decision by the team considering he’s been to Pro-Bowl every year in his career. But the problem still remained on the defensive line; they didn’t have a “right” defensive end. Entering the draft, journeymen George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey were projected to be the team’s “bookends”.
After Dee Ford went off the board in the second half of Round 1 to Kansas City, Dallas couldn’t imagine that a solid defensive end would fall to them at pick 47. They believed that there was a significant drop-off after DeMarcus Lawrence at defensive end. That’s why they decided to make the move up to pick 34 and trade their third-round pick to select the 21-year old from Boise State.
In Lawrence’s rookie season, he broke a bone in his foot in training camp that caused him to miss the first nine games of his NFL career. When he finally returned, he played sparingly that season (just 217 snaps) and failed to record a sack.
However, he was the difference-maker in the wild-card round as he sacked Matthew Stafford twice in the final drive and forced the game-winning fumble that gave the Cowboys their first playoff win since 2009. There was excitement that the Cowboys found their replacement for DeMarcus Ware.
In 2015, Lawrence played second-fiddle to Greg Hardy on the defensive line and played at a high level in his second year. He recorded eight sacks and finished the season with a grade of 80.2. according to Pro Football Focus. Dallas moved him from the right end spot to left defensive end where he seemed more comfortable given his size and his skill-set.
But everything went down-hill in 2016. Lawrence had a back injury that was more serious than anyone thought and it caused him to miss significant time. He was also suspended due to a performance-enhancing drug violation, stemming from the back injury.
Lawrence finished the year with just one sack and played in just nine games. After the season, He was forced to have yet another operation on his back. It was his third major surgery in his three years in the NFL.
But after a successful surgery and a great offseason, Lawrence returned to camp healthy and not limited in any way. He shed the excess weight that he gained in 2016 after being limited for much of the offseason a year ago. At the age of 25, he’s finally healthy and showing people that he truly has the skill-set to be a dominant rusher in the NFL today.
On Monday night, Lawrence recorded 12 pressures, three sacks, three quarterback hits and six hurries on his way to becoming the No.1 rated edge rusher in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. He currently leads the NFL in sacks with 6.5 and somehow, that doesn’t even explain how dominant he has been through the first three games of the year.