The Cowboys Pass-Rush: From Harmless to Lethal


In a very short period of time, the Cowboys pass-rush has gone from a relatively harmless bunch, to a lethal sack-producing rotation.

It seems like it was only yesterday the Cowboys were scrambling to build an acceptable pass-rush. Only two weeks ago the Cowboys were operating with a starting line of Jeremy Mincey (zero sacks this season), Tyrone Crawford (one sack in games 1-4), Nick Hayden (zero sacks), and DeMarcus Lawrence (one sack this season).

These aren’t exactly the “rushmen” we were all promised before the season began.

Last week things began to change for the Cowboys pass-rush. Former Pro Bowler Greg Hardy took the field after serving his four game suspension. His impact catapulted the Cowboys pass-rush into a legitimate status as they sacked Tom Brady five times in the first half.

Greg Hardy, already ranked by Pro Football Focus as the #4 edge pass-rusher in the NFL this season, was a dominant force every time he took the field. After collecting two quick sacks, the Patriots devoted extra resources to stopping Hardy.  This, in-turn, opened opportunities for Hardy’s teammates.

Note: While the Cowboys defense was indeed neutralized in the second half, the production fall-off should be attributed to the heavy minutes the defense had to play because of the offenses ineptitude.

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With Greg Hardy, the defense took on an entirely new identity. Tyrone Crawford was freed to make more plays. DeMarcus Lawrence picked up some extra effort and passion that he appeared to be lacking in previous weeks. Even Jack Crawford and the rest of the defensive role players stepped up their games and produced pressure.

This week, it appears the return of rookie pass-rusher, Randy Gregory, is now imminent. The man who turned heads in training camp and lit it up in week one, is rehabbing back from a significant high ankle sprain. Gregory is practicing and is expected to play this Sunday against the Giants.

The addition of Gregory this week is as significant as Greg Hardy the week before. Randy Gregory brings a dynamic set of skills possessed by very few players in the NFL. He has the speed, the lean, and despite being undersized, the power.

Gregory is a matchup nightmare for opponents and can beat tackles on the inside gap, just as easily as he can on the outside. In week one, Gregory was the primary focus of the New York offensive line. Even then he was able to make such a significant impact he still ranks as the #14 edge rusher (based on pure pass-rush grading).

The trickle-down effect is a significant one that promises to reward players like Lawrence, Mincey, Crawford, and more. As Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory demand double teams, other players will be left one on one, opening up big opportunities for sacks.

The Giants offensive attack specializes in shotgun snaps, short routes, and a quick release. The Cowboys will need to be quick to crash the pocket to disrupt Eli Manning before he releases the ball. Luckily for the Cowboys, this is exactly what Hardy, Gregory, and Crawford bring to the table.

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The diversity of skills on the Cowboys pass-rush should be almost impossible to neutralize. While the aforementioned three are quick to apply pressure, Lawrence and Mincey possess the technique and patience that can bring a second wave of attack.

The Cowboys pass-rushers have diverse and complementary skills that can be lethal to any offense trying to keep a drive alive.

Before last week the Cowboys pass-rush was at the bottom of the league. Since the addition of Hardy things have drastically changed and the Cowboys are on course to move up the statistical boards in no time at all. Adding Randy Gregory to the mix only enhances what has already begun to develop – a lethal pass-rush

Next: If Cleared, Should Dez Bryant Play on Sunday?

In the pass-rush department, the Cowboys once had empty pockets but now they appear to have an embarrassment of riches. They’re going to need it if they want to overcome the hole they’ve dug themselves this season.