Improving the pass rush has ranked among the top priorities for the Dallas Cowboys in recent years.
Is it no longer an issue?
The Cowboys’ pass rush has gone from an uncertainty to arguably one of the strengths of the team in the first seven games this season.
The Cowboys have the fifth-most sacks in the league with 25 and are on pace for 57. Yes, 57.
This is an organization that hasn’t had a unit reach the 40-sack mark since 2011.
“Obviously impacting the quarterback is one of the most important things you can do to play good defense,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Quarterbacks in a comfortable environment in this league can really hurt defenses, so what you’re trying to do is make them uncomfortable.
“I think on a consistent basis our guys have been able to do that and it certainly helps you play good defense. Not only have they pressured them, they sacked them and particularly in the game yesterday I think they caused some turnovers, which is the most important thing you can do on defense.”
The Cowboys’ pass rush resurgence starts with DeMarcus Lawrence. He is finally healthy and is leading the league with 10.5 sacks.
He’s already set a career high and is the first Cowboys player to reach double digits in sacks since Jason Hatcher had 11 in 2013.
Lawrence had another sack Sunday, and has yet to go a game without one. His teammates are feeding off his production, too.
“We’re a bunch of wild animals going in as a pack and feasting on one thing. We’re feasting on that quarterback,” Lawrence said. “You hit a quarterback enough times they start to look at you and wait on you to hit them like a deer in the headlights.”
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins found himself in the “deer” role Sunday. Along with Lawrence, David Irving had two sacks and Tyrone Crawford added another.
This is the same quarterback, Cousins, who threw 53 times in their previous meeting last season and didn’t hit the turf once.
Sure, the Redskins were without three starting offensive linemen, but the Cowboys still had to take advantage of a depleted line. In previous years, that wasn’t the case.
“We’re just playing together,” said David Irving, who has five sacks in three games since serving a four-game suspension to start the season. “We’re all pretty young, especially on the defensive line, and we’re all just gaining more experience playing together as a team.”
The proof is in the numbers.
The Cowboys had 14 sacks in seven games and didn’t get their 25th sack until Week 14 at New York last season. They finished with a respectable 36 for the season, but are on pace to better that by 20 this season.
The Cowboys had 42 sacks in 2011. They had 36 sacks last season, 31 in 2015, 28 in 2014, 34 in 2013 and 34 again in 2012.
No team reached the 50-sack mark — like the Cowboys are on pace for — last season.
Nobody saw this sort of production coming from a team deprived of a consistent pass rush in recent years.
“It doesn’t matter what the outside noise is, man,” said Crawford, who has sacks in three straight games. “I’ve been taking heat from a lot of people outside of this for a long time. I understand that a lot of people, a lot of fans, don’t understand what’s going on in here and the brotherhood we’ve got and the type of work we put in.
“We definitely have been good for the last couple of years. It’s just we haven’t been connecting, haven’t been able to get to the sack when we needed it. I feel like this year we’re connecting and doing that, so it’s been a big year so far.”
Cowboys vs. Chiefs
3:25 p.m. Sunday, KTVT/11