DeMarcus Lawrence, after a bit of a delay, is starting to show signs of being the impact pass rusher the Dallas Cowboys felt they were getting in the 2014 draft.
Lawrence has been playing better in recent weeks and it culminated with a breakout game against the Washington Redskins on Monday night. Lawrence had two sacks within the first three plays and added another tackle for loss later in the game.
Those splash plays have been few and far between in the defensive end’s young career, although he is trending in the right direction going into the Cowboys’ stretch run beginning Sunday at Green Bay.
“That kind of game just relieves a lot of pressure and opens the doors to know he can do that and even more in this league,” defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said.
Added defensive end Jeremy Mincey: “It was great for him to develop confidence in his game and know he has next-level ability. It’s always good to see what you’re physically capable of and build off it, and I’m sure he will do that as we’ve been pushing him to do.”
Lawrence intends to ride the momentum the rest of the season. He had one sack in the first eight games, but has four sacks in the past four.
That gives him a team-leading five sacks and he is hungry for more going back to Green Bay. Lawrence recorded one of only two sacks by the Cowboys in last year’s divisional round playoff loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Rodgers played that game gimpy with a calf injury, and his ability to avoid pressure most of the day further proved how badly the Cowboys needed to improve their pass rush.
It’s why they signed controversial defensive end Greg Hardy and drafted Randy Gregory in the off-season. Those acquisitions also gave them flexibility to move Lawrence from the right side to the left, where he would match up against lesser-regarded right tackles rather than some elite left tackles.
That transition has eventually paid off with Lawrence, who didn’t have the smoothest start to his career. As a rookie, he broke a bone in his right foot early in training camp and missed the first half of the 2014 season.
But Lawrence flashed potential in the playoffs and is now beginning to thrive in his second professional season.
“Getting sacks will build confidence, not just for you but as a D-line,” Lawrence said. “We’ve just been doing a good job lately, working together, getting our fits together outside and then just being relentless in our rush.
“It helped me out a lot these last four weeks. Hopefully more will just keep coming.”
The defensive line understands that confidence is of utmost importance going against a quarterback such as Rodgers, who has the ability to be just as dangerous outside the pocket as in it.
Rodgers, the reigning league Most Valuable Player, will take advantage of openings that Washington’s Kirk Cousins didn’t Monday.
Cousins missed on a few deep balls in which his receivers appeared to be open, something that Rodgers is unlikely to do. One of the ways to stop that, of course, is getting pressure on Rodgers and forcing him to throw under duress.
“That’s the most important thing in this game [pressuring Rodgers],” Lawrence said. “We understand that he can scramble and when he gets out of the pocket his accuracy is actually still high up. It’s just all about us putting him in a well and keeping him in the pocket.
“If we keep him in the pocket and he’s uncomfortable, that means we are doing our job.”
That is one thing Lawrence has been consistent at doing all season. Even though his sack numbers were low early on, he is the only defensive lineman with a quarterback pressure every week.
Lawrence has 25 pressures and has been one of the bright spots on defense of late.
“DeMarcus is someone who’s getting better and better and better,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s one of those guys, again a young guy who’s got some ability, who goes about it the right way. And you put him in these situations, he takes advantage of his opportunities. When things don’t work out well, he learns from those experiences and gets better.
“You’re starting to see him make a lot of plays.”
Cowboys at Packers
3:25 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4