Mac Engel

Cowboys’ lack of pass rush becoming greater liability

The Dallas Cowboys are as imbalanced as ever before with a depleted defense and no apparent pass rusher. Sean Lee is healthy again, but he is not a pass rusher.
The Dallas Cowboys are as imbalanced as ever before with a depleted defense and no apparent pass rusher. Sean Lee is healthy again, but he is not a pass rusher. AP

Every single member of the Dallas Cowboys defensive line walks toward you and it hits you like a six-pack of purple drank.

Don’t know that guy. Have no idea who he is. Don’t recognize his face. Not sure about him. That one looks kinda familiar. Is he a football player or an equipment guy?

To save you, there is DeMarcus Lawrence, only he is suspended for the first four games.

On Saturday, the Cowboys worked out a handful of defensive linemen. Don’t worry — you don’t know them, either.

The Cowboys’ leading sacker walks not among this group. That is Orlando Scandrick, who has 9  1/2 career sacks. He’s a cornerback, but maybe he can play left defensive end a few snaps.

This will tell you a lot about the state of the Cowboys’ defensive line: The line features a Brit, a Nigerian and a Canadian. That’s wonderful for the Olympics Opening Ceremony, less so for an NFL season opener.

In the spirit of the Olympics, the Cowboys’ defense need not bother targeting gold. All the Cowboys need from their defense is the sweet taste of bronze, but no one is sure how that will be possible without a pass rusher.

Which they don’t have.

“Sometimes this [ticks] us off,” safety Barry Church said. “We can’t talk about how we were going to be the greatest defense there is, even though people are pouring it on us right now.”

If this unit can be as good as it was in 2014, when it had no pass rush, the Cowboys have a chance and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli should be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in January with his own private ceremony.

What the Cowboys are asking from Marinelli in 2016 approaches St. Jude’s job description. St. Jude was the patron saint of hopeless causes, which this Cowboys’ pass rush feels like. Only not as good.

“I almost think it’s overreacting,” veteran defensive back Brandon Carr said.

Say it is an overreaction, but the Cowboys are as imbalanced as they have ever been and will rely on the offense to not only hold the ball, but score the ball.

You may not like to hear this, but the Cowboys will have to play on defense at least twice a game. Possibly more.

We all had the same fear of panic, dread and doom before the start of the 2014 season.

Months before the start of the regular season, they lost linebacker Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury, signed Rolando McClain as a prayer and their most accomplished pass rusher was Jeremy Mincey.

We were all wrong, and the unit was serviceable. They were not “Doomsday,” but they were professional.

“We really played well. We really played hard. We knew what we were doing,” Marinelli said. “And we stripped the ball. And at the end of the game, we made plays that year.”

That “defense that could not defend” finished a respectable 19th in the NFL in total defense, forced 28 turnovers and was plus-six in takeaway margin.

They were also handed a lead.

The Cowboys scored first in 10 of their 18 games (including playoffs). They were 9-1 in those games. Defending with a lead makes a big difference in what the other team does.

“Our level of communication was off the charts, and we knew we were all we had,” Church said. “We ran to the ball like crazy. Every time a guy had the ball, there were five guys on him. If we get back to that style of play, we have a good chance.”

But the same issue that ultimately was that defense’s undoing in the playoffs against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers existed last season.

Even Marinelli pointed out after the ’14 season they needed a pass rusher, so the team added Greg Hardy.

The Cowboys ranked 28th in the NFL in sacks in 2014 with 28. With Hardy in ’15, they had 31 sacks and ranked 25th in sacks.

Now there is no one.

“We have the same concerns,” Marinelli said. “If we have to tweak, blitz more, we’ll do that.”

Lawrence should be fine, but he is not eligible until Week 5.

Tyrone Crawford is a nice interior lineman — when healthy. He had a down season last year that Marinelli said was partly as a result of a shoulder injury that limited Crawford’s range of motion and power.

There is not a single edge rusher on this roster who has sacked quarterbacks consistently. Or inconsistently.

Suspended defensive end Randy Gregory, even when he comes off suspension, is unknown at best. McClain’s passion for purple drank rather than football is going to mean he will likely never play for the Cowboys again.

Lee is back and he is healthy, whatever that means. He has never played a full season without injury, but did appear in 14 games last season. But he is not a pass rusher.

Add it up and the secondary will be asked to hold coverages for far longer than a count of 10-Mississippi.

Rather than add a veteran such as Dwight Freeney, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons, the Cowboys are going with what they have in guys such as Wood, McAdoo, Coe, Okoye, Tapper, Thornton, Mayowa, Irving, Collins, McClain, Crawford and Russell.

Don’t worry if you don’t know their first names.

Nobody does.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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