DeMarcus Lawrence a better end? Mario Addison rightfully gets testy

Mario Addison said this offseason that the Panthers' sack "numbers speak for themselves." Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mario Addison didn't hesitate when asked if DeMarcus Lawrence would be the best defensive end at Bank of America on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox) when the Dallas Cowboys face the Carolina Panthers.

"They also said God was coming back in 2000," Carolina's defensive end said of his Dallas counterpart. "Did he come?"

No doubt the Panthers will have to account for Lawrence, who tied Calais Campbell for second in the league last season with 14.5 sacks. That there is some uncertainty as to whether Daryl Williams or Amini Silatolu, both returning from knee injuries, will start at right tackle opposite Lawrence adds to the intrigue.

In all likelihood the Panthers will have a tight end, fullback or running back providing help with Lawrence.

But as Carolina coach Ron Rivera reminded, the Panthers had two defensive ends -- future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers and Addison -- with 11 sacks in 2017.

If you're counting, that's 22 for Carolina's duo. Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford combined for 18.5 for Dallas.

The Panthers as a team ranked third in sacks with 50; Dallas was 15th with 38.

But because the Panthers haven't had that one end put up big sack numbers since Greg Hardy had 15 in 2013, Addison and Peppers get somewhat overlooked when it comes to who the elite pass-rushers are heading into this season.

Even Peppers, 38, who ranks fourth on the NFL's all-time list with 154.5 sacks.

"I mean, it's kind of hard to overlook Julius," Rivera said of the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Peppers. "But I tell you right now Mario gets taken for granted. We don't take him for granted. But people that evaluate, look at things and talk about D-lines, I think there was a ranking and our guys weren't even in the top 10."

Rivera was referring to an offseason story that didn't rank the Panthers among the top eight defensive lines in the league for 2018. Addison called the omission a "joke" and a "slap in the face."

He took the question about Lawrence being the best end on the field for Sunday's game the same way. If you look at the stats from Addison's perspective, you can understand why.

Lawrence has 23.5 sacks the past four seasons. Addison has 33 during that span, 1.5 fewer than Campbell over the same period.

So the Cowboys, whose offensive line is banged up as well, will have to deal with protecting quarterback Dak Prescott from Addison as much or more as the Panthers will have to keep Lawrence off Cam Newton.

"I think Mario is as good as any right defensive end rushing in the National Football League," Carolina defensive coordinator Eric Washington said. "Most importantly, the production says that. When you go beyond the obvious things, the sacks, the pressures we get from Mario, he just doesn't appear to be slowing down.

"When you talk about a right defensive end rushing against their best player in protection, you have to have a guy that can win. He can win one-on-ones."

In terms of who has the best defensive end, there's no doubt Lawrence statistically had the edge last season. There's also no doubt Peppers is the best defensive end on the field career-wise.

"People always say like Pep is a freak of nature," Addison said. "It's all true. Me, I say Peppers is an alien. He's from Mars. You ain't going to find too many like that, so he's got to be from another planet."

Lawrence hasn't reached that level. His nickname simply is "Tank."

The Dallas defensive line refers to itself as "Hot Boys" because they want to stay on the quarterback all game long. The Panthers refer to themselves as "G2X" for much the same reason.

"It's a mentality, a mindset," Washington explained. "It's just a reminder of why we rush. We have to affect the quarterback and we want to start with our four-man rush. And if we choose to add an extra rusher in the form of a blitzer, that person also has to assume that mindset.

"It's a goal. It's a mission. And it's a sense of pride. Whoever is back there, we have to affect the passing game."

In all likelihood, because Carolina and Dallas both want to establish the run first with respective backs Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott, the defensive fronts will decide the outcome in terms of which unit is most effective.

Lawrence will get a lot of attention because of the sack numbers he put up last season. Rivera will take the consistent numbers of Addison and Peppers.

So will Addison, who dubbed himself a "Freak on Earth," since in his mind Peppers already has the rest of the universe covered.

"Earth Freak," Addison said. "He does everything off speed. He's blessed to have a lot of speed. Mario feels good, too."

Good enough that he's not conceding any honors to Lawrence.