Cowboys' pass rush remains suspect after draft

With Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence facing suspensions to start the season, the Cowboys' depth chart looks thin at defensive end. AP Photo/Brandon Wade

IRVING, Texas -- Last season, the New York Giants finished 30th in the NFL with 23 sacks.Their response? Signing free agent defensive end Olivier Vernon to an $85-million deal and praying Jason Pierre-Paul regains his form as one of the league’s best pass-rushers.

The Dallas Cowboys' pass rush was among the worst in the NFL last season, too. They responded by drafting Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper in the fourth round, re-signing versatile defensive lineman Jack Crawford and signing defensive end Benson Mayowa, who has two career sacks.


Drafting Ezekiel Elliott in the first round was great, and adding linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round could prove to be the shrewdest move of the 2016 draft.

None of that, however, will help the Cowboys’ improve their sorry pass rush.

Dallas had just 31 sacks in 2016, but defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Greg Hardy accounted for 14. Lawrence is appealing a suspension for the first four games of the 2016 season, and the club has chosen not to re-sign Hardy. Second-year defensive end Randy Gregory, drafted in the second round to help the pass rush, has been suspended for the first four games of the season.

That is why the Cowboys are talking about moving Tyrone Crawford from defensive tackle to defensive end.

"He can play the position," owner Jerry Jones said. "He can give you some push off the edge. He’s done it before."

True, but part of the reason the Cowboys moved him to defensive tackle is because he’s not good enough to be a dominant pass-rusher on the edge. His combination of power and quickness does give him an advantage inside, where he goes against guards, who are traditionally weaker pass-protectors.

Denver, the reigning champion, finished last season with 52 sacks and terrorized Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, New England's Tom Brady and Carolina's Cam Newton in the playoffs. Carolina finished sixth in the league with 44 sacks.

The more pressure the better, because quarterbacks under duress tend to make mistakes.

Lawrence led the Cowboys with eight sacks last season, and Jeremy Mincey led the club with six sacks the season before, when they went 12-4 and won the NFC East.

Still, a poor pass rush means defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli must blitz more, leaving the defense vulnerable.

The Cowboys took Elliott with their first pick, believing he would impact the offense and the defense.

Though Elliott will keep the defense off the field if he has the kind of rookie year most folks expect, he’s not going to impact the pass rush -- and that’s a problem.