Even with fewer sacks, Lawrence is mak­ing im­pact with Cow­boys

The Idaho Statesman - - Sports - BY SCHUYLER DIXON

FRISCO, TEXAS

De­Mar­cus Lawrence may not reach his ca­reer high in sacks dur­ing the en­core to the Dal­las de­fen­sive end’s break­through sea­son in the NFL.

By any mea­sure from his coaches and team­mates, Lawrence’s fol­lowup to 14 1⁄2 sacks has been a suc­cess . A big one.

“With the things that we’ve changed in the de­fense, he has to more dis­ci­plined in the run and things of that sort,” de­fen­sive line­man Ty­rone Craw­ford said. “Sacks are a good num­ber for ev­ery­body else mainly. As far as a good player on a good de­fense, you’re not go­ing to find a bet­ter one.”

Lawrence has 8 1⁄2 sacks through 12 games. The fifth-year pro had that many in five games last year. But the for­mer Boise State stand­out col­lected his first ca­reer in­ter­cep­tion on a screen pass two games ago against Wash­ing­ton be­fore help­ing lead the de­fense’s sig­na­ture mo­ment in 2018.

The Cow­boys bot­tled up Drew Brees and the New Or­leans Saints in a 13-10 win that set them up for sole pos­ses­sion of first place in the NFC East. Dal­las took that spot with the Red­skins’ loss to Philadel­phia.

Now Dal­las (7-5) gets its re­match with the Ea­gles (6-6) on Sun­day, with first place on the line just as it was on Thanks­giv­ing against Wash­ing­ton. The Cow­boys started their cur­rent four-game win­ning streak with a vic­tory in Philadel­phia.

“I have my ups and down this sea­son. No com­plain­ing about it,” Lawrence said. “I re­ally em­brace this sea­son. It just shows how much we re­ally care, how much I re­ally care, just be­cause of how we’re stand­ing as a de­fense. I feel like ev­ery­thing is look­ing up.”

And that was be­fore the Cow­boys held the Saints to 176 yards, their low­est to­tal in 22 years and more than 200 yards below their sea­son av­er­age. While rookie Leighton Van­der Esch and Jay­lon Smith have taken a large share of the spot­light at line­backer, Lawrence’s pres­ence up front is sig­nif­i­cant.

Lawrence has played the most snaps among de­fen­sive line­men by more than 100. He’s get­ting the block­ing at­ten­tion of some­one who tied for sec­ond in the NFL in sacks a year ago. And he’s still stop­ping the run, some­thing de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Rod Marinelli says Lawrence has al­ways done well.

“I think he is ab­so­lutely play­ing dy­namic in ev­ery phase of the game,” Marinelli said. “He’s from side­line to side­line to screens to pick­ing a screen off, to do­ing things ex­actly right. He can do ev­ery­thing. And he leads this de­fense by his ef­fort. He’s re­lent­less.”

Craw­ford be­lieves an­other look at film from last sea­son would re­veal more missed as­sign­ments by Lawrence than this sea­son, an­other rea­son to pick other things over sacks as the mea­sure of Lawrence’s worth. Lawrence also em­braced the in­tan­gi­bles coming off his first big year.

“The guy has worked harder than I’ve ever seen him work, es­pe­cially through­out the off­sea­son and into the sea­son,” Craw­ford said. “He’s be­come more of a leader in the locker room. The guy’s been balling. He’s just got to keep it up.”

Lawrence’s first sea­son with dou­ble-digit sacks led to his first Pro Bowl and a fran­chise tag worth $17.1 mil­lion . The 26-year-old hap­pily signed it, be­liev­ing the se­cu­rity of a long-term con­tact would fol­low an­other solid sea­son.

The sides never got close on that deal last off­sea­son, and the ques­tion of an­other year on the fran­chise tag will hover un­til they get close, if they do. Lawrence has never let him­self get both­ered by that ques­tion.

“Last year is last year,” he said. “Ain’t no­body say­ing, ‘OK, D-Law had 14 1/2 sacks, he de­serves the Pro Bowl this year or he de­serves to be in the Su­per Bowl.’ It’s all on me. Like I said, I em­brace it. Ab­so­lutely I want to be bet­ter than 14 1/2 and I’ve got to keep work­ing day in and day out in or­der to get there.”

The Cow­boys are mea­sur­ing in other ways.

RON JENK­INS AP

Cow­boys de­fen­sive end De­Mar­cus Lawrence may not reach his ca­reer high in sacks dur­ing the en­core to his break­through 2017 cam­paign. But his coaches and team­mates say Lawrence’s fol­low-up to his 141⁄2-sack sea­son has been a suc­cess.

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