At the top of the priorities for a successful 2016, the Cowboys need a healthy Tony Romo. But, as I’ve written time and again, next on the list isn’t the quarterback’s backup.
It’s a pass rush. And, unfortunately, it’s going to be an almost impossible void to fill.
We saw in the Super Bowl what defensive pressure does. It makes league MVPs like Cam Newton uncomfortable. And, yes again, it wins championships. With Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware collapsing the pocket and causing chaos, the Broncos whipped the Panthers after a regular-season in which their No. 1 defense produced 52 sacks.
Better known as 21 more than the Cowboys. Yikes.
And what does that pressure do? Not only halts possessions, but creates turnovers. The NFC Champion Panthers forced 39 turnovers last season. The Cowboys? Eleven. Double yikes.
But wait, here’s where it really gets scary. The Cowboys have spent a ton of resources on the defensive line recently, from two second-round picks on DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory and from free-agent contracts to Jeremy Mincey and Greg Hardy. But that’s netted them only 59 sacks the last two seasons, third-fewest in the NFL over that span.
Now with Gregory suspended, Lawrence coming off back surgery and Mincey and Hardy seemingly out the door as free agents, the Cowboys are basically starting from scratch. Considering their lack of results, it might be a good thing. But, from somewhere, they’ve got to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are below-average and haven’t had an interception between them since 2014, but the lack of a pass rush certainly doesn’t help.
Whether they re-sign Hardy, go after the Dolphins’ Olivier Vernon in free agency or draft Ohio State’s Joey Bosa or Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence with the 4th overall pick, the Cowboys must make improving their pass rush priority No. 1.
“Obviously that’s a need for us,” team vice president Stephen Jones told reporters Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “It’s at the top of the list. The really good football teams tend to get pressure on the quarterbacks, so it continues to be a goal of ours. We hadn’t necessarily been great at it the last couple of years, and we’ve got to continue to figure out a way to improve upon that.”
From Bob Lilly to Harvey Martin to Charles Haley to Ware, the Cowboys’ legacy of success has always included a productive pass rusher. Without another one, they’ll finish closer to 4-12 next season than 12-4.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.