Cowboys must lean on Lawrence and Irving moving forward

DALLAS - The last 72 hours haven't exactly gone the Cowboys way.

Ezekiel Elliott was denied a preliminary injunction Monday night by a New York judge, meaning his six-game suspension is back on. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles, already at 7-1 and in first-place in the NFC East, made a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline with the Miami Dolphins to bring in running back Jay Ajayi.

Deep breaths, everyone.

While this is definitely not ideal for Dallas fans, they can at least take solace in this -- the Cowboys have a ridiculously talented pair of pass rushers on their defensive line.

Or, "a bunch of wild animals," as DeMarcus Lawrence eloquently put it after Sunday's win over Washington.

Both Lawrence and David Irving are certainly living up to that description so far this season. Together, the duo has combined for 15.5 sacks through seven games. Lawrence has 10.5 sacks alone, and is the first Cowboy since Jason Hatcher in 2013 to record more than 10 sacks in a season.

Irving, fresh off a four-game suspension to begin the season for a failed drug test in the offseason, has been a load for offensive lines. He has 5.5 sacks of his own, and when paired with Lawrence, gives Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli a two-headed monster in the trenches.

From bull rushes to swim moves and stunts, Lawrence and Irving have been lethal. In the final year of his rookie contract, Lawrence has exceeded nearly all expectations, and has positioned himself for a massive payday next year. For the first time since he entered the league, Lawrence is healthy and slimmed down.

And no one has been able to keep him from the quarterback.

Unfortunately, while Lawrence and Irving have been so good, the rest of the defense has been mediocre at best.

Much of Dallas' struggles in the secondary can be attributed to youth, because aside from Orlando Scandrick and Byron Jones, the Cowboys are leaning primarily on rookies. Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie top the list, and at times, despite their evident talent, their inexperience has showed.

The Cowboys currently rank 15th in the NFL in pass defense, with opponents averaging 216 yards per game through the air. From busted coverages to getting turned around mid-route and missed open field tackles, you don't have to look far to see the problems.

Against the run, Dallas has also had its struggles, as they rank 15th in the league with opponents averaging 106 yards per game on the ground. The Cowboys have also allowed three 100-yard rushers this season against the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers.

Granted, Irving did not play in the games against Denver or Los Angeles, but it's still odd for a team with two dynamic pass-rushers to have such an average defense. The bulk of Dallas' worst performances did come with defensive leader Sean Lee injured last month, which might explain some things.

Moving forward, especially if the Cowboys are going to be without Elliott down the stretch, Dallas will have to lean on Lawrence and Irving to pick up the slack, both offensive and defensively. With a subpar secondary and offense potentially missing its star running back, Marinelli will need Herculean efforts from Lawrence and Irving if the Cowboys hope to make the playoffs.

Wild animals might not cut it.

 

What are your thoughts on the Cowboys' revamped defensive front? Share 'em with Reece on Twitter @ReeceWaddell15.

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