Mac Engel

Dallas Cowboys top defensive players have to start playing like it

DeMarcus Lawrence is the most visible and vocal personality on the Dallas Cowboys but since agreeing to that big check his game has become almost invisible.

The leader of the Hot Boyz looks cold.

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In the Cowboys’ 24-22 loss against the New York Jets on Sunday, the Cowboys premier pass rusher was credited with two sacks.

Wait. Sorry.

That’s a mistake. Tank had two assisted tackles.

Through six games, Tank has 2 1/2 sacks and while he occupies other players to create opportunities for teammates, most notably Robert Quinn, he has to get home more.

In the last three games, Tank has five total tackles and one sack.

Opposing offenses routinely make it a point of throwing quick passes, but when the opportunity is there, plays have to be made. None was made on Sunday against Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, who threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns.

Not having defensive end Randy Gregory, who is suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s drug policy, on the other side has had an effect on the Cowboys pass rush, and specifically Tank.

Tank is the star symbol for a Cowboys defense that has star players who are not making star type of plays.

Tank signed a five-year, $105 million deal in the off-season, and he simply has to make plays.

“It’s a work in progress,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “Can you put your thumb on one particular thing? No. Different circumstances each and every week. We have yet to put together for a whole entire game our style of who we are. For what we believe to be true.

“When we do it, the proof is there. There is not enough consistency with it yet.”

Since coming off his two-game suspension, Quinn has five sacks, and narrowly had several more. He has those sacks because Tank creates some of those opportunities.

Second-year linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who looked so good as a rookie, has a lot of tackles this season but no significant individual plays that have made a difference in a game.

LVE has a half of a sack, and a forced fumble. Both plays occurred in the season-opening win against the New York Giants. He’s better than this.

Jaylon Smith, who signed a five-year, $64 million extension in the off-season, has had moments where he has looked effective and like the player who covered so much ground and did so much damage last season.

Smith has two sacks, but also had long stretches where he has not made a difference. Against the Jets, he was credited with three tackles.

“We put it on us, the players,” Smith said after the game against the Jets. “The coaches, they prepare us the right way. For us it’s about putting it to work. That is something we need to do. We need to have a sense of urgency. The preparation is great.”

Forget the money part of this. A defense has to have more production from players who are on the field as much as these three guys.

The Cowboys continue to get nothing but tackles from their safeties, and this is no mention of Pro Bowl defensive back Byron Jones, who was voted the team’s 2018 defensive MVP.

The Cowboys are 3-3 for a reason. It’s a collective effort to be .500. The Cowboys have been maddeningly average in all three phases.

The only way that changes is if guys like Tank and the rest of his Hot Boyz teammates show up and make not just tackles, but plays that win a game.

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This story was originally published October 14, 2019 6:30 AM.

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