FRISCO, Texas -- For many years, opposing teams facing the Dallas Cowboys defense meant planning how to slow down three-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, "The Man" of Dallas' pass-rush for eight of his first 10 NFL seasons. Jerry Jones and the Cowboys front office made him one of the first picks of the second round in the 2014 NFL Draft, selecting him 34th overall. He quickly blossomed into one of the league's premier pass-rushers, racking 25 sacks across the 2017 and 2018 seasons, tied for the fourth-most in the NFL over that span.
However after some back and foot injuries, being on the other side 30 (31 years old) and the emergence of fellow Cowboys All-Pro linebacker New York Jets -- Lawrence is at peace with being more of a "leader" for a Dallas defense that is leading the NFL in points allowed (10), takeaways (seven), total yards per game allowed (193.0), yards per play allowed (3.5), red zone touchdown percentage allowed (0%), sacks (10, tied with the Washington Commanders), quarterback pressure rate (63.6%) and passer rating allowed (34.2) entering their Week 3 matchup at the Arizona Cardinals.-- who is coming off winning his following Dallas' 30-10 victory over the
"I definitely went through that stage of my life where all the attention was on me, and now it's all on him [Parsons]," Lawrence said Wednesday after practice. "I feel like he's handling his success well. I feel like he understands who he wants to be when it's all said and done. That's going to take him to the top. I feel like I have handled it [the change] well, being able to take a step back with my role changing a little bit. Now they look at me as a leader instead of that go-getter. It's still in my heart, so I'm definitely going to continue to go get it and keep up with the young buck. We're going to continue to grind."
Lawrence's star may not shine as brightly on Dallas' dominant defense, but that doesn't mean his impact isn't still being felt on the field. He lowered the boom on the Jets' first offensive play, slamming New York's up-and-coming running back Breece Hall down into the AT&T Stadium turf for a loss of four yards. That play, among others early on in 2023, is why his 91.2 Pro Football Focus run-defense grade ranks as the best in the NFL among edge rushers through two weeks. Lawrence is also still contributing in the pass-rush, totaling the second-highest pass-rush win rate, how often a player is able to beat their blocking matchup within 2.5 seconds after the snap, among edge rushers through Week 2 (30.8%), trailing only Cleveland Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett's 31.4% rate.
Highest Pass-Rush Win Rate This Season
Weeks 1-2, Among Edge Rushers
|Player||Pass-Rush Win Rate|
CLE Myles Garrett
DAL DeMarcus Lawrence
NE Josh Uche
SF Nick Bosa
WAS Chase Young
* Per PFF
"That's the standard of my game," Lawrence said. "I set that standard a long time ago. If I'm on the field, you know D-Law is gonna set the edge against the run and gonna make tackles for a loss. It's now all about getting that ball... I feel like I'm playing [well]. It really doesn't even feel like [it's been] 10 years. I'm blessed and just getting after it. I feel like we have the team to do the necessary things that we want to do, and we've got the formula for winning down-pat."
Lawrence lined up as the left defensive end exclusively for the bulk of his 10-year career, but defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has begun to tinker with his snap alignment in his third season running the Cowboys defense, playing him in other spots on 15% of Lawrence's snap, according to PFF. Some of that movement has already resulted in key plays like when Lawrence batted down one of Jets quarterback Zach Wilson's passes on Sunday, causing it to harmlessly fall to the turf. That sequence ended up being a critical play because 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson appeared to break open in the left corner of the end zone, where Wilson was throwing the football.
"He has played really aggressive," Quinn said of Lawrence's play on Monday. "There's a level you can go to where he's playing at different spots. I saw him have a really good rush outside at the right end. He has played so much left end and done good things. When we can move guys around in different spaces, that really sets it apart. He's so active, he thinks about the ball. You saw him get a hand on one down near the end zone and it hit the ground where [Trevon] Diggs was. He got a piece of that one. His awareness to not just rush, but to extend and win the last yard of a pass rush. Those are the things I have seen with him. He has really improved where he can align almost anywhere along the defensive line and be comfortable doing that. You can imagine that's not as easy to do when you have played mostly left end for your career. I really tip my hat to him for not only accepting that, but to say this is another part of how we play."
Lawrence hasn't only been willing to move around, but he has encouraged Quinn to continue changing his position up and down the line of scrimmage.
"I feel like that's huge for us," Lawrence said. "Especially in DQ's packages, not being able to single one guy out or thinking you have a drop on us thinking 'oh I can run to this side because this guy is always over here or I can't run to D-Law's side.' The packages that we have helps all of us. I just feel like our talent is off the charts and we want to be the team that we need to be. I feel like me only playing on the left side is hindering us because now they can say 'Micah is always going to be on the right or in the middle somewhere. We can just slide over to Micah and leave D-Law over there.' Now, people don't know where either one of us is, which it makes it hard [for opposing offenses.]"
Parsons, who ranks second among the league's edge rushers in PFF run-defense grade (90.7) behind Lawrence, credits him for his improvement in stopping the run, something that has been a focus this season across the defense as they all look to "earn the right to pass rush."
"DeMarcus just helps me with the mindset, where to go," Parsons said after practice Wednesday. "He's a big one about the mindset of how we're going to hunt, how we're going to dominate. Especially in the run game where he's the most dominant. I learn from him and how he approaches it and what he's looking at in his keys. He's helped me get better against the run."
The arrival of Parsons as the 12th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft was the start of Lawrence realizing he is the veteran leader along the defensive line that the rest of the position will look too, something that has revitalized his career after a 2020 season in which the Cowboys allowed 29.6 points per game, the fifth-most in the NFL that year and the second-most in a season in team history, ahead of only Dallas' inaugural 1960 season when they allowed 30.8 points per game. Since the arrival of Parsons and Quinn in 2021, the Cowboys have ranked inside the NFL's top 10 in scoring defense in each of the last two seasons as well as leading the in takeaways in consecutive seasons, making them only the second team to accomplish that feat feat alongside the 1972-1974 Pittsburgh Steelers "Iron Curtain" defenses.
"I think it hit me a couple years ago, being around all the young guys, trying to match their energy and play with them.," Lawrence said. "It definitely brought my youth back to me. I feel like I'm a little faster this year. It's exciting to be around. It's [also] exciting that all the hard work you have put in over the years isn't going in vain. Being able to stack wins and build the type of team and formula that you need to get to top, we continue to gradually grow and we feel like we're in the right space to where we can do something special."