Counterpoint: Despite Loss Of Lee, D-Line Is Still The Focus


IRVING, Texas – Far be it from me to write off the loss of Sean Lee as a trivial matter for the Cowboys – it isn't. On the list of indispensable members of the roster, Lee is right up near the top, only definitively behind Tony Romo.

That said, I don't think the torn ACL Lee suffered last week changes the offseason refrain for the Dallas defense, which is: as the pass rush goes, so goes the team.

The issue should be second-nature to any Cowboys fan at this point. The team's pass rush was lousy in 2013, and that contributed significantly to a horrendous defensive performance. Three months after the season ended, the Cowboys parted ways with their franchise sack leader and their 2013 sack leader.

We've moved past all that with the help of a productive free agent period and a big-name draft pick. The Cowboys added Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye to the roster and they re-signed Anthony Spencer to a team-friendly deal. They drafted what they hope can be an immediate contributor in DeMarcus Lawrence.

If you include the return of Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass, who didn't play a single snap in 2013, the Cowboys are now working with eight new faces who did not play a role in the pass-rushing effort last season.

The problem here is really simple: not one of the guys the Cowboys are relying on to get sacks is a proven commodity. The two Pro Bowlers, Melton and Spencer, are recovering from major injury and may not make the same impact. McClain, Mincey and returning starters George Selvie and Nick Hayden haven't proven themselves to be anything more than journeymen to this point. Lawrence, Crawford have loads of potential but no experience to back it up.

Even without Lee, this linebacker corps looks like it's in better shape than that. Bruce Carter, disappointing as he was last season, is a two-year starter with 174 career tackles. Justin Durant has 74 career starts and has a chance to eclipse 500 career tackles this season. [embedded_ad]

Behind those two, question marks abound. Like Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens is a rookie in his own right with no experience. Orie Lemon has yet to truly catch on during his pro career. Kyle Wilber and Devonte Holloman show promise, but they each have about a half season's worth of experience.

It's not what I would call good, but it's a starting point. As of right now, the Cowboys' most important defensive lineman, Melton, is a question mark. And we don't have a good idea of what to expect from anyone else.

The role we ask of these positions makes a difference, as well. The defensive line bears most of the burden of making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable and harrying the passing game. If they're unable to do that, even a completely healthy Sean Lee wouldn't be as effective.

If the pass rush develops into a strength, it should be able to mask other deficiencies, both among the linebackers in the secondary.

That's why the defensive line's ability to jell into something productive remains the biggest issue on this defense.

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IRVING, Texas – Far be it from me to write off the loss of Sean Lee as a trivial matter for the Cowboys – it isn't. On the list of indispensable members of the roster, Lee is right up near the top, only definitively behind Tony Romo.

That said, I don't think the torn ACL Lee suffered last week changes the offseason refrain for the Dallas defense, which is: as the pass rush goes, so goes the team.

The issue should be second-nature to any Cowboys fan at this point. The team's pass rush was lousy in 2013, and that contributed significantly to a horrendous defensive performance. Three months after the season ended, the Cowboys parted ways with their franchise sack leader and their 2013 sack leader.

We've moved past all that with the help of a productive free agent period and a big-name draft pick. The Cowboys added Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye to the roster and they re-signed Anthony Spencer to a team-friendly deal. They drafted what they hope can be an immediate contributor in DeMarcus Lawrence.

If you include the return of Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass, who didn't play a single snap in 2013, the Cowboys are now working with eight new faces who did not play a role in the pass-rushing effort last season.

The problem here is really simple: not one of the guys the Cowboys are relying on to get sacks is a proven commodity. The two Pro Bowlers, Melton and Spencer, are recovering from major injury and may not make the same impact. McClain, Mincey and returning starters George Selvie and Nick Hayden haven't proven themselves to be anything more than journeymen to this point. Lawrence, Crawford have loads of potential but no experience to back it up.

Even without Lee, this linebacker corps looks like it's in better shape than that. Bruce Carter, disappointing as he was last season, is a two-year starter with 174 career tackles. Justin Durant has 74 career starts and has a chance to eclipse 500 career tackles this season. [embedded_ad]

Behind those two, question marks abound. Like Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens is a rookie in his own right with no experience. Orie Lemon has yet to truly catch on during his pro career. Kyle Wilber and Devonte Holloman show promise, but they each have about a half season's worth of experience.

It's not what I would call good, but it's a starting point. As of right now, the Cowboys' most important defensive lineman, Melton, is a question mark. And we don't have a good idea of what to expect from anyone else.

The role we ask of these positions makes a difference, as well. The defensive line bears most of the burden of making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable and harrying the passing game. If they're unable to do that, even a completely healthy Sean Lee wouldn't be as effective.

If the pass rush develops into a strength, it should be able to mask other deficiencies, both among the linebackers in the secondary.

That's why the defensive line's ability to jell into something productive remains the biggest issue on this defense.

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