ARLINGTON, Texas – Considering the whole thing seems to be held together by duct tape, it's hard not to be impressed by this Cowboys pass rush.
That's not a knock on the Cowboys' talent level – more of a testament to what they've had to go through this season. Between COVID-19 absences and various injuries, the Cowboys have been without all of the key pieces of their pass rush, from DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, to Dorance Armstrong and Bradlee Anae, at one point or another.
More amazing than that type of roster shuffling? They're making it work.
"I was down one week, Bradlee's been out," Gregory said Sunday. "Obviously, D-Law is down, D.A. is down. Guys have got to step up, and guys are doing that."
This 38-26 win over Carolina might have been the most fun iteration so far. To be fair, the Panthers aren't exactly fielding a great wall, but the Cowboys still deserve plenty of credit for making life uncomfortable for Sam Darnold.
Led by Gregory, who finished with two sacks and four quarterback hits, the Dallas pass rush harassed Darnold throughout the afternoon. They sacked him five times on the day, hit him another 11 times and pressured him into throwing two interceptions that swung the course of the game.
"I think it's a product of us playing as one," Gregory said. "You get after the quarterback and do that over the course of the game, he's going to throw some opps up there."
Gregory's return from the COVID-19 list was always going to be a boost. But the way defensive coordinator is filling the production around him without Lawrence has been a sight to behold.
Micah Parsons has stolen the headlines in recent weeks, and he deserves mention again in Week 4. Parsons played more off-ball linebacker against Carolina than we've seen since the season opener in Tampa, but he also chipped in a sack and a quarterback hit of his own while moonlighting as an edge rusher.
"We moved guys around a lot," Parsons said. "I don't think they were used to seeing certain guys in certain situations which means we were able to draw attention other places and other guys came free."
That much is true. In addition to Parsons, Quinn dialed up pressure from Tarell Basham, who notched his first sack of the season. Perhaps most impressive was the performance of two rookies – Osa Odighizuwa, who continued his hot run of form, and Chauncey Golston, who tallied five tackles and a half-sack in just the second game of his NFL career.
"It's really refreshing to see those guys come in here and make the impact they made, pick up the play book and the speed of game as fast as they have," Gregory said. "It says a lot about our front office and our coaches in the way they can develop young guys."
Much like his players, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was quick to praise Quinn for his efforts to get everyone on the same page.
I think our teaching environment is vastly improved form last year. That was definitely a huge emphasis for us and I think you're seeing the benefits of it.
It might not always be this pretty. There will be better offensive lines on the horizon, and the Cowboys only had four team sacks coming into this game – so they more than doubled their total against the Panthers.
Still, it's fun to see how they're thinking outside the box to address their issues. And it's encouraging to think that help is on the way. Anae figures to return from the COVID list sooner rather than later, and Armstrong is on the mend from an ankle sprain. It's still a ways off, but Lawrence is expected back at some point this season.
If the Cowboys can generate this type of pressure by improvising, what might a more finished product look like?