Phillips: The Cowboys' Defensive Line Is Deeper, Hungrier Entering 2015

IRVING, Texas – Leave it to Jeremy Mincey, the Cowboys' affable defensive end/quote machine, to provide the line of the week as we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait for Sunday's season opener.

On the subject of the Cowboys' revamped defensive line:

"You look at teams like Seattle, the teams that won championships, they didn't have 10 double-digit sack guys. They had five, six guys with six or seven sacks, which means everybody's eating at the table.

"In order to destroy a buffet, everybody's gotta eat."

Makes you hungry just reading that, doesn't it?

That's the plan for Rod Marinelli's group – linemen in waves disrupting quarterbacks. These are the Cowboys 'rush men' I'm most curious about entering the 2015 season.

With regard to the Cowboys' running game, the most talked-about position on the team, well, I've officially entered "Let's See It" mode. I'm talking about the full running game, not running backs Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar getting a few carries in a patchwork preseason offense.

That means all five starting offensive linemen blocking for them. That means superstar receiver Dez Bryant on the field as a downfield threat. That's kind of important for a full and fair evaluation, don't you think?

With DeMarco Murray an Eagle, yes, this is now an unknown entity for the defending NFC East champs. Preseason aside, no one has seen Randle or Dunbar in anything but a pinch-hitting role, to borrow a phrase from Jason Garrett. Darren McFadden's been a Raider the last seven years. New acquisition Christine Michael has his nose in his playbook this week.

But the Patriots won the Super Bowl with an offense that had a different leading rusher in each month of the regular season and not a single back with 100 carries. The 2009 Cowboys won the NFC East with a three-man committee that gained 1,966 yards. If a RBBC (Running Back By Committee) can get somewhere in Murray's 1,845 range from a year ago, wouldn't that be considered success?

There's evidence that this can work. We just need to see it.

The other 'rush men' – the D-Line – can have a positive effect on the running game if they can do two things: 1) Help create close to the 31 takeaways that ranked second in the league last season; and 2) Help the defense get off the field by building on last year's third-down conversion percentage (43.6, which ranked 27th by my Aggie math).

The more possessions for Tony Romo, and the better field position for Tony Romo, the better.

The offensive line was the foundation of the team's offensive success last year, both running and passing. It's no coincidence that the front office has devoted three first-round picks to that group since 2011 that have developed into three Pro Bowlers (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin).

What we're seeing on the defensive line is a similar commitment, between the draft and free agency, to controlling the line of scrimmage on the other side of the ball. Rookie Randy Gregory is a first-round talent who was taken in the second round. Greg Hardy, when he comes back from a four-game NFL suspension, is a former Pro Bowler. Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence could make big leaps in their respective fourth and second seasons.

The Cowboys might not have three Pro Bowlers on the D-Line this year, but they might have three or four future Pro Bowlers. That's not hyperbole.

The talent is apparently obvious to Giants head coach Tom Coughlin when sizing up Dallas' strengths heading into Sunday night:

"You start on their offensive line, and their defensive line," Coughlin told the New York media.

Mincey and Gregory will have to help replace Hardy's potential production for a month. When he's back, Marinelli can mix and match Hardy, Mincey, Gregory, Lawrence, Crawford and Nick Hayden – plus reserves such as Jack Crawford, Davon Coleman, Ryan Russell, Terrell McClain and Ken Bishop.

It's clearly a deep rotation that creates a lot of different options.

"Hell yeah, and you can quote that," Mincey said. "Hell yeah. It's great to see a lot of guys that can get to the quarterback. It surely makes my job easier. I can tell you that much."

Mincey's right: The buffet line is larger this year. And that could be the biggest key to the Cowboys' 2015 season.

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