(Editor's Note: This is the first of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2015 season. The series starts off with the defensive line.)*
Pressing Matters:There isn't a unit on the Cowboys' roster with more uncertainty than the defensive line. Three of the line's main contributors – Nick Hayden, Anthony Spencer and George Selvie – are set to become free agents. A fourth, Henry Melton, has a hefty team option on his contract that makes him a candidate to either be restructured or let go. There are some building blocks in place, with Jeremy Mincey, Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence all slated to return, but there's plenty of work to do in determining what the defensive line rotation will look like in 2015.
2014 Evaluation: The shortcomings of the pass rush were on full display in Green Bay in the playoffs, when a hobbled Aaron Rodgers had plenty of time to dissect the Dallas defense. The Cowboys finished 28th in the league with just 28 sacks – a number that put them 10th among the 12 playoff teams, ahead of only Cincinnati. Credit to Rod Marinelli for coaxing maximum effort out of his rushmen, but this is a unit that needs a talent infusion. There were bright spots, such as Mincey's unlooked-for production at right end, not to mention Spencer's bounce back from injury. The bottom line, though, is that this was a group that wasn't able to enforce its will nearly as often as required from this scheme.
Need More From: It's hard to be overly critical of DeMarcus Lawrence, considering he missed the first 12 weeks of his rookie season with a broken foot and only returned to action at the halfway point of the season. That said, the fact still remains that the Cowboys traded away the No. 47 pick and the No. 78 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to select Lawrence 34th overall. That move brings lofty expectations with it, and plenty of people will be looking for Lawrence to take the next step in his second year. His strong showing in the playoffs is bound to generate plenty of buzz for 2015.
Upgrades Needed:You name it. Lawrence and Mincey form a nice start at right defensive end, and Crawford showed promise from the three-technique position. That's not enough, though – particularly if Spencer, Selvie and Melton leave the team this spring. It's a good bet the Cowboys will do everything they can to address the line, both by looking for bargains during free agency and targeting pass rushers in the draft.
By The Numbers:
- Mincey led the Cowboys in sacks with six on the season. That's the fewest total for the team's sack leader since Greg Ellis notched six in 2001 – when Dallas went 5-11.
- Hayden's 52 tackles was the most by a defensive linemen, and his four tackles for loss were tied for second on the team.
- Melton had five sacks after nine games, putting him on pace for about nine sacks on the year. He failed to register another one in the final seven games, and he was placed on injured reserve the week before the wildcard game against Detroit.
- Selvie's seven sacks in 2013 was good enough for second on the team, trailing only Jason Hatcher and ahead of DeMarcus Ware. He finished 2014 with just three sacks – one each against Seattle, New York and Washington.