ARLINGTON, Texas – It couldn’t have been a coincidence that Alex Smith threw his first interception of 2017 on the day he played the Cowboys.
The talking point all week long had been Smith’s good decision-making and ball security. Kansas City receiver Tyreek Hill had famously thrown more interceptions than Smith heading into this matchup.
But then came this matchup, and a Dallas pass rush that bothered Smith throughout the night – sacking him twice, pressuring him plenty more and ultimately contributing to the interception that helped seal a 28-17 win.
“That’s our main thing, is getting after the quarterback,” said DeMarcus Lawrence. “They’re starting to fear us and they’re starting to take notice of what we can do.”
Throughout the first two months of this season, it has almost felt like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Lawrence’s hot start boosted the Cowboys’ sack numbers at the start of the season. But rather than drop off over the following weeks, the unit appears to have gotten stronger.
Lawrence was actually held without a sack for the first time this season on Sunday, but it hardly mattered. The Cowboys harried Smith throughout the game and chipped in three quarterback hits on the day. And even with Lawrence held off the stat sheet, his linemates got home twice.
“That’s our main thing – eat as a group, eat as a pack of wild dogs,” Lawrence said.
It’s hard to say what the bigger story is. The Cowboys’ first sack of the night came from David Irving, who played big against his former team and upped his sack total to six in just four games this season. The other one came from Taco Charlton, who notched his first career sack at the halfway point of a rookie season that has received its fair share of scrutiny.
It was Charlton’s takedown that actually helped set the stage for Smith’s interception. With Kansas City down, 28-17, and facing a key third down, Smith was flushed out of the pocket and ran right into Charlton for a three-yard loss.
“I was happy, especially at the point of the game where it was where I could really help out the team,” Charlton said. “They were trying to do a two-minute drill almost, trying to come back and score a touchdown. So just to help the team out, force them to a fourth and long. That was beneficial.”
The ensuing play was a 4th-and-8, where Smith was hurried once again and had his throw intercepted by Jeff Heath – effectively ending the game.
“When our rush is working like it has been this season, it makes our job way easier,” Heath said.
To say the rush is “working” may even be a bit of an understatement. With two sacks on Sunday, the Cowboys now have 27 on the season – which ties them for the sixth-best sack total after eight games in franchise history.
For this group to be on pace for 54 sacks, after the lackluster season it has posted in recent years, is frankly pretty staggering.
“It’s extremely fun,” said Tyrone Crawford. “It’s good to have David, all those guys that are rushing well – DeMarcus, Maliek – in there with you, because those are guys that offensive linemen have to watch. They can’t just key on certain players.”
Sunday’s game proved that point, as more players continue to benefit from the attention that Lawrence receives from opposing offense. He obviously draws top billing with 10.5 sacks on the season, but the Cowboys currently boast four players with multiple sacks – and nine total players with at least one sack on the season.
As Irving pointed out, that can be the difference between this defense being simply average, or something much more special.
“It all starts up front. No matter how good our DB’s and linebackers are, the front seven – if we aren’t doing anything, they’re hardly going to have success,” Irving said. “We’ve been keeping that in mind and coming to work every day, trying to improve each week.”
With half the season in the books, it’s safe to say the Cowboys’ pass rushers are doing just that.