Enjoy the Rodgers-Lawrence Cat-and-Mouse Game

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Demarcus Lawerence

The Dallas Cowboys are on a great run lately at choosing draft picks.

Last year, they landed the league’s most immediately electrifying player in running back Ezekiel Elliott. If that wasn’t enough, they also got the best bargain in the draft when they selected quarterback Dak Prescott in the fourth round. This year their top draft pick was another defensive end, Taco Charlton, out of Michigan.

The newest star on the Cowboys is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, out of Boise State, who was the Cowboys’ top pick in 2014. Going into Sunday, his 7.5 sacks comfortably leads the league. How good is that? If he could maintain the pace he’d have a 32-sack season.

It took a while, though, for Lawrence to stand out. When he was selected as the 34th overall pick in 2014, the idea was to replace his namesake, All-Pro DeMarcus Ware. Before finishing his career in Denver for three years, Ware became the Cowboys’ all-time sack leader. Chosen 11th overall in the 2005 draft, he was another great pick by Dallas.

In his rookie year, Lawrence missed eight games with a broken foot and failed to record any regular season sacks – though he got two of them in postseason. In 2015, though Dallas had only four wins, Lawrence broke out and led the team with eight sacks.

Last year, however, he managed only one sack, as he had a back injury that led to surgery for the second straight offseason. He also had to serve a four-game suspension. It’s funny how often soaring statistics and use of performance-enhancing drugs coincide, isn’t it?

Lawrence will soon become a rich man, as his original four-year contract with Dallas will be up at the end of the year.

As you might expect, the 6’3” 265-pound dynamo offers a mix of power and quickness. His athleticism, however, did not jump off the charts at the NFL combine. Among defensive ends, his 40-yard dash was 60th percentile, and his 20-yard shuttle time was 75th, but his bench press total was only 23rd percentile. The latter measure might no longer be relevant, as recent game film shows a physically dominating man casting aside would-be blockers (see above: “performance-enhancing drugs”).

Cat-and-Mouse

The Green Bay Packers’ offensive line is going to be put to the test against Lawrence on Sunday.

I reviewed the Dallas-Rams game film, and Lawrence was contained quite well. He had four tackles, two quarterback hits and one sack. He got credit for the sack when he was fairly well blocked but stuck out a hand and swiped the ball out of Jerad Goff’s hand. He was all but invisible during the Rams’ second-half comeback, and he did little to stop Todd Gurley and his mates from rushing for 255 yards. I don’t think Lawrence, in his fourth year, has yet to establish himself as a premier defensive end – but the Packers need to cool off the hot streak he’s on.

I also watched Lawrence’s three-sack outburst in the Dallas-Arizona game. Lawrence both over-powered and out-quicked right tackle Jared Veldheer the entire second half. Bryan Bulaga is two years younger than the 30-year old Veldheer, and he’s also three inches shorter – Veldheer’s long frame might not be working to his advantage. Green Bay’s final injury report for the upcoming game lists both David Bakhtiari and Bulaga as questionable, but both were limited participants all week at practices.

Lawrence lines up opposite the right tackle on most plays. It’s an interesting strategy – instead of facing an opponent’s best tackle (for the Packers, left tackle David Bakhtiari), the Cowboys like to line Lawrence up against who is usually the inferior tackle. That means he’ll probably be dueling right tackle Bryan Bulaga on Sunday, assuming he plays.

Though Lawrence’s sacks this year are impressive, three of them were of Carson Palmer, the largely-immobile 37-year old Arizona quarterback.

If Lawrence attacks Aaron Rodgers from the front, it will give Aaron an opportunity to use his juke moves – stuttering, stepping forward, darting back, spinning to the right or left, and so on. Over the years, we’ve seen Rodgers become maybe the cagiest QB in the league. He just keeps getting better at it. Rodgers’ elusiveness might be more of a problem for Lawrence than how well the Green Bay blockers are contesting him.

If Lawrence starts gaining the upper hand on whoever faces off against him on the Packers’ line, let’s hope Green Bay responds – and quickly – by providing some tight end or running back help, or by giving the right tackle a breather or two. Lawrence seems to wear blockers down as the games go on. Green Bay has reacted poorly, if at all, when Justin McCray has had trouble after being inserted into the lineup this year.

About The Author

The old trial attorney never lost a case – he misplaced a few, but those files were found eventually. His arguments are water-tight, his logic unassailable, and his verdicts non-appealable. Resistance is futile.

10 Comments on "Enjoy the Rodgers-Lawrence Cat-and-Mouse Game"

  1. KILLER

    Rob, good points about Lawrence’s true level. The immobile Carson Palmer, facing inferior pass-blocking right tackles, poor vs the run, the Veldheer mystery, etc. Veldheer is like a one man Bermuda triangle this year. I respected him and he has just fallen off a cliff.

    Most sacks are actually against poor OTs, even most sacks by great pass rushers (Everson Griffen getting sacks on David Bahktiari is the exception that proves the rule….). That said the pass block drop off from a team’s LT to it’s RT is typically huge. The Cowboys pay for this via run game vulnerability with a little pass rusher at strong side DE. The Rams made them pay but I don’t think the Packers can. Inferior run game and anti-run mentality. Even obvious advantages just can’t be taken advantage of due to the one-dimensional Packers offense.

    Correction on your projected sack total for Lawrence over a whole season if he kept it up. 7.5 sacks times 4 = 30 sacks, not 32 sacks. Still an amazing total and still not gonna happen!

    Your point about PED usage and results is spot on. You’ve obviously been consulting with Clay Matthews. By the way, did you see Clay-mation’s college teammate and co-linebacker and co-#1 pick Brian Cushing was caught yet again using PEDs?

    Lawrence tested poorly at the combine because he knew intense testing of urine would occur. So the player tested was not the same player seen on the field. He was a 4.8 40 yard dash guy at the combine but the PEDs likely make him a 4.6 guy right about now. Clay’s a bit older and looks “scared straight” off the PEDs so he is likely a 4.85 guy right about now. He’ll still get some free run sacks like all 3-4 OLBs but not many quality ones.

    Your points about Rodgers movement in the pocket are true more or less. But I will say Rodgers does not look the same this year. Looks less mobile, less aware. Starting to look a bit creaky. In short: Sack-able.

    • Ferris

      Less mobile, less aware, creaky, sack-able. And EVERY GM in the league including Spielman, would pick him as their QB in a nano-second and you know it. Jealousy breeds contempt, and envy. I understand, it has to be very difficult being a Vikings fan. It also has to be hard being you.

      • KILLER

        Ferris, as is typical, you miss the point. First, not every GM would pick him as their QB especially given his expensive contract and arrow pointing down advanced age. But that wasn’t even my point.

        He looks vulnerable and uncertain and just not as “into it” this year. Even after padding his stats vs. the oh-so-soft Bears defense and having 3 out of 4 home games (including a short week one which is a huge advantage), by QB rating he is only 13th in the NFL. That is pretty much average.

        Then you said something like you are jealous of me and therefore you feel contempt (for yourself?) and also envy? Weird stuff, man.

    • PF4L

      Queen….could you please provide us all with a list of all NFL players on steroids, whether they’ve tested positive or not?
      You seem to know who these players are regardless of proof, so please, educate and enlighten the rest of us with your vast wisdom. We would appreciate the gift of being educated by someone like you who obviously knows everything.

      In other news: Prior to the Panther/Lions game, instead of playing the National Anthem with player protest, Cam Newton will represent NFL players and make a speech on Equality, with special guest Harvey Weinstein.

      It is unclear whether Cam will speak on the importance of issuing a perceived heartfelt apology and how it relates to keeping sponsors.

      • KILLER

        No, that list is for my own private usage. I share portions on a need to know basis. Get your own list, PF4L!

        • PF4L

          Ok, just checking. But thanks for acknowledging you’re just another blowhard.

          Thank you for understanding.

  2. Gort

    The “skill” players get lots of credit or blame, but the bigs up front are very important. If the O-line tomorrow starts a center and 4 guards again, it may be a long day on the run for AR. May need to go to max protect to save the franchise.

  3. PF4L

    I don’t think it’s out of line to pay tribute to an outstanding QB in the NFL on this day. Although a Packer fan, i’m also a NFL fan.

    Mr. Peyton Manning had his statue unveiled yesterday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Today he will have his Jersey # retired, and his name put up in the Colts Ring of Honor. One of the greatest players to walk onto an NFL field.

    He played the game like a man on the field, and maybe more importantly, he represented the NFL and himself as a man off the field as well.

    Great career. Well done Sir.

    RESPECT

    • KILLER

      Weeeeeelll, not so much off the field for Peyton Manning. In college he was sexually harassing that female athletic trainer and, of course, he was implicated in PED usage himself to help him recover from the neck injury.

      He is not the guy he portrays to the media. Think about that when you scarf down a Papa John’s pizza.

      • PF4L

        So something in college, and something implicated……that’s what you have for his last 2 decades?

        Oh, i forgot, you know everything about everyone.

        Carry on lonely boy.

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