Dallas Cowboys Elevated Pass Rush Using Basketball Blueprint


Following the 2014 season, Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli vowed upgrading the Dallas Cowboys pass rush would be his top priority.

After all Dallas ranked 28th in sacks, scraping together a mere 28 total. Aaron Rodgers ended the Cowboys season while patiently hobbling around on one leg.

More from The Landry Hat

69% completions, 316 yards, and 3 touchdowns was the passing damage assessment. The Cowboys’ final loss was a direct indictment of their inept pressure.

Marinelli, a defensive line guru, knows that even good corners can’t stay on receivers for excessive amounts of time.

He vowed to bolster the pass rush and went to work. Recent additions show he’s using the same blueprint that made him an NFL expert at harassing quarterbacks.


When coaching the Chicago Bears training camp in 2012, Marinelli revealed his preferred traits for defensive linemen.

"It’s like having four basketball players rushing the quarterback; long, lean guys that can really move and are athletic.Where the league is at right now in terms of mobility at quarterback—with speed and/or guys that can step up and avoid—you need speed coming at the quarterback. You’re looking for athletic guys. You’re looking for athletic guys that can play in space.”  – Bears DC Marinelli on Chicago’s defensive line"

He was referring to the Bears four-man front of Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Henry Melton, and Shea McClellin. Chicago’s 2012 unit finished 8th with 41 sacks.

The starting Cowboys front at Green Bay featured Jeremy Mincey, Nick Hayden, Tyrone Crawford, and George Selvie.

While Crawford fits his athletic mold well, the other three are knock-offs of the Bears group above. So Marinelli broke out the basketball blueprint and went to work.

The addition of elite pass rusher Greg Hardy secured one of the most athletic, feared pass rushers in the league today.

At 6’4, 281 pounds, Hardy ran a 4.79 40-yard dash at his pro day. In high school he was all-state in basketball. Hardy fit Marinelli’s basketball player blueprint perfectly.

In the draft the Cowboys snatched up top-15 talent and elite college rusher Randy Gregory. Again he landed another defensive end with immense athletic skills.

Gregory has the long, lean basketball look in droves at 6’5, 241. He moves like a flash, testing as a combine top performer with a 4.64 40-yard dash and 10’5″ broad jump.


Next he drafted defensive end Ryan Russell. At 6’4, 270, the nimble big man was also a top performer at the combine running a 4.70 40-yard dash.

At Purdue he played a ‘hybrid’ defensive line role. His size, quickness, and athleticism allowed sliding inside, outside, and dropping into coverage.

During mini camp, Russell already showed Marinelli he has inside pass rush potential.

"Ryan Russell, you can already see is 6-4, 270 pounds, has the frame to put on some more weight. He could be a guy ultimately who might swing down inside and give some rush there as well. — Rod Marinelli on inside pass rush"

Marinelli has plans to slide another fast end inside on passing downs for rush help. Lawrence, 6’3, 251, is highly athletic and a former HS basketball star like Hardy.

The blueprint couldn’t be more clear, Dallas is stacking the line with basketball type athletes to harass the quarterback.

Imagine Gregory, Crawford, Lawrence, and Hardy all in a special pass rush package to assault the backfield.

Even before Hardy returns, there are similar rush package options. Dallas can pair Gregory, Crawford, Russell, and Lawrence.

The sky is the limit for this revamped pass rush. While Marinelli is dead set on giving quarterbacks an upward view of that same sky.

Next: Dallas Cowboys Running Back By Committee Plan Can Work