Dallas Cowboys: Life without Greg Hardy will be a challenge
Now that there has been some sense of closure to the situation concerning defensive end Greg Hardy’s playing status, we can begin to examine how his 4-game suspension will impact the beginning of the Dallas Cowboys’ schedule. While Hardy is threatening to challenge his decreased suspension (which was originally 10 games) in federal court, we will proceed as if his suspension of four games will be upheld.
Hardy was brought to Dallas to be the elite pass rusher the defense was lacking last year. Despite having a defensive turnaround last year, Dallas still finished only 28th in the NFL with 28.0 sacks as a team while the Buffalo Bills led the league with 54 team sacks.
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The pass rush has been a priority in the past two years for general manager Jerry Jones. He has spent a second round pick on a defensive end in each of the past two drafts taking DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014 and Randy Gregory in 2015 in hopes that these young players can become bookends on the defensive line.
During Hardy’s suspension, Gregory and especially Lawrence (who came on strong as 2014 ended) will need to perform well. Life without Hardy will be tough because in the first quarter of the season, Dallas will face three elite quarterbacks and two division rivals.
The Cowboys open the season at home against the New York Giants whose quarterback, Eli Manning has a history of lighting up the Cowboys, especially at AT&T Stadium where he has thrown for over 400 yards on two separate occasions. Dallas will also have to contain the Giants’ explosive wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr.
Manning is prone to making mistakes when he is hurried but if he has a clean pocket, he is capable of picking apart a defense. As for Beckham, it is impossible for a defensive back to cover him for more than four seconds so the Cowboys must find a way to put pressure on Manning causing him to become flustered and limiting Beckham’s impact on the game.
In week two, Dallas travels to Philadelphia to face the Eagles. This game will be all about stopping the run.
The Eagles will likely start Sam Bradford, who is not an elite passer, at quarterback. Therefore, the pass rush will be less important when trying to stop the Eagles’ offense, which will revolve around their new running back, DeMarco Murray.
The Eagles have one of the weakest wide receiver groups in the league so expect Dallas to load up the box with eight players and dare Bradford to beat them. This is a game where Hardy’s pass rush ability will not be missed as much as it will in the next two games.
Week three presents a difficult task for the Cowboys’ defense when they host the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta’s offense is dangerous through the air with quarterback Matt Ryan throwing to two fantastic wide receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White.
The Cowboys’ defense will find it impossible to stop the Atlanta offense if they fail to pressure Ryan. The Falcons have two game-breaking receivers in Jones and White that will strain the Dallas secondary.
Greg Hardy’s ability to get to the passer would be a tremendous asset for Dallas in this game. However, as it stands, Hardy will not be available for this game meaning that the Cowboys must find other players to put pressure on Ryan.
The final game of Hardy’s suspension comes against another elite quarterback, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. Dallas will travel to the New Orleans Superdome where the Saints are tough to handle and if Brees is able to get the offense off to a fast start, the crowd will be foaming at the mouth and the Cowboys could be in for a long day.
Fortunately, New Orleans does not have the caliber of pass-catching weapons that the Falcons do. In the off season, the Saints traded their best receiver, tight end Jimmy Graham, to the Seattle Seahawks meaning that Brees’ favorite target is no longer available to him.
However, Brees is a future Hall of Fame quarterback who can dissect any defense when given time in the pocket. Again, Hardy’s presence would be invaluable in this game because if you can disrupt Brees you render the Saints’ offense impotent.
The first four games of 2015 will be a difficult stretch for the Cowboys. Each team Dallas faces while Hardy is suspended is capable of beating the Cowboys.
Facing three elite quarterbacks without Hardy will challenge the Dallas defense, which must rely on young players to provide a pass rush. In addition, facing two division rivals in the first two weeks makes it imperative that Dallas gets off to a solid start.
Last year, Dallas lost only four games in the regular season yet that was only good enough to be the third seed in the NFC playoffs. Dallas must find a way to win at least three of the four games in which Hardy will not be available or they will find it infinitely more difficult to win the NFC East or even make the playoffs.
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