The Dallas Cowboys continue to face personnel issues, but the best news of all is that defensive tackle David Irving is eligible to play – and he’s playing very well.
Well, when talking about great Dallas defensive players throughout history, the names pile up fast. We can go all the way back into the 1960’s with Bob Lilly and go even deeper in the 1970’s with players Harvey Martin and Ed Jones. In the 1990’s there was Charles Haley and by 2005 DeMarcus Ware would emerge.
Now these players hardly represent the totality of Cowboys greats on the defensive side of the ball, but they do share one thing in common, with the exception of Ware, who happens to be the franchise leader in sacks: These players won Super Bowls.
This is precisely the reason why Irving is so important right now.
Just for a few minutes, forget the talk about Ezekiel Elliott and that bogus six-game suspension he’ll apparently be serving. I’ve seen too many running backs have success running the football behind an offensive line that features Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. The Cowboys would obviously want to have their defending NFL rushing champion from 2016, but Elliott is the second league rushing champ that this line has helped create since 2014.
In short, the Cowboys will run the football, and as The Landry Hat’s very own Steve Mullenax points out, the next best running back on the roster might still be a surprise.
Yes, Dak Prescott will play a massive role in determining how things turn out for the Cowboys. Then again, if it all falls onto the shoulders of any quarterback in the game of professional football, you’re likely not a playoff team and you’re definitely not a Super Bowl team.
Defense, however, is a different discussion entirely.
For example, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV with Trent Dilfer at quarterback. So weak was Dilfer as a pro-passer that he wasn’t even on the 2001 Ravens roster.
The Ravens defense was the meal ticket to that Super Bowl where they faced a completely overmatched New York Giants team that was still years away from Eli Manning.
Something similar needs to be said about the Dallas Cowboys down the stretch – Irving leads the way in that possibility.
This is not to overlook NFL sack-leader DeMarcus Lawrence in any way. In fact, the production he’s offering this season makes Dallas’ chances at making the postseason that much more realistic. He’s been exactly what the doctor ordered at a defensive end position that’s been largely pedestrian since the release of Ware following the 2013 season.
The reality is that Irving is a beast on the inside that opens up opportunities for the entire defensive front. His 6’8” and 275-pound frame is too athletic for any offensive guard to manage and he’s still quick enough to split double-teams, which are happening more frequently.
Most great defensive tackles win with quickness and power, but Irving differs in that he wins with quickness and length, which allows him more chances to make plays with his arms. Irving can commit to a blocker and then disengage with the ability to deflect a pass or maybe strip the football. Interior speed is Irving’s game and the Cowboys are 2-1 with him back in the lineup – the one loss being a near victory over the Green Bay Packers back on Week 5.
Irving’s deflected pass thrown by Kirk Cousins in Washington last Sunday was a classic example of how this player doesn’t need to touch the opposing quarterback to change the game. His wingspan of over 7-feet is freakish and opponents know that he’s always just a snap away from changing a football game.
While David Irving was suspended for the first four games of the 2017 regular season, the Cowboys averaged exactly three sacks per game while starting off 2-2 – with Elliott in the lineup, I might add.
Since Irving’s return, the Dallas Cowboys defense is averaging 4.3 sacks per contest and is starting to roll at 2-1.
Add David Irving to Lawrence and a now healthy Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens and the Cowboys have the makings of a defense that can win any game at any time. This is what has to be in place if the Cowboys are going to either qualify for the NFC playoffs as a wild card or as champions of the NFC East.