Who needs to step up for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021?

Cowboys (Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)
Cowboys (Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports) /

After a poor 2020 season for the Dallas Cowboys, they hope to put this behind them. Even though Dallas lost quarterback Dak Prescott to injury, the Cowboys probably still assumed that they would win the weak NFC East.

However, Dallas winded up finishing just 6-10 and third in the NFC East, despite playing well towards the end of the season. A major downfall for their lack of success was the defense.

The Cowboys’ defense wasn’t just bad in one area. They struggled against the run, against big plays down the field, and even getting to the quarterback. This Dallas defense ranked 31st in rush yards allowed per game (158.8), 26th in opponent’s yards per completion (11.1), and 21st in sacks per game (1.9).

As a result, the Cowboys needed to go out and get playmakers to improve their defense. They signed two safeties in Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee who will probably bring that hustler mentality. Neal has had at least 100 tackles in three of five seasons and Kazee led the league in interceptions in 2018 with seven.

Furthermore, the Dallas Cowboys’ drafted former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round. In two years at Penn State as a true freshman and a true sophomore, the 6-foot-3 linebacker totaled 191 tackles (18.0 for loss), 6.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles in two seasons. They also drafted players like cornerback Kelvin Joseph, defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa, edge Chauncey Golston, and cornerback Nahshon Wright in the first three rounds.

Even with all these additional assets, the Cowboys will need one of their current players to step up. Someone who has been with the team for a while and can be that mentor to the rookies.

What veteran player needs to step up for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021?

One player that needs to have a better 2021 season is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. The two-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year $105 million extension in 2019.

However, since the extension was signed, Lawrence hasn’t lived up to that kind of money (approximately making $21 million a season). The 29-year-old only had 5.0 sacks in 2019 and 6.5 sacks in 2020. These numbers were down from his Pro Bowl seasons in 2017 and 2018 where he had 14.5 sacks in 2017 and 10.5 sacks in 2018.

Nevertheless, sacks don’t tell the whole story of Lawrence’s game. He does much more than just sack quarterbacks. Last season, he finished tied for first amongst all defensive ends in forced fumbles (4) and tied for ninth in tackles for loss (11).

Furthermore, according to espn.com, the former Boise State star finished 10th in pass rush win rate (21 percent) and fourth in run stop rate (31 percent) in 2020. He also led the Cowboys in sacks with 6.5.

The only thing that the Cowboys probably hope from Lawrence is getting to the quarterback more. In the past two seasons, he has only totaled 26 quarterback hits, which is equivalent to how many quarterbacks hits he had in 2017 alone.

When the Dallas Cowboys signed Lawrence to that huge extension (tied for the third highest-paid player at this position), they likely expected more production from the former second-round pick. New York Giants defensive end Leonard Williams, who makes the same amount as Lawrence, finished the 2020 season with more sacks (11.0), more tackles for loss (14), and quarterback hits (30) than the Dallas star.

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There’s no doubt that “Tank” is probably one of the best defensive players on the Cowboys. The 6-foot-3 defensive end has been a key piece for Dallas’ defense since he was drafted in 2014. However, Lawrence has to get to the quarterback more and play like he did in his Pro Bowl seasons.