I'm sure everyone who watches film has certain players they look forward to checking out every week, no matter what their stat line looks like. Guys who just know how to play the game and really jump off the screen at you. For me, as an old defensive end, it doesn't get much better than watching Dallas' DeMarcus Lawrence putting in work, game after game.
This dude just has impeccable technique in everything he does. I don't care if he is taking on a double team or making a one-on-one pass rush move, you can best believe his technique is always going to be popping.
His consistency with his technique is a huge reason why he has been able to be so consistent with his production this year. It doesn't even much matter what team or offensive lineman he is facing every week, because sooner or later great technique will always win. That is evidenced by the fact that Lawrence has had at least one sack in all but three of the first 12 games of this season.
In particular, Lawrence is great with his hands, especially as a pass rusher. He just doesn't give offensive linemen much of a chance to get their hands on him. Even when they do, he's constantly working to get them right back off. And the whole time he never stops his feet, which makes it even harder to keep up with him.
You can tell he has spent a lot of time honing his craft and now its almost second nature to him. At this point if you need to teach a young pass rusher how to use their hands, you could do a lot worse than to just pull up some all-22 of Lawrence this year. His film is like training tape.
The reason I’m partial to guys with good technique is because you don't have to be 6'6, run a 4.5 and/or be able to jump out of the gym to be successful with it. Yeah, its nice to be crazy athletic, but in the NFL very few players can rely on athleticism alone. If you have great technique, however, you can sill make shit happen even when your speed and quickness start to leave you. Father Time is, as they say, undefeated, but great technique will tend to keep him at bay for quite some time.
I was one of those guys who weren't that big, nor fast so I had to use good technique or I'd get embarrassed. Now, watching pass rushers make crisp moves for me is like how most people drool over wide receivers running great routes, and Lawrence is the Antonio Brown of this shit.
On Sunday, Lawrence was able to translate his great technique into huge day against Washington. I wanted to highlight just a few of the plays he made to point out how his technique made the difference.
Lawrence's first sack was the result of some great teamwork between he and David Irving, and also, again, some great technique as well.
Irving was lined up as the left three-technique inside of Lawrence and on the outside shoulder of Washington right guard Brandon Scherff. Lawrence was lined up at the left defensive end spot outside of Washington right tackle Ty Nsekhe.
On the snap of the football, Irving took a step down toward the A gap as if he was going to try to make an inside move. The reality is Irving was just setting Scherff up for an EX game, but what ultimately made the game work so well was the timing of it from both guys.
Because Lawrence was in a right handed stance, he needed to take two steps upfield, forcing Nsekhe to respect his edge rush and open up the B gap. That also let him push off his outside (left) foot when he changed direction and actually went inside (right) into the B gap.
Sidenote: some cats like to run an EX game where the edge guy comes inside and tries to get upfield right away instead of trying to knock the shit out of the guard. We will go ahead and call that the wrong way to run an EX game.
The correct way to run the game requires that the edge guy splatter the guard so that the guard becomes irrelevant. The aim with most two-man pass rush games is to create a two-on-one situation on an offensive lineman. With an EX game, in this case, once the guard is neutralized, the offensive tackle has to make a decision. Is he going to stay on the edge defender and ride him inside, or is he going to let edge rusher go, block the looper and just hope the guard recovers?
No matter who the tackle chooses, he's wrong.
In this case the tackle, Nsekhe, decided to let Lawrence go and tried to block Irving as he looped.
What he do that for?
However, running far enough inside to actually get to the guard can take a little bit of time. Knowing this, Irving was very patient and waited until the very last minute to loop back outside just as Lawrence was blasting the unsuspecting Scherff from the side. Lawrence's momentum pulled him almost all the way over to the other side of the center, but then he gathered himself and made a quick spin move to get back in the hunt for the quarterback.
Lawrence sprinted to Kirk Cousins. As he was taking him down, Lawrence managed to get the ball out. His teammate Maliek Collins would recover to set the Cowboys up nicely for a drive that ultimately ended in a field goal.
That pass rush game was a thing of beauty because both guys were on top of the details. You can't imagine how many shitty pass rush games I see in any given week, so trust me, I appreciate it when it is done well. And once again having good technique helped Lawrence make a play.
Now, one other thing I like about Lawrence's game is he's always thinking about the next move. So much of being a good pass rusher is about keeping offensive linemen off balance. It’s OK to use the same move over and over again if they can't block it, but against NFL-caliber offensive linemen you usually need more of a plan than that if you want to be successful.
Once Lawrence beats you with a move, there is just as much of a chance that he will use a counter off that move that next passing play as it is that he will use the same move all over again. Because he's a guy that can get home with both power rushes and finesse moves, his ability to keep adjusting his rushes can drive o-linemen mad.
Take this sequence at the start of Washington's two minute drill before the first half ended.
On first down, Lawrence took two hard steps upfield like he was going to make an edge rush, then redirected and exploded into Nsekhe's chest. Nsekhe wasn't ready. The force of Lawrence's bullrush caused Nsekhe to crumble and fall backwards, eventually landing on his ass right in front of Cousin's legs. Cousins was just able to get the ball away for a five-yard gain to Jamison Crowder, but Lawrence destroyed Nsekhe on the play.
Then, on second down Lawrence did a stutter step inside on Nsekhe, but Nsekhe didn't bite so Lawrence's cross chop wasn't all that effective.
But when third down rolled around, Lawrence used his first down rush against Nsekhe. He came off just like he did on first down, taking two hard steps up field, before taking a hard step right at Nsekhe. Not wanting to get run the hell over again, Nsekhe set his feet and tried to punch with his outside to brace for Lawrence's power.
What he do that for?
Lawrence hit Nsekhe with a nasty cross-chop-to-a-rip outside move and beat him like a drum. Unfortunately, Cousins turned around and hit Lawrence with his "sneaky athleticism" and reversed out, not only to avoid the sack, but also pick up 6 yards on third-and-5.
I don't give a fuck, that move was still bad ass. And the way Lawrence set it up using Nsekhe's fear from that first down ass kicking against him was fucking magnificent.
His second sack came early in the second half with Washington facing a second-and-9 from their own 31-yard line.
Cousins started off under center with Samaje Perine lined up behind him. This was so Cousins could fake a handoff to Perine before attempting a play-action pass. In order to sell it the offensive line also had to come off aggressively at the defensive linemen. That meant Nsekhe had to step out to Lawrence and shoot his hands like he was trying to run block.
What he do that for?
Lawrence chopped Nsekhe's outside hand and stepped wide so fast that he didn't even need to finish with a rip. Nsekhe could do nothing but turn around and watch in horror as Lawrence hit the turbo button and sacked his quarterback.
Not only was Lawrence not fooled by the play-action fake, he was also, as usual, ready with an impromptu pass rush move as well. If you give him your hands you can just about cancel Christmas, but how is an offensive lineman supposed to block him without using their hands?
Such is the conundrum Lawrence causes offensive linemen every week.
Heading into the game Sunday, the Cowboys had lost three in a row in the wake of Ezekiel Elliott's suspension. Any chance of a playoff spot seemed to be slipping right out of their grasp. They needed someone, anyone, to step up and help them get back on track. Who better to do it than one of their most consistent defenders this season?
Lawrence may not be the biggest, strongest, nor fastest pass rusher you will ever see, but I'll put his technique up against anybody in the league right now.
With two sacks, a caused fumble, a pressure, a tackle for loss and one other tackle, Lawrence once again showed he's a certified beast in helping the Cowboys get back in win column. In doing so, he also snatched back the league lead for sacks on the season with 13.5, and also earned my Hoss Of The Week honors for Week 13.