There is no question what the Dallas Cowboys have been seeking in their personnel department to improve this defense. They have been searching for anyone resembling DeMarcus Ware since he started wearing down in 2012 and ultimately said goodbye (thanks to that big cap number after 2013). Sure, Ware has had some nice years after that, but pay cuts are hard to handle with your original team, so he had to find a new home and the Cowboys had to get by with whatever was left.
Well, there wasn't much left.
So, they tried to fill the void with a number of options and have certainly not found anyone to break games open. There have been brief glimpses of DeMarcus Lawrence being the star they hoped he would be when they traded up to get him, but as we finish his third year, the Cowboys certainly envisioned more than nine sacks through the first 46 games for which he's been on the roster. Of course, we must point out that he has only played in 32 of those 46 games -- and has only started 16. Injuries and a suspension further complicate matters as we are reminded again that putting a team together is about so much more than picking the right guy at the right spot.
The problem is that he was a bit of a lone wolf. When you trade a second and a third-rounder to get him while spending every other resource on your offense, you sure are hoping he can do it on his own. Then you decide to cement your investment with Randy Gregory, a guy with enough talent to own the draft and enough red flags to make everyone pass on you. The Cowboys are still waiting for his first sack, which is a considerably lower number than you would imagine 30 games into his career. Of those 30, he has been in uniform for 12. Again, injury and suspension. Or in his case, injury, suspension ... and suspension.
That left the team in a bit of a mess, given they knew they would enter the season with no defensive ends to speak of. Luckily, by last March, they were adding to their ranks by signing Benson Mayowa to an offer sheet from the Oakland Raiders. Mayowa was an athletic body who has the traits of wheels and hustle -- two things Rod Marinelli seeks. It was all pretty clear to see when we studied him last March.
Add to that: the discovery of David Irving off Kansas City's practice squad last September, a player we have spent lots of time telling you about over the course of the season. Now we don't have to tell you anymore. You have seen it with your own eyes. First, he dominated the end of the Green Bay game, and now, he has taken over the fourth quarter of the Tampa Bay game.
There are many other things we could look at from this important win -- not the least of which was limiting the effects of Mike Evans and the big plays Tampa has generated all season -- but, I am a pass-rush enthusiast who enjoys seeing defensive players destroy rallies. It doesn't happen much around here in this post-Ware era we are living in, but when it happens, it is just glorious.
And it happened Sunday night. I have GIFs to prove it.
WEEKLY DATA - TAMPA BAY
So there you go. Sub-300 yards is quite excellent, and 33 percent on third downs and in the red zone is excellent. But let's not lose sight of the big ones: four sacks, four takeaways. Four sacks equal the best this season (with the Cleveland and Cincinnati games) and four takeaways equal the big night in Green Bay. That is what this team needs at this time of year.
... Which may lead us back to the impact of Mayowa and Irving in the month of December. It reminds us of what happens when we, in the words of Jason Garrett, "affect the passer." Good things happen for the defense -- and then the team. Four takeaways mean the Cowboys have a record of 9-3 in the past decade. Four sacks mean a record of 26-12 during that stretch. But four sacks and four takeaways in one game? Well, it never happens (only one other time in the past decade). When it does, since 1990, the Cowboys are a 11-1, with most of those results coming when the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls.
So, yeah, four and four is really, really good.
JAMEIS WINSTON THROW CHART
So, you want a gunslinger to be your quarterback? Jameis Winston is your jam. He will throw it into traffic and he don't care. He will make spectacular plays and he will make spectacularly poor plays, too. It is the only way. There is no such thing as a gunslinger who never makes a mistake. It simply tests your threshold of pain. But there is a quarterback who will work the middle of the field, for all of you people who want more of that. Notice the yellow dots. Those are bad. He also had a touchdown that should have been picked off, too.
SPLASH PLAYS - WEEK 14
This was a really impressive job by the defense to take the game over late. Just splash play after splash play, as Tampa got the ball five times in the fourth quarter and had a chance to win the game on each occasion. The Cowboys did not allow it. Very impressive job of closing by the team.
Here are the season totals for splashes:
2016 SPLASH TOTALS
So let's take a look at those plays from the D-line and, most specifically, Mayowa and The David Irving Show.
This first one is a sack and fumble takeaway as Terrell McClain destroys the center, and then flies horizontally to get to Winston and knock the ball free. That is about as athletic a move as you will see from a defensive tackle. Wow. Beautiful job from the big man, and then Maliek Collins gets to the ball.
Here is a Mayowa tackle for loss, but watch Irving make it happen by rerouting the running back right to Mayowa with his amazing get-off at the snap, jumping right into the backfield. So much of defensive line play is not who makes the play, but who makes the play that allows someone else to make the play. I suggest No. 95 makes this play to allow No. 93 to clean it up. Great work. And then the quarterback tries to headbutt a linebacker in a strange -- but true -- development.
OK, on to the fourth quarter ... Look at this. Just watch Irving knock Gosder Cherilus to the side with some variation of the Reggie White "arm hump" move. It takes a very strong man with good leverage (and a poor right tackle) to pull this off, but you don't see this happen very much. Good gosh.
A few plays later, Irving has Cherilus terrified and on roller skates with this speed-to-power move, where he gets a piece of the ball. Irving is now in the zone. And when you affect the passer and get a piece of the ball, interceptions happen. That is Irving's play that Jeff Heath cleans up.
Inside stunt on the next drive puts Irving right down Main Street, and Winston is wondering what it would take for someone to block this guy that they hardly worried about all week. McClain (No. 97) goes wide, Sean Lee (No. 50) charges forward, and then Irving is in Winston's lap and spikes the ball backward.
Next, here is another run wide at Irving's side that he stops and reroutes. When he does, there is Mayowa on the backside to clean it up. Again, No. 93 makes the play, but Nos. 95 and 97 cause it. No stats to prove it, but tell me this isn't Irving and McClain's play. This is defensive line play in a nutshell, and why the All-22s are vital to evaluate.
There is 2:58 to go, and this is another Irving sack. Collins is beating his guy, too, but he can't beat his guy as fast as Irving can beat his. It is absurd how they are destroying the Tampa line.
The final drive now, and so many Tampa blockers are worried about No. 95 that the Cowboys are able to finally close Winston down with others. This is the idea: You want others to get opportunities because of one man's domination. This time, Collins shows his fine rookie credentials again. He is a real find.
One last moment as Winston tries to find Evans, and Irving gets another swat and piece of the ball. This is why putting basketball forwards at defensive end and tackle makes so much sense. It is very difficult to pass the ball while trying to avoid their arms.
How did you like that show? Such domination from a guy the Cowboys got for free.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The No. 1 question I got this week was: "Why doesn't David Irving play more?" But, I do want to stress that this is likely the design for a player like him, and even Benson Mayowa. You are not 60-snap guys. You are 25-snap guys who can be inserted and see a buried, red-lined RPM needle for each snap you are out there. Do not ration your energy. Go full speed at all times when you are on the field, and I think they are doing that.
Make them full-time and maybe this speed cannot be sustained. In other words, I think this and the end of the Green Bay game were both products of the Cowboys putting Irving and, now Mayowa, in roles that are paying off big time. Fresh bodies late to close out games.