NFL sack leaders see teammates as key to success

AP file photo

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) is sacked by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) during the second half of an NFL football game in Glendale, Ariz., in September.

The Associated Press DALLAS (AP) — DeMarcus Lawrence lost his NFL lead in sacks when he didn’t have one for the first time in eight games this season with the Cowboys.

The Dallas defensive end still said it was his best game of the year.

Such is the art of the sack, a stat so focused on the individual — down to the celebrations the sack stars create along the way — and yet one that pass rushers and their coaches like to think is more about the entire defensive line.

“I use the term ‘four equals one,’ four men working as one,” said Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, a longtime defensive line coach. “It’s really neat because it’s not just the diagrams. They have to feel it.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars sure felt it in the opener, setting a franchise record with 10 sacks, including four from Calais Campbell. The 10th-year end grabbed the league lead from Lawrence with one sack a week ago, giving Campbell 11 to Lawrence’s 10½.

The Jaguars matched that franchise mark in Week 7 against Indianapolis. They lead the NFL with 35 sacks and have a shot at Chicago’s season record of 72 from 1984. They like to credit what they consider one of the NFL’s best secondaries.

Lawrence gave his first sackless game a high grade in part because tackle David Irving extended his streak to all four games since returning from a four-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy.

Despite the absence, Irving leads all tackles with six sacks, according to Sportradar. And if Irving keeps it up, Lawrence might see fewer of the double teams he was proud of battling in a 28-17 win over Kansas City last weekend.

Lawrence and Irving have been working mostly on the same side, and the Cowboys are averaging nearly four sacks per game since they were paired.

“It just depends how you rush,” Irving said. “If I’m at tackle and DeMarcus is at end, I go inside and DeMarcus goes outside, that’s a huge gap, that’s a huge window for the quarterback. You’ve got to scheme up your rushes and rush smart.”

Minnesota’s Everson Griffen and Arizona’s Chandler Jones are the others with double-digit sacks so far with 10, and Griffen’s number is somewhat remarkable considering coach Mike Zimmer’s system doesn’t necessarily promote high individual totals.

Former Vikings star Jared Allen almost set the sack record in 2011, finishing with 22, and left the team for Chicago in free agency in 2014, the year Zimmer arrived as coach. He probably wouldn’t have been the best fit in Zimmer’s scheme.

“When you have a good sack number, there’s usually one or two guys that are higher,” said Seattle coach Dan Quinn, who came up as a defensive line coach. “But it takes all four because if one guy’s just kind of doing his own thing, it kind of can get out of whack.”

The NFL’s best pass rushers don’t necessarily wish for a statuesque quarterback in the pocket every week. Take Denver’s Von Miller, the runaway winner in September in AP rankings of the top outside linebackers.


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