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The 5 Most Disruptive Players on the Dallas Defense

Photo Credit:: Madison.com

The Dallas Cowboys defense has exceeded expectations in 2016. Many national analysts expected the Cowboys defense to be a major weakness. The "No-Name Defense" was not supposed to be a vital part of a successful 13-3 season by the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys defense ranked 14th in total yards allowed, 26th in passing yards allowed, 1st in rushing yards allowed, and 5th in points allowed.

Defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli, runs a 4-3 Tampa 2 base defense that thrives off four-man rushes and coverages that consist of mostly zones. The four-man rush is expected to create enough pressure in the backfield to force the quarterback into making a bad decision. The defenders sitting in zone coverage, watching the eyes of the quarterback, will then have a better opportunity to make a play on the ball.

The Tampa 2 defensive scheme's main focus is creating pressure, creating turnovers, and preventing opposing offenses from hitting on big plays. The idea is to force teams to throw short passes in the middle of the field or out in the flats to running backs to gain first downs. The quarterback must decide whether to take the short throw and hope the receiver can break a tackle, or force a throw down the field into tight windows. Once opposing offenses fall behind by a few scores, quarterbacks are more inclined to force the ball down the field into those tight windows, which gives the Dallas defense a higher chance of creating turnovers.
The Dallas defense ranked 19th in takeaways with 20 and ranked 13th in sacks with 36 on the season. The defense is much improved from 2015, but the idea of creating pressure and creating more turnovers still isn't quite where it needs to be for Marinelli's defense. The defense may not be where Marinelli imagines it should be, but a handful of players have stood out in 2016.

The "No-Name Defense" may not keep opposing quarterbacks up at night, but the Dallas defense is not without disruptive players. Sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions, and forced fumbles are the difference between a solid player and a great, disruptive player. The Cowboys don't have a Von Miller type sack artist or Ed Reed type ball-hawking safety, but these players have disrupted opposing offensive drives throughout the season with their style of play. Here are the five players listed below, in no particular order.

1. Sean Lee LB

Sean Lee is one of the best run-stopping linebackers in the NFL.  Lee ranked 4th in the NFL with 145 total tackles in 2016. Lee wreaked havoc on opposing running backs with 12 total tackles for loss. Lee was unable to create turnovers in the form of interceptions or fumbles. He also failed to register a sack on the season, but Lee was the key cog to the Dallas Cowboys league-leading rushing defense.

2. David Irving DT/DE

David Irving is a mammoth of a man with his 6'7" height and 273 lb frame. Irving started the final two regular-season games, but he completely dominated in games as a situational rusher on limited snaps. In week six, Irving registered one sack, one pass swatted down at the line, and three forced fumbles on Aaron Rodgers. The best part of that performance, David Irving played less than 20 defensive snaps in the entire game! Irving dominated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth quarter of week 15. He provided constant pressure on Jameis Winston and tallied 1.5 sacks against the quarterback. The following week, Irving registered 1.5 sacks against Detroit Lions quarterback, Matthew Stafford. The only downfall of David Irving's season, he didn't record a single statistic in the box score on seven different occasions in 2016.

3. Barry Church S

Barry Church recorded 85 tackles, one forced fumble, and two interceptions in 2016 while only playing in 12 games. Church missed four games in the middle of the season with a fractured forearm. The 28-year old safety found a way back to the field with a forearm cast in week 13 versus the Minnesota Vikings. Church was a tackling machine once he made it back to the field, but he dropped multiple interceptions due to his forearm cast. The safety had the ability to add 2-3 more interceptions to his season total.

4. Benson Mayowa DE

Benson Mayowa was benched for three games in the middle of the season. The Cowboys elected to activate Ryan Davis on the 46-man roster over Benson Mayowa. Mayowa signed with the Dallas Cowboys in the off-season as a restricted free agent from Oakland. The defensive end bounced back from his benching by adding four sacks over the final five games of the regular season. Overall, Mayowa recorded a team-leading six sacks in 2016 while only playing in 13 games. Mayowa is not regarded as a great defender against the run, but he did register 4 tackles for loss on the season.

5. Maliek Collins DT

The Dallas Cowboys drafted Maliek Collins 67th overall in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft. Rod Marinelli promoted the rookie defensive tackle to starting 3-technique in the third week of the regular season. Marinelli highly regards the 3-technique position as the most valuable player in his Tampa 2 defensive scheme. The fact he trusted a third round rookie to assume the role is a compliment to Collins' ability as a disruptive football player. Maliek Collins recorded five sacks over the final nine games of the regular season and also registered one forced fumble.

These five players were the most disruptive defenders on the Dallas Cowboys "No-Name Defense." In your opinion, which player was the most disruptive in 2016?

Mike Walker is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan that writes for PFS. Follow him on twitter @MikeWalkerPFS.

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