DeMarcus Lawrence isn't simply back, he's back like he never left in the first place. The Dallas Cowboys were excited to finally see him return to action after being sidelined with a fractured foot suffered in practice following the regular season opener, but they knew he'd have to deal with a bit of rust after missing 10 games. After all, he couldn't be expected to instantly return to form after so much time missed, right? There's no way possible he would immediately be at game speed after more than two months away, correct??
Wrong, and you know nothing, Jon Snow.
That's the pleasant feeling emanating from the Cowboys coaching staff regarding Lawrence right now, and especially defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who took on duties as interim head coach against the Saints in Week 13 while also scheming a defense that included just his second game with Lawrence on he field. Quinn and head coach Mike McCarthy (who was absent after testing positive for COVID-19) made the justifiable decision to put Lawrence on a pitch count but, as it turns out, he didn't need one.
"I was very excited to see him," Quinn told media after the team's 27-17 victory in New Orleans that was owned by defense. "He's got such a quickness and violence with his hands and his play style. I was expecting he would look rusty, and he did not. It was a difficult night, chasing and chipping on the edges to go but his attitude and his mindset.
"Now I'm hopeful we can keep stacking weeks and weeks -- as we're building and his play time will increase."
Lawrence was on the field for just 37 of the 70 defensive snaps against the Saints (53%), but made his presence felt early and throughout the contest. On the first offensive drive for Taysom Hill and Co., Lawrence reminded the NFL of his prowess as a run stopper when he capped what might've been a strong early run from Mark Ingram to just two yards on second-and-12. That forced a third-and-10 and when Hill dropped back for a short throw to Ty Montgomery, Lawrence was there to greet him along with safety Jayron Kearse for a six yard tackle-for-loss.
Lawrence would build from there, going on to deliver a key pass break up against Hill and, in the fourth quarter, nearly blew the game wide open -- before it was eventually by three Cowboys interceptions in that quadrant -- when he blew past the Saints protection and landed a sack-fumble on Hill that was recovered by fellow defensive lineman Carlos Watkins, initially awarded in real time but then overturned and ruled as an incomplete pass after official review.
And so it was, the two-time Pro Bowler was an official review away from adding a sack and takeaway to an evening that saw him impact the game with no delay, and with limited reps, his presence also allowing others like rookie sensation Micah Parsons to decimate on-demand.
"It was electric," he told reporters after the game. "Just to play with the guys, at the level they're playing with, and to be out there and have a little impact on the game is amazing. I'm just glad to be back. Thankful I can play this game of football that I love.
"Glad we came home with the win."
Lawrence had six total pressures on the night, one more than he had in an impressive Week 1 outing in early September, and that helped make life difficult for Hill as a passer -- the latter throwing four interceptions on the night with only 19 completions on 41 attempts for a lowly passer rating of 44.2.
He wants more, and he'll get it, but to say Lawrence is pleased with how things went in his return is an understatement.
The Cowboys will now enter a mini-bye knowing they'll see the return of defensive tackle Trysten Hill from a one-game suspension in Week 14 against the Washington Football Team, the possibility of starting defensive tackle Neville Gallimore suiting up for the first time in 2021, and a potential return of starting right defensive end Randy Gregory -- for the first time this season. And if they can all hit the ground running like Lawrence has, Quinn's defense legitimately has a chance at being the best in the NFL.
And only one year after easily being one of the worst in franchise history.