Giants' Dexter Lawrence: Rushing the passer 'starting to make a little more sense to me'

Dexter Lawrence solo shot, blue uniform
Dexter Lawrence solo shot, blue uniform

When the Giants selected Dexter Lawrence 17th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, they probably had a pretty good idea that the Clemson product had the tools to be a standout run-stuffing defensive tackle in the NFL. The pass-rushing side of his game, though, would be more of a work in progress. After all, Lawrence had just 10.0 total sacks in three seasons with the Tigers.

And while his sack numbers were fairly pedestrian in his first three pro seasons (9.0 total sacks), he’s proven himself a problem to opposing quarterbacks in 2022, having already set a new career high with 5.0 sacks in nine games.

And Sunday’s display in the win over the Houston Texans was a prime example.

The 6-foot-4, 342-pound Lawrence was an absolute monster on Sunday, racking up five tackles, a sack, tackle for loss and one pass batted down at the line. But Lawrence’s dominant effort goes well beyond the box score, as he was consistently collapsing the pocket and getting in the face of Texans quarterback Davis Mills. With the Texans trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter, it was Lawrence who put pressure on Mills, forcing an ill-advised throw that was intercepted by Dane Belton.

“I just want to keep dominating and proving myself,” Lawrence said after the game.

“I feel like I’m a guy that always just wants to improve myself and just show my dominance wherever I am. … It’s just all kind of coming to fruition now.”

And according to Pro Football Focus’s Doug Kyed, Lawrence’s nine QB pressures were the most for a 320-pound-plus player since PFF began tracking in 2006, surpassing Lawrence’s own mark of eight, which he set against the Chicago Bears in Week 4 (Haloti Ngata also had eight pressures in Week 14 of the 2012 season).

“It’s just starting to make a little more sense to me,” Lawrence said of his ability to push the pocket and rush the passer. “Each year, my goal is to grow at my position and learn my position, and this year everything is kind of slowing down for me. It’s making sense. I’m continuing to build my confidence throughout the whole week and preparing the right way.

“I just want to keep going and keep trying to stack wins and get other guys to keep going with me.”

All of this isn’t to say that Lawrence isn’t still stopping the run at an elite level, either. Texans rookie Dameon Pierce has already shown potential to be one of the most bruising, hard-to-bring-down backs in the NFL. And while he finished with 94 rushing yards on 17 carries, his 5.5 yards-per-carry average is a bit skewed when you take into account his 44-yard run in the second quarter. Outside of that one time he broke containment, Pierce had just 50 yards on 16 carries (3.1 YPC).

“Just watching film, how hard he runs, how fearless he runs and his ability to break tackles and keep going – his balance is amazing,” Lawrence said. “Our goal all week was to get 11 guys to him, bring him down and don’t let him get started.”

Thanks in part to Lawrence’s improvement as a pass-rusher, the Giants now find themselves 7-2 and firmly in the conversation of NFC contenders. Those seven wins are more than Lawrence saw in any of his first three pro seasons, and simply put, football is fun again for the big man in the middle of the line.

“Losing isn’t fun, but just being with the guys and joining the fellowship that we have every day, that’s fun,” he said. “The losing, you try to grow from that and don’t let it take the fun out of football. So, this year we’re winning and it’s extra fun.”