Jerry Jones likens 2021 defensive line to Cowboys' Super Bowl-winning fronts of the 1990s

How good can the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line be?

Team owner Jerry Jones described the unit more in terms of potential than production on Tuesday, but likened it to Cowboys defensive lines of bygone eras that he considers the best he’s seen in Dallas.

With two-time Pro Bowler Demarcus Lawrence now back from injury and Randy Gregory enjoying the best season of his career, the Dallas D-line has looked outstanding of late. When used as an edge rusher, rookie linebacker Micah Parsons has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks as well.

For Jones, it’s evoked memories of DeMarcus Ware’s dominant years, and even the Cowboys’ Super Bowl defensive lines of the 1990s, featuring Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert and Jim Jeffcoat, among others.

“We had (Jason) Hatcher, we had (DeMarcus) Ware, we had (Jay) Ratliff, we had those guys back here. I thought that was arguably a combination of some of the best players we’ve had on the interior,” Jones said on his weekly radio segment on 105.3 The Fan. “Beyond that, I’d have to go back to the 90s when we had such a rotation on the defensive line, and we really had fresh guys out there all the time. This group has the potential to have that kind of talent, without exaggeration. But (also) have numbers.”

The line’s effectiveness, perhaps due to injuries, hasn’t shown up in some key metrics. Its sack percentage of 5.9 isn’t even in the top half of the league, although its pressure percentage of 29.1 ranks ninth. Regardless, the unit is coming together to play some of its best football at the most important time — as the postseason approaches.

Along with an effective trio of pass rushers, Dallas also has returned defensive tackle Neville Gallimore to the lineup. Gallimore missed most of the season on injured reserve with an elbow dislocation, but has made an immediate impact with 1.5 sacks and two QB hits in his return, over two games against the Washington Football Team and the Giants. Elsewhere up front, contributions come from Carlos Watkins, Tarell Basham, rookie Osa Odighizuwa, and even Dorance Armstrong, a career backup who has seen more action this season.

“We’ve got fresh legs that we can keep out there and keep those guys coming,” Jones added. “I think that gives rise to some optimism.”

The Cowboys (10-4) are on a three-game winning streak, running away with the NFC East over the final stretch of the regular season. Their defensive line’s next chance to shine will come Sunday at home when they face Washington for the second time in three weeks.

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