After a superb 28–14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, many players are going to get praise. The Offensive Line will get some for completely neutralising Charles Dunlap and Geno Atkins, Dak Prescott will get plenty for playing more like a quarterback in his 10th year than his first and Ezekiel Elliott will get the rest for showing that is an elite player in the making. But I want to praise a unit that is much maligned, the Cowboys defence.
Over the years, they have got a battering as there is a serious lack of big name talent. Yes there is Sean Lee who is brilliant and so far this year is staying healthy, but the rest of the players are either no names or players who have had effigies burnt of them at some time in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. So alongside pick ups such as Benson Mayowa and Justin Durant who weren’t wanted by the Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons, we have Brandon Carr and JJ Wilcox who fans have demanded cut at several points over the last year.
Yet despite this, over the last few games they have been just as critical to our success as the offence have been. When needed to, they have pulled off stops and while they haven’t got many, they have managed to get sacks and interceptions at perfect opportunities to change the momentum of matches. And the nobody players have performed above all exceptions. Morris Claiborne, once a bust we couldn’t wait to get rid of, has been excellent, firstly with a brilliant pick against Blaine Gabbert in the match against the San Francisco 49ers and then a superb break up in yesterday’s match to prevent a touchdown. The rest of the secondary, who we’d have all agreed before the season was probably the worst part of our team, have all stepped up too. Carr has been solid, Byron Jones’ development has been continuing at a good pace and JJ Wilcox has been a real surprise with the level of his performances. It’s also worth watching Wilcox on special teams as he made some crucial stops yesterday. And all this contributed to keeping AJ Green to four catches and 50 yards.
Yet it was the defensive line who shone yesterday. Let’s get this straight, the Bengals OL are pretty good. They have some truly great players on there like Andrew Whitworth. Yet our DL, which has the odd high round pick but mostly compromises of late round trades and free agent pick ups, bullied them all day. Andy Dalton had no time to throw the ball and was often forced to escape the pocket and run for a few yards. The situation got so bad that Dalton ended up running for more yards than Jeremy Hill and was only 16 away from Gio Bernard. And the Cowboys would get to him four times in the end, a great thing to see from a pass rush that was written off even when we were playing well. For a gorup of players unknown outside of Texas, it’s brilliant. No wonder one Twitter user dubbed them the Legion of Whom, which is a name I really want to take off.
It’s wonderful to see and its all down to the defensive co-ordinator Rod Marinelli. To be given these pieces and then form a defence that terrorised one of the NFL’s better quarterbacks and held one of the best wide receivers in the league to just 50 yards is nothing short of miraculous. Marinelli has instilled a work ethic into this unit which makes life incredibly hard for any offence trying to score. Teams do get yards on us, but they will have to battle to get to the end zone and right now, its working.
And the best thing is that this defence will only get better as the season goes on. After playing 17 snaps yesterday and being brilliant on all of them, DeMarcus Lawrence will get more time on the field and cause more trouble to offensive lines across the league. Orlando Scandrick will come back from injury in the next weeks and then you have Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory to come back from suspensions towards the end of the season, though the level of their impact may be limited due to their lack of training.
Of course, things will only get harder for this defence. They are up against Aaron Rodgers on Sunday which is one of the sternest tests the NFL can give to the defence and I do worry what injuries could do to the unit. But for now, this defence can quietly impress and help us get these ins which will hopefully see the Cowboys return to the play-offs.