By Dwain Price, NDG Sports
ARLINGTON – While the Dallas Cowboys’ offense has been spotty at best during the first two games of the season, their defense has been playing lights out.
Thus far, the Cowboys have allowed a total of 29 points in the opening two games, good for third in the National Football League in fewest points allowed. And 10 of those points came in the waning moments of last Sunday’s 20-13 victory over the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium after the Cowboys had mounted a very comfortable 20-3 lead.
The Cowboys are also fourth in the league in fewest yards allowed (274 per game) and fifth in fewest passing yards permitted (183 per contest). And their nine sacks are one short of tying the Chicago Bears for the NFL lead in that category. Put it all together, and the Cowboys know the possibilities are endless as to how devastating their defense can eventually become.
“I think we have the potential to be a very good defense,” safety Jeff Heath said. “We’ve got the guys, we’ve got the scheme, and we’ve got the coaches.
“Our confidence comes from our preparation, working hard throughout the week, executing the game plan throughout the week in practice. That creates confidence when you get to Sunday,” Heath added.
When the Cowboys hit the road to play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at 3:25 p.m. in the Pacific Northwest, they will do so also ranked seventh in the NFL in the fewest yards allowed per passing attempt at 6.3 yards. That could bode well as the Dallas defenders unite to try and chase Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
“Our focus really isn’t on where we’re ranked, how many yards, how many numbers,” Heath said. “We’re just concerned about winning games, and if we play well enough to give ourselves a chance to win, then we’re happy.
“We know what (the opponent is) going to do. All the defensive coaches do a good job showing us what their plan is. They put us in positions and then really it just comes down to execution.”
The Cowboys’ defense executed so well against the Giants that they sacked quarterback Eli Manning six times. And six different players were the recipients of those sacks, including defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
“I’m just very proud to see all my guys come out of the game with a sack,” Lawrence said. “It’s looking uphill, but you can’t just sit here and get satisfied off of sacking Eli.
“We’ve got to go do it again next week and go sack Russell.”
In other words, Lawrence hopes the Cowboys’ defensive feeding frenzy can continue against a quarterback like Wilson, who is one of the most elusive signal-callers in the NFL.
“We’re going out with one mission every single week– and that’s to dominate,” linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “Everything that we’ve done since OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) began, we’re just building that foundation and that culture.
“This is the fun part – when you get a chance to show it in front of X number of people.”
As the Cowboys try to find themselves on offense, their defense has been their calling card, their saving grace. Defensive end Taco Charlton got in on the fun with a sack against the Giants and said the team’s defensive disposition stems from defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
“I wanted to make sure everybody knew who we were, and games like this when we dominate and take over, that’s how it happens,” Charlton said. “If one of us isn’t stepping up to the plate, we hold each other accountable.
“It’s something that coach Marinelli’s been basically preaching to us and getting on us about. We want to have that identity.”
Not only do the Cowboys have that (defensive) identity they covet, it’s been on full display in the opening two games. And that stout defense is the primary reason Dallas (1-1) is tied with Washington and Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East.
“These defensive coaches are doing a helluva job putting us in the right position to make plays,” Lawrence said. “As long as they keep giving us that recipe, we can keep making that meal for them.”
For a change, the Cowboys’ offense was able to grab a seat at the table and stir up a few things against New York. Less than nine minutes into the game against the Giants, the Cowboys had already racked up 10 points and 139 total yards.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys scored just 10 points and picked up only 159 yards the rest of the game.
Still, Giants’ strong safety Landon Collins said New York’s best chance of defeating Dallas was to contain running back Ezekiel Elliott and force quarterback Dak Prescott to try and beat them. Unfettered, Prescott tossed a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin — on the third play of the game.
“I kind of accepted the challenge,” Prescott said. “I said I accepted it, but I can tell you I wasn’t the only one who accepted that challenge. This team accepted it, that offense accepted it.
“Coming off that play-action (TD pass to Austin) he just went clean. He took that time to release and put his head down and dug, and I was able to get the ball out there. He just made my job easy and showed off his speed.”
Prescott wound up completing 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards. Although those are pedestrian-like numbers in today’s video game style passing attacks, the Cowboys are standing behind Prescott.
“I’m very pleased with how Dak played,” owner Jerry Jones said. “He made the big plays, and he gave their defense something to think about in many ways.”
While Elliott had 17 rushes for 78 yards and a touchdown against the Giants, Prescott kept the defense off-balanced by carrying the ball seven times for 45 yards.
“It was important for us to get out to a good start in this ballgame in all phases of our team, and I thought we did that,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “Dak was particularly good early on, I thought we mixed the run and the pass fairly well, and we did a good job moving the ball and cashing those drives in.
“I like the tempo that we played with, the pace that we played with. I felt like we were dictating the tempo of the game early on. A long way to go in all phases of our team, but certainly a good start (Sunday).”
Charlton acknowledged that the Cowboys’ defense hopes to build off of the success they had in the first two games while trying to produce their third straight dominating performance — this time against Wilson and the Seahawks.
“This is just the beginning (and) this is a nice start,” Charlton said. “We never stay content.
“We go to (watch) film, we get on each other, we push each other in practice. It makes us step up to the plate, and it just makes us get better and better each week.”