It’s only the preseason, so it’s imperative not to take too much away from the NFL exhibitions going on in the month of August. However, football fans can still get a very small glimpse of how their team will fare in the upcoming season and, if the Dallas Cowboys‘ first two preseason games are any indication, fans of America’s Team should be excited about its defense.
Again, nothing can be accurately assessed until the Cowboys get to MetLife Stadium to play the Super Bowl defending champion New York Giants in the season opener. However, Dallas’ first-team defense has looked stellar through 29 plays this preseason.
After Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh intercepted Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer during the first series of that first exhibition, Dallas’ defense went on to pitch a shutout. Technically, the “game” was a shutout, but all that can be halfway evaluated are the reps the Cowboys’ first-team defense took against the Raiders’ first-team offense.
Dallas knew the San Diego Chargers‘ offense would put up more of a fight in Week 2 of the preseason, but 2012 free agent signee Brandon Carr recorded two interceptions in the first half and the Cowboys again pitched a shutout through two quarters.
Once more, it’s only the preseason, the Cowboys’ defense didn’t resemble anything worthy of being described as “good” at any point of the 2011 preseason or regular season. Thus, the excitement among the Dallas faithful through two exhibitions is merited…for now.
The difference between the Cowboys’ defense today and a year ago is its aggressiveness and play-recognition ability. Dallas’ pass-rush, which was its weakest link last season, has been superb throughout the preseason. Underachievers from 2011, such as defensive ends Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman, put pressure on Palmer and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, which caused the interceptions.
The Cowboys’ defense is a little bit cooler this year as well; the Dallas defensive backs are getting barbecued deep downfield, as was the case through all of the 2011 season. The few deep passes against the Cowboys’ first-team defense have been well-defended and no opposing receivers have gone running free past the starters in the secondary.
Although Dallas’ first-team defense didn’t get any work against Chargers star running back Ryan Mathews, who missed the game with a broken collarbone, the Cowboys saw plenty of Raiders superstar Darren McFadden on just three plays. McFadden carried the ball twice for 20 yards and added an 18-yard reception in short work. Chargers running back Ronnie Brown toted the ball six times for 16 yards against the Cowboys’ first-team defense and Curtis Brinkley had one carry for no gain. Neither player had a carry longer than five yards, which is good by NFL standards, but Dallas superstar linebacker Sean Lee isn’t satisfied.
“We’ve been good, but like anything you’ve got to take the good and the bad and react the same,” Lee said. “You’ve got to work to continue to get better. That’s the only way you can do it, compete week to week. That’s what we’re really talking about right now.”
It’s only the preseason and the Cowboys have only faced two non-playoff teams from the AFC West, but at least there’s a hint of genuine optimism in Dallas. That’s enough to get any Cowboys fan excited at this point.