The Dallas Cowboys‘ defense was absolutely stifling in a 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday…or so it seemed. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan seemed very happy on the sideline as his unit only allowed 166 yards of total offense to the Buccaneers while forcing two turnovers. Those are the type of numbers that an elite defense typically allows, but was it so much Dallas has such a unit or was Tampa Bay’s offense just that bad?
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman completed a measly 10 passes for 110 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The play-calling by Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was horrific — even worse than Cowboys head coach and offensive play-caller Jason Garrett. The Buccaneers only converted three of 15 third downs in the game, but Sullivan only gave them a chance to convert five with his absolutely awful play selection.
Tampa Bay only scored one touchdown in the game — a 1-yard pass at the end of a drive that started on the Cowboys’ 29-yard line. That came right after an early interception by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, so it’s not like the Buccaneers earned it. After that, Tampa Bay had 10 drives that resulted in eight punts, an interception by Freeman and a field goal.
Buccaneers receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are pretty good players, but both are completely blanketed by Cowboys cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Morris Claiborne. With Dallas safety Gerald Sensabaugh out due to a right calf strain, cornerback Brandon Carr moved to the back of the secondary to take his spot. Jenkins and Claiborne didn’t disappoint while Carr looked as if he’d played safety his entire career. Jackson and Williams combined for 62 yards on just three catches.
Those players absolutely deserve credit for making big plays in the secondary, especially Jenkins, who had two big pass breakups on deep passes to Jackson. However, the fact that Freeman completed only 35 percent of his passes suggests more than just a big day for Dallas’ defensive backs.
The Cowboys’ front seven absolutely stifled the Buccaneers while holding Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin to just 53 yards on 19 carries and sacking Freeman twice. Dallas team owner Jerry Jones said before the season he thought his team’s group of linebackers could be the best in the NFL and they at least appeared to play like it on Sunday. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware was dynamic as usual; fellow outside linebacker Anthony Spencer played arguably the best game of his career; inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter tackled every Buccaneers ball-carrier in the same zip code. But again, were they that good or was Tampa Bay just that bad?
The Chicago Bears‘ offense certainly isn’t potent by any stretch of the imagination, but it will provide a much greater test for Dallas than Tampa Bay’s did. Thus, if the Cowboys’ defense can perform as seemingly “well” as it did against the Buccaneers, then Ryan’s crew will prove it’s actually a stellar unit.