It is very early in the 2011 season to think anything is certain. But for nearly a year now, fans have debated the team's pass rush ability. Last season, DeMarcus Ware carried the team with a league leading 15.5 sacks yet the team ranked in the middle of the pack at sixteenth in the league. But with one game to play in Week 2 of the 2011 season, Ware is currently the sack leader and the Cowboys also lead the league with ten sacks.
Rob Ryan has only begun to build his defense and already players are responding and prospering in the opportunities provided in Ryan's aggressive and dynamic schemes. With the depth at corner continually depleted by injuries and facing two opponents with solid offensive lines, this Cowboys defense has proven a far tougher gang than the nightmare (officially putting behind me) of 2010. There are clearly areas where this defense needs to improve and the Cowboys desperately need their corners to get healthy. Yet, when they were needed most (to mention a few), like forcing a long field goal for the Jets after the turnover late in the game, and stopping the 49ers opening overtime drive, Ryan's Cowboys defense has come through.
Clearly, allowing an average of 25.5 points a game means there is plenty of room for improvement, but taking a closer look...
DeMarcus Ware is not the only league leader on the 2011 Cowboys defense. Sean Lee currently leads the league in tackles (23). In his second year in the league, Sean Lee has been thrust into the lead role and is prospering in the challenge. While not exactly a diamond in the rough, the pressure of the position is not too big for the talented young player who dropped in the draft due to injuries. It's also a breath of fresh air for fans who have eagerly been awaiting an heir apparent at middle linebacker
It appears the Cowboys are just a couple of corners away from becoming one of the league's best defenses. Consider the following - Cowboys are allowing too many passing yards (ranked 16th), too many points (ranked 22nd), and far too often allow third-down conversions (ranked 27th). And yet, the Cowboys lead the league in sacks! The good news is the safeties are not allowing big plays and the corners are tackling well. But the 49ers managed to dink-and-dunk their way down the field a couple of times on Sunday before the defense managed to string together a few three-and-outs. The Cowboys defense is certainly creating pressure, and not only from blitzes, but receptions are being completed uncontested too often.
It also appears to be primarily an issue with the corners because the front-seven and the secondary are not only causing havoc with sacks and fumbles, they are also currently one of the best run-stopping units in the league. After facing the Jets and 49ers, two teams with talented offensive lines and rushing attacks, the Cowboys are second in the league allowing less than 60 yards rushing a game, and rank third allowing only 3.0 yards a carry. This is a stingy defense that also ranks in the Top 5 in total yards allowed.
The Cowboys defense is Top 5 in four important statistical categories (including sacks) and has done so with Alan Ball as the corner with the most snaps after two weeks. There is certainly an anomaly in how well the Cowboys are doing in some categories and how poorly they are doing in others. And it all seems to point to the lack of talent at the cornerback position. The silver lining, of course, we still haven't seen Ryan's 2011 defense with the three most talented corners on the field at once.
Yet, the odd news remains. The Cowboys defense is statistically one of the best in the league at the moment. And the fear of a lack of pass rush should be laid to rest.