Game Review Of The Cowboys @ Cardinals: First Half Defense

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If the Cowboys offense was the low spot with six turnovers, the Cowboys defense was the high spot for only giving up 12 points and no touchdowns on those turnovers. Let's look at how they did it.

Yesterday I posted my review of the Cowboys first half offense. Now, we move on to the defense in the first half of the game. Unlike the offensive review, the defensive side of the ball was a much more pleasurable experience to watch.

1. Run Defense - In the Cowboys new 4-3 base defense, it's amazing to watch how between-the-tackles running plays from the opposing offense end up looking the same. The Cowboys were using both "Under" and "Over" fronts in the first few series, but the action always looked similar. The defensive ends will crash into the line dragging the tackle and/or the tight end with them. This is the Tampa 2 spilling the ball-carrier to the next player with responsibility if you can't make the tackle. The line condenses and the middle becomes clogged, the ball carrier is now forced to bounce it outside. There the outside 'backer attacks the edge taking on whatever lead blocker there is (fullback, pulling guard, etc.), he's either trying to make the tackle by beating the block, or he is spilling the ball carrier further outside where the path should be clear for the middle linebacker who is scraping to the edge while watching the ball carrier. With no blockers left he should make the hit. At the same time the corner is keeping outside contain with safeties moving upfield to cover any broken tackles. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter already look very good at using this technique. Justin Durant also looked okay in it (no Ernie Sims in the game because of injury, but I can see why this defense fits his style of play). But how about the other backups? That brings me to two guys I want to talk about.

2. DeVonte Holloman - As many have noted after the Cardinals game, Holloman is starting to look like a steal as a sixth-round draft pick. His second interception of the season wasn't his only highlight of the game. He almost caused  a fumble on a blitz (overturned on replay) and he also forced a bad pass in a key situation on a blitz. The guy is looking like a play-maker. He's pretty good in coverage and is secure in open-field tackling. He does need to work on his run defense, though. In one case he was the guy who needed to scrape to the outside on a run after Brandon Magee had crashed the edge, but he was late getting there. Another time, his responsibility was to crash in but he was tentative and allowed himself to be blocked out of the play by a wide receiver. With his talent though, once he gets that part of the game down, he could be explosive.

3. Brandon Magee - While Holloman gets a lot of the accolades among the rookie linebackers, Brandon Magee is doing solid work as a middle linebacker. He was consistently sticking his nose in there on run plays, he led the team in tackles on Saturday. He's been among the top three in tackles in every preseason game so far. He shows good understanding of the system on runs and is a sure tackler. He's a player to watch, too.

4. Pass defense - It wasn't bad except no one, including Brandon Carr, could contain Larry Fitzgerald. The problem was more lack of pressure from the front four (only DeMarcus Ware was disruptive early). When that happens, you can expect a lot of underneath stuff, crossing patterns, etc. that will be so frustrating as teams dink-and-dunk down the field. But, once the redzone is approached and the field shrinks, the coverage scheme now has the advantage. Bend-don't-break unless the front four is tearing it up, then it's more exciting.

5. Miscellaneous - Geroge Selvie looks like he can help as a rotational defensive end. When he plays on the strong-side, he holds up well against the run, engaging tackle/tight end combinations and not getting pushed around. He also collected a sack over on the weak-side in the game. Nick Hayden is playing good football. His emergence should make Cowboys fans breathe a little easier about the fragile nature of Jay Ratliff injuries. Jerome Long actually showed up twice on tape with QB pressure.

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