There's little not to like about the Cowboys defensive effort against the Redskins after reviewing the game tape. When you only give up three points for an entire game and are credited with six sacks, that's an outstanding performance. The defensive secondary, after giving up more than its share of big plays against Jacksonville, played shut down defense. The last couple of drives by the Redskins are the only thing that kept the statistics from being more lopsided. By that time Dallas was playing a very conservative "keep them in front of you" defense and they still managed to keep the Redskins out of the endzone.
It all starts up front though, and the guy who's really playing some excellent football is NT Jason Ferguson. Charged with holding down the middle against constant double-teams while the linebackers get the glory, Ferguson is doing that and more. He finished the game with 4 tackles, which is actually pretty good for a NT in the 3-4, and he read a Redskins reverse like it was a "Fun with Dick and Jane" book, stopping the runner in the backfield for a 5-yard loss. The Redskins most effective runs were to the outside and credit goes to Ferguson in the middle.
On the ends Marcus Spears and Chris Canty are playing solid ball, but I was expecting more out of Canty this season. Parcells said it in the press conference earlier this week, Canty needs to show more in the pass rush. He has all the talent to get it done but hasn't shown it yet. Still, he's playing pretty solid run defense, and that's priority number one. On the other end Marcus Spears showed a few things in this game, collecting a clean-up sack courtesy of Ellis and Ware, had penetration on a couple of runs and deflected a pass. That's a pretty good day's work for a defensive end.
DeMarcus Ware got his game going a little bit more in Sunday's game. He picked up a sack and had several other pressures on Mark Brunell that caused throw-aways or errant passes. Maybe it's just expectations, but I'm still waiting for a game when Ware takes over, similar to the Carolina game last year. If there's a knock on Ware, it's that he's overaggressive in getting upfield against the run and loses contain, as he did on a couple of plays Sunday, most notably on a Redskins reverse that went for good yardage.
Greg Ellis has gone from malcontent, to question mark, to making everyone forget there was ever a question about him playing OLB. The guy is fitting in nicely. He was credited with 1.5 sacks and like Ware, had pressure on several other throws that disrupted the play. He's also been supplying excellent run support on his side, making him a very good OLB in the 3-4. There was one pass to the flats we're he was lost in coverage and couldn't recover to make the tackle. Keep an eye on teams trying to exploit that aspect of his game as the season goes along.
Bradie James and Akin Ayodele both played solid games filling in along the line on run plays. James had four tackles and Ayodele had three. James is also getting much better in coverage; he had one pass deflection and would've had an interception if the played wasn't called back for a false start penalty.
As for the secondary, forget it, they were fantastic. CB's Terence Newman and Anthony Henry simply schooled the Washington wide-outs. Washington's leading pass catcher was Ladell Betts, and the longest passes given up were 23 and 24 yards which came in the last drives when the Cowboys were playing back. Let's talk about Roy Williams for a second. Two picks in two games and several other nice coverages deep in the secondary, one when he was all alone. I don't know how long it will last, but Roy's pass coverage skills have been superior this year than at anytime in his career. Throw in his six tackles on Sunday and he's playing excellent ball. Rookie Pat Watkins is also playing capable football; he finished with six tackles and saved a first down on a screen pass that held Washington to a FG. He was also the last line of defense on a couple of other plays and made solid tackles on them. Also, credit him with a pass deflection in the endzone near the end of the game, although Keith Davis had to help him get lined up before the play.
Here's a great stat for the Dallas defense, they had six sacks and six different players contributed to them. Parcells seems to have been more liberal in his defensive line substitutions in this game, with Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher getting some time on the field outside of the nickel rotation - where they regularly man the DT position - and even forgotten player Kenyon Coleman got in on the act with three tackles and a sack. I like the philosophy of rotating the defensive linemen - it served us so well in the early 90's - and we have the talent to do it now.
I didn't see Bobby Carpenter do much in the game. He started out playing linebacker in the nickel defense, but by the middle of the game Kevin Burnett was getting a lot of time as the other linebacker to Bradie James in the nickel. Carpenter got back in towards the end of the game some. I don't know if this was a planned rotation or if Parcells saw something to make the switch. He probably just wanted to get both of them playing time.
As for blitzing, we did a little but its obvious Parcells is not a big believer in blitzing regularly. When we did blitz, the most effective one was bringing Roy Williams and Bradie James up the middle. Sometimes Bradie would fake it and back out into coverage, but we ran that blitz at least three times and it worked almost every time. Once we got caught by a screen pass in the blitz which led to a big play. But were able to generate a lot of pass rush out rushing the front four - or five - which I guess is technically a blitz but the Cowboys just consider it part of their basic scheme.
This was the kind of defensive effort we were expecting out of this talented group going into the season. Last week's break-down in the secondary was a little shocking, but the ship was righted on Sunday. If the defense continues to play with that kind of intensity and technique, the offense will just need to stay mistake-free and generate an average number of points for the Cowboys to have a very successful season.