Time for the Film Review of the defense. The offensive Film Review is here.
NT - Jay Ratliff continues to be a force in the middle. He's quietly (or not so quietly if you've been a reader of this blog) become one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league. He has two great run tackles where he penetrated the line and brought down the runner at the line of scrimmage and contributed on a couple of other tackles. He managed to pressure the QB once and picked up a sack at the end of the game. I only saw one run play where he was blown out of the middle. Tank Johnson is still struggling a bit and hasn't put together a dominating game. He did have one of the biggest plays of the game when he poked the ball out for a fumble and had another play where his penetration disrupted a run. But too often he's getting pushed out of the middle and he picked up and offsides penalty. His ankle is limiting his effectiveness.
DE - Surprise! Marcus Spears had one of his better games I can remember. He batted down a pass at the line, worked down the line to make a run tackle on the opposite side, and had four other plays where he made excellent plays against the run. He also got penetration a couple of times to disrupt plays. He was very active and in a change from the past, was actually making tackles instead of just clogging up lanes. We need more of this. On the other hand, Chris Canty wasn't as active and got in on only a couple of tackles. He had a couple of plays where they ran through his gap protection. Jason Hatcher played quite a few snaps in the game with Stephen Bowen inactive, but only got in on a couple of tackles against the run. He hasn't been the pass-rush specialist so far this year that he showed in flashes from previous seasons.
OLB - DeMarcus Ware was actually pretty good against the run in this game, something that has been underrated when talking about his skills. He had a tackle for loss against the run and made tackles at the line on a couple of other plays. He ended up with a sack at the end of the game and had a couple of other QB pressures. But I was surprised at how often the defense asked him to drop into coverage in the game (Greg Ellis was also asked to do this) against the running backs. Watching the film made me think the Cowboys were very concerned about getting as many defenders in coverage as they could and rarely brought both OLB's on a play. Greg Ellis had the INT early in the game when he dropped into coverage but was also beaten by the running back on a pattern in the endzone but Palmer's pass was a little off. He didn't provide much in pass rush and wasn't making tackles against the run. Besides the INT, I didn't see him add much to the defensive effort in the game. Anthony Spencer made the recovery of the fumble that was huge, but really only provided one tackle. For whatever reason, the Cowboys used the OLB's in a very conservative manner and really didn't stunt the line and linebackers much in the game.
ILB - Bradie James had a pretty typical game although his activity was a more muted than in previous games. He has a beautiful tackle for loss when he blitzed through an open hole and nailed the running back and he contributed to a few other tackles in the game. But he had trouble getting off some blocks and wasn't the force you'd like to see in the middle. He had good coverage on the TE on one play but also gave up a few other passes. Zach Thomas made some his standard gap-fills for tackle in the game and had good coverage breaking up one pass, but also didn't quite get deep enough in zone coverage on a couple of occasions. He also was susceptible to blocks in the running game on occasion. Both starting ILB's were OK, but neither put their stamp on the game. Kevin Burnett broke up a pass, made a good tackle on a short pass but really shone on special teams coverage, where he had a couple of very nice tackles. They also tried to blitz with him through the middle, especially in the second half but these were not successful. He was tipping off the blitzes too early and he wasn't physical enough to win the battle. Bobby Carpenter and Justin Rogers were the guilty parties of not covering the onside kick that Cincinnati recovered. They were too deep and didn't react quickly enough to get to the ball. Carpenter had a tackle on kickoff coverage and Rogers got in on a couple of special teams tackles.
CB - Adam Jones, in my opinion, is becoming our most effective cornerback. He's not scared to press-up on a receiver and seems to get his hands on more passes than other members of the Cowboys secondary. On the positive side, he was very tight in coverage on three occasions, had a pass breakup, and was strong in making tackles after catches and even stuck his nose in there on a running play. On the negative side, he did whiff on a tackle and Chad and TJ started to get the better of him later in the game towards the sidelines. He also dropped an INT. Still, he was active and aggressive, a trait that only he seems to be exhibiting among the corners. Anthony Henry was a mixed-bag. He plays a soft corner and will give up underneath routes. He got too aggressive on one play and picked up a pass interference call, he got beat for a third-down conversion and whiffed on a tackle on a hitch play. But he did make a nice play on a WR screen, made a nice tackle against the run and recovered enough to make a difference on a big play. The Bengals TE beat him for an apparent catch at the 1-yard line that would have set Cincinnati up for a TD, but he managed to push the receiver out-of-bounds (confirmed on replay) and the Bengals settled for a FG. But on the TJ TD late in the game, Henry was the guy in the middle of the zone but he followed a receiver to the flats where the Cowboys already had a man in coverage, leaving TJ wide-open crossing the middle for the TD.
Mike Jenkins had a rough outing too, on the other TD bunch play, he was extremely soft in covering the zone and seemed confused between picking up the short receiver or following the other receiver into the endzone (who was already covered), basically he ended up doing neither. He also got blown up by a receiver when trying to bump him at the line and was way too soft on a couple of other coverages. On special teams, he downed a punt inside the 10-yard line and was blatantly held on the Bengals long kickoff return after the T.O. TD. Orlando Scandrick did a pretty good job from the slot, he helped on a pass breakup and had good coverage on a couple of other plays. He also got in on a few tackles. He did get beat late in the game for a pass but overall it wasn't a bad effort from the young corner.
S - I'll say this, the Cowboys secondary was getting beat mostly outside the hashmarks along the sideline, so the safeties didn't give up anything deep in the middle. Ken Hamlin had a pass breakup that was almost an INT and contributed some tackles and Keith Daivs also got in on a couple of tackles. He also made the huge play of breaking up a pass on a 2-pt. conversion attempt while in man-to-man coverage. That was big. Not seeing safeties on screen is usually a good thing though, so I'll say they did their job without making any big plays besides the aforementioned 2-pt. play. Courtney Brown must have played in the game but I never saw him involved in anything.