The Dallas Cowboys defensive line has been looking for help and improvement all season long. A fractured foot robbed the team of DeMarcus Lawrence for half a season. Henry Melton has been gaining strength in his knee, the same for Anthony Spencer. Tyrone Crawford missed some time with a knee problem of his own.
And then there was Josh Brent. After serving his suspension he was eligible to come back for the last Giants game, but the Cowboys waited until Thursday's game with the Bears to get him on the active roster. Dallas was waiting on his weight to go down and his conditioning to go up before they put him back on the field. Before the drunk driving accident and the death of his friend Jerry Brown, Jr., Brent was starting to blossom as a force on the defensive line. He was blessed with quickness in tight quarters to go along with his bulk. Two traits that make for a good defensive tackle.
If the Cowboys were getting that Josh Brent back immediately, it would be a huge upgrade in the middle of the line. But that Josh Brent will take time to come back - conditioning, game instincts, repetition, and many other things are needed before he's that kind of player again. So, what kind of player was he on Thursday night?
"It looked like he did a good job,'' Garrett said. "He was fairly active. I think he was strong at the point of attack. He got off of blocks. He ran to the ball. He just played over 20 or so plays, but it was good to see him back out there."
I went back and watch the film for the Bears game and charted every play that Brent was involved in. My own personal assessment is a little more critical than Garrett's, but it's not far from what Garrett observed for the public arena.
I had Brent involved on 20 plays. He played 1-tech early in the game, occasionally shifting into a 0-tech (the Cowboys were moving their defensive line around a lot in this game). Later in the game, when the Cowboys had a big lead and were expecting the Bears to pass, they were splitting both their defensive tackles out into a 3-tech alignment. Brent actually got close to half his snaps in this alignment.
Garrett was right about Brent being strong at the point of attack. I only saw him get blown off the line one time, Kyle Long really got the better of him on one play. He had two plays against the run where he stood up his blocker then slid off the block to help make the tackle for short gains. He had about three plays where he got decent push on a pass rush, but was never a significant factor there. Towards the end of the game he looked like he started to get tired, his push off the snap looked a little delayed and weaker.
Overall, he looked like an ordinary defensive tackle. He didn't display the quickness or overwhelming power we've seen from him before, but he was a solid anchor in the middle and wasn't pushed out of position except for one time. Maybe we'll see a little more this week, now that he's got one game under his belt. But I wouldn't expect too much from the big guy until his conditioning and football instincts comeback fully. That could take a while.