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Stepping Back From The Ledge: Cowboys' Defense Makes Strides Against Ravens

The story of the Dallas D will still be dictated largely by injuries, but things look a lot less glum after the second pre-season game.

Zach Minter: More, please.
Zach Minter: More, please.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There will be a lot for the Dallas Cowboys to work on this week. Rich Bisaccia is going to have an absolute fit about the horrible performance of the special teams, especially on kickoff coverage. But there were several things that happened during the 37-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens to bring cheer to Cowboys fans. The first team offense, except for a botched handoff that led to a free touchdown, was as sharp as we had hoped.

That is something for other posts. What I want to talk about are the signs that the much maligned defense may be able to provide enough to go with the offense to make this a more competitive team than some think.

Without reviewing the video of the game, here are some of the things that the team can build on.

Stops. The Baltimore offense had twelve third downs, and only converted three of them. More impressively, the Ravens played the entire first half with their first team, against the patchwork defense that was missing Henry Melton, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, among others. It was certainly an unusual situation due to the fumble and kickoff returns for touchdowns that kept the Ravens offense, and the Cowboys defense, off the field until there was only 3:25 left in the first quarter. The results of the drives for Joe Flacco and the Ravens first-teamers:

  • Five plays and a punt
  • Six plays and a field goal
  • Three and out
  • Eight play touchdown drive
  • Eight plays and a field goal

Five plays. Two forced punts, two field goals, and one touchdown. And the Dallas defense put many of the available, expected first-team players on the bench during the second quarter. Flacco was completing passes against Tyler Patmon and Terrance Mitchell. The mix of first-, second-, and third-string players the Cowboys had on the field gave up only 13 points in the half. That may not be great, but it is not exactly horrible.

Rolando McClain. The staff makes no secret of the fact that they want to see McClain play a major role. The hope seems to be that he will become the starting MLB sooner rather than later. McClain was certainly active, leading the team with six tackles and one forced fumble. However, he also had trouble in pass coverage at times. But for a player whose desire is justifiably questioned after he retired twice, he showed some real energy. This experiment may just work out.

In the meantime, Justin Durant is showing an ability to hold down the MLB job. It seems likely that Durant will still hold down a starting job even if McClain takes over at the Mike.

Pass rush. There were signs of life. Flacco was pressured into bad throws a couple of times. And late in the game, admittedly when both teams were down to the bottom of the rosters, Dallas starting getting to the passer. Especially one guy.

Zach Minter. Just signed this week, DT Minter came in and immediately had multiple impact plays, including two sacks, one a strip of the quarterback, and two tackles for a loss. He was into the backfield on almost every play. The competition he faced was not the greatest, but this guy jumped off the screen with his play. He should move up the depth chart rapidly.

Those were some high points for the defense. Certainly, there were plenty of things to work on, but even with the injuries the team is struggling with, there is now evidence that Rod Marinelli has some tools to work with.

Forget the score. Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray are not normally prone to fumbles during the exchange. Remember that the first-team skill players saw their first action this week and had a little rust to knock off. And last year, the special teams looked really bad throughout pre-season, and then turned in a very good performance once the real games started.

The big news: The defense had some real, honest-to-goodness highlights. Several of them. Perhaps the reports of the defense's demise were somewhat exaggerated. Nobody should predict greatness, but competence suddenly seems attainable.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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