So I hopped on with our overnight national show Amy Lawrence right before the season started, and talked Cowboys.
She asked me two questions that are relevant after the Cowboys win over the Bears Sunday night:
1. What will be the strongest group on this defense?
2. Who on the defense will have a breakout year?
We all identified the defensive line as the weak point coming into the season, they were missing a number of pass rushers, they didn’t have a ton of strengths to begin with. They have some strong guys doing work down there, but it’s just not the strength.
I think we all agree Sean Lee is a fantastic player, and you know I love me some Justin Durant, especially after that game ending play against Washington last week. Again, the position is not the Cowboys strongest.
I said secondary.
Now that doesn’t mean I think this secondary is one of the strongest in the league, but I clearly think they are going to have to be the strongest last resort for this squad that produces very little pass rush.
I think Mo Claiborne sums up what this defensive effort is after the game.
“Just to go out and do our job,” said Claiborne. “Go out there get three and outs, get turnovers, get our offense back the ball so those stars that’s over there have time to shine.”
To answer question No. 2 I went with my preseason sleeper rookie Anthony Brown before I settled and told A-Law to watch Byron Jones. I said he was making that transition, and covering tight ends would be his specialty. He’s a dynamic athlete and he’s just now growing into the safety position.
Here are the top defensive player grades from Profootball Focus:
S Byron Jones, 86.9
S J.J. Wilcox, 77.8
LB Sean Lee, 77.4
CB Anthony Brown, 77.1
DT Tyrone Crawford, 75.4
Mo Claiborne certainly did work battling with two big strong receivers in Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery, but neither one really had a great day as Zach Miller was the only non-offensive lineman graded in the top 5 for Chicago.
Barry Church led the way in total tackles with 9, as Claiborne (6), Jones (5) and Brandon Carr (5) rounded out the top 4 for the Cowboys. Nope, no interceptions, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make their mark.
Let’s take a quick look at a couple of plays the defense made that mattered in this game.
On the first drive for the Bears, after an illegal use of the hands by Chicago offensive lineman Charles Leno, the Cowboys had them back on their on 21 in a 3rd and 14 situation. Brian Hoyer dumps a pass to the shifty Jeremy Langford, and both Church and Jones converge quickly for huge hit to stop the Bears from converting.
The Cowboys offense followed with a 9 play 44 yard drive that ended in three points.
On the next series, the Bears are 3rd and 3 at their own 32 and Hoyer again throws to Langford. You can see, Langford comes in motion into the slot, then on the snap, they try to pick Church, but he instinctually followed perfectly into the flat and times it just right to pop the ball loose before Langford has a chance to secure the ball.
That forces yet another punt and the Cowboys offense then goes on a 9 play 72 yard drive that ends in a touchdown.
A play that might go relatively unnoticed was on 3rd and 11 at the Cowboys 17, Hoyer hit Eddie Royal right in front of Claiborne on a curl. Claiborne was still working toward the sidelines when he gathered his balance to come back to Royal. While Lee and Durant helped bottle him up, Claiborne tripped him up and the Bears were only able to score a field goal.
As you can see, Royal caught and rolled to the inside seeing two defenders coming his way. When he rolled back outside toward the sideline, he had plenty of room towards the end zone. However, Claiborne was able to wrap up his ankle and make the play.
This was followed by a 12 play 73 yard drive that lasted 7:09 ended in a TD and put the Cowboys at 24-3 heading into the half.
The rest of the game appeared to be the Cowboys staying back and allowing things to happen in front of them, which allowed the Bears to make some plays and work down the field. But for the most part Hoyer’s 317 yards and 2 TD’s were out of necessity. The Cowboys offense had done its job early getting a lead, and the defense helped them sustain that lead through all four quarters. You might venture to say if not for a Terrance Williams fumble in the third quarter, the Cowboys could have kept the Bears out of the end zone for three quarters.
But that’s a different story for a different time.
This time around the Cowboys defense beat a not too great offense, with a strong showing from their secondary, a unit that will need to continue being their strength this season.
Cory Mageors is co-host of The K&C Masterpiece weeknights 7-11 on 105.3 The Fan. Follow him @inthemageors on twitter.
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