On the first Sunday in September, the start of the NFL regular season got under way. The beginning of a new brand of Cowboy defense began as well! The performance put forth against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday was, well let’s say very good! I say very good because, well it’s week one. I am trying to stay grounded and not go overboard with my review, but if this happens next weekend it will be hard for me to hold it back!
If you watched “Hard Knocks” on HBO you would have heard a phrase used repeatedly by defensive coordinator Brian Stewart; “Good to Great”. This is the battle cry for this defense now. This defensive unit has apparently come to grips with the fact that this year excuses will not be tolerated! Being young and in a new system are no longer facts, and Stewart has let it be known that they must perform or else. I am by no means saying that they played a great game. They did not however sit back and let the browns dictate the game.
The Browns had possession eight times in this game for a total of 22:31, and four of those possessions they were forced to a three and out! One of their possessions was just before half and they had enough time to run the ball once. They had one 16 play 78 yard drive for a touchdown, and a 9 play 61 yard drive that ended with a 34 yard field goal. As I thought about this game throughout the week I wondered what the scheme would be. Well it was very evident what the scheme was KEEP THE BALL OUT OF WINSLOW’S HANDS, and did they ever succeed at this. Now for the last 4 years or so this would have been next to impossible, mainly because they did not have a safety who could cover Winslow, and well they still don’t. What they do have though is one Anthony Henry. Roy Willy spent a lot of time watching from the sidelines. This was somewhat surprising given the fact that Terrence Newman was unavailable for this game. This left Scandrick the 5th round rookie covering Braylon Edwards, and I thought Scandrick did a nice job on him (although Edwards had a hard time catching the ball when he was open). Henry did a masterful job all day, he was very physical at the line of scrimmage not allowing their receivers to get off the line clean. They played more zone than I would like to see, zone coverage in my opinion only causes missed assignments when you are playing a mobile quarterback. This specific thing happened to the Boys a couple of times.
The D-Line played very well against the run only allowing 91 yards (24 of that was from Derek Anderson) as the only time the browns were successful on the ground was in passing situations ( Draw play). Marcus Spears continued his stellar play that he started in the preseason. I would like to see more pressure up the middle, but I am not going to complain.
The Linebackers were exceptional Greg Ellis in particular; Ellis was a big contributor to stopping Winslow. Whether he was covering him or getting a good chip on him at the line, I am sure Winslow is in no hurry to see Greg again! DeMarcus Ware saw double and triple teams all day and still managed a sack and a forced fumble on Anderson. Zach Thomas was every where, he reads and reacts to a play better than just about anybody I have ever seen. Bradie James had ZERO tackles, yes the starting inside linebacker, leader of the defense had ZERO tackles.
Step one for this defense is now complete, they are a legitimately GOOD defense. We will see what they are made of next Monday night against the Eagles. The end result for this defense will not be known until the end of the year, but if they can continue what they have started they will have certainly gone from GOOD to GREAT!