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Eatman: This Defense Deserves Credit; But Early For Big Praise

Posted Aug 25, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas – You don’t get excited about preseason performances. The better term is encouraged.

That being said, be encouraged by what you’ve seen from the Cowboys’ defense in three games so far this season.

Excitement should be tempered for many reasons, mainly because offenses are usually rather vanilla with its game plans. Plus, the starters don’t always play – on either side of the ball – so it’s difficult to get a good read on just about anything.

But making stops is making stops. Forcing turnovers is forcing turnovers. And keeping teams out of the end zone … yeah, you guessed it.

All you can do is stop what’s in front of you and so far that’s exactly what the Cowboys have done.

If you’re keeping score, Dallas has only allowed two field goals in the first half this season, both occurring Saturday night against the Rams and both over 50 yards in the Cowboys’ 20-19 victory over St. Louis in what was supposed to be a dress rehearsal.  

OK, so it’s the Raiders, Chargers and Rams. Are they any good? Who knows? I think Philip Rivers is pretty good and Sam Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick a few years back. Now, the Rams weren’t playing with Steven Jackson, of course.

But then again, the Cowboys didn’t have DeMarcus Ware. Fair trade?

Doesn’t matter, the Cowboys had just about all of their defensive starters on the field Saturday night. Other than Ware, that’s pretty much how the defense will look this season. And against the Rams, it was rather impressive.

It was the first time we’ve seen guys like Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff. And all three made some plays in limited time, especially Hatcher, who had a sack on the Rams’ fourth snap of the game, forcing a punt.

Not until after the game did we learn Jay Ratliff’s ankle injury could be more than a minor setback. Ratliff was on crutches in the locker room afterward, but it sounds more like a regular ankle sprain, and not a high-ankle sprain, which would keep him out 4-6 weeks.

But before his injury, Ratliff was certainly active, as were his fellow starting teammates.

No offense to anyone else, but the combo of Alex Albright, Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore, which we saw last week, just isn’t the same as Spencer, Ratliff and Hatcher.

You factor Ware back into the mix – although Victor Butler has looked pretty good, too – and now you’re cooking on defense. Those three impressive first halves of football barely included the team’s best defensive players.

And let’s not forget about Mike Jenkins, although some would like to. He’s still a part of this mix. He’ll be back probably for the Seattle game or maybe the third game against Tampa Bay, and he should be a factor – if he’s healthy. Because in my opinion, when Jenkins is healthy he’s a really good player. And at the position, you always need good cornerbacks, no matter if they’re completely happy with their situation or not.

When Jenkins is cleared to play and ready to go, it’s likely the Cowboys will put him out there. Cornerback isn’t a spot where continuity is a must. Either you can cover your guy or you can’t.

Now continuity is a different story with the defensive line. For that reason alone, it was good that Hatcher and Ratliff could get a few snaps. All offseason, the guy people kept talking about was Hatcher. Both his coach, Brian Baker, and teammate, Marcus Spears, said they thought Hatcher was ready to blow up.

He’s played less than a half of football, but he at least looked like the guy that’s been talked about.  

But the point is, this defense is really starting to look good, and it happened on this night without Jenkins and Ware – not exactly in that order.

Say what you want about the competition, but I saw this team get torched by the Rams a few years back. I’ve seen worse teams get after this defense, too. So again, you go with what you know and so far, it’s looking pretty good.

But we know how this works. It could look great now, and if Eli Manning and Victor Cruz have their own party at the Cowboys’ expense on Sept. 5, then it’ll be “here we go again.” So enthusiasm is tempered. And excitement is premature.

But you’ve got reason to be encouraged at least.

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