FRISCO, Texas – As promised, I'm back with another breakdown – this time from the Dallas defense.
It's understandable, since Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are lighting the league on fire right now. But this Cowboys defense has taken so much criticism dating back to 2015, it's only right to give them their share of the credit.
This unit that suffered so many late-game breakdowns last season that very few people gave them a chance to improve in 2016. Well, don't look now, but the Cowboys are seventh in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing just 17.8 points per game. They also have nine takeaways through six weeks, which is only two fewer than they managed all last season.
Having said all of that, let's look at some of their best moments that helped get them to 5-1:
- In a game of huge plays, Barry Church made the one that saved the day for the Cowboys in Washington. Defensively, the Cowboys were on the ropes with the Redskins looking to extend their lead. Rod Marinelli rushed four to drop seven in order to choke the throwing lanes off for Kirk Cousins. The plan worked perfectly when Cousins tried to make a tight window throw inside to Pierre Garçon, behind Byron Jones. What helps the play was that Cousins was drifting to his left and away from Church -- who he didn't see in the middle of the field. To Church's credit, he was able to read Cousins' eyes the entire time and never moved from him. As soon as the ball left Cousins' hand, Garçon knew that it was going to be an interception and you can see this by his reaction in the end zone. Dak Prescott and the offense took the turnover and drove 80 yards to recapture the lead.
- There are not many times you would want to put J.J. Wilcox one-on-one in the slot against a wide receiver on third down and expect to get off the field. Coverage has never been a strength of his, but he came up big to keep Jeremy Kerley from a reception that likely would have been a touchdown if he and Blaine Gabbert had connected. Kerley flew right out of the slot with Wilcox stationary five yards off. In previous opportunities like this one, Wilcox would have tackled the receiver and would have drawn the flag. This time, he was able to jam Kerley enough to knock him slightly off balance and rally to gain position. Instead of trying throw the ball up the field, Gabbert tried fit the ball into Kerley, but Wilcox was able to get his head around on the play quickly to knock the ball away.
- Morris Claiborne has been outstanding in coverage through these first six games. His confidence and play making ability have been top shelf. His technique on A.J. Green throughout that Week 5 Bengals matchup was textbook. A great example of this was his ability to carry Green on a busted play where Andy Dalton sent him vertically in an attempt to make a big play down the sideline. Initially, Green wanted to run the out, but Dalton was forced out of the pocket to his right. As Dalton was drifting to the outside, he pointed down the field to Green, who took off. Claiborne didn't lose track of Green, and, as the ball was in the air, he was able to close the separation. When both players hit the five-yard line, Claiborne looked back to find the ball and then extended his left hand to swat the ball to the ground and eliminate the threat.
- Last week in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy made the decision to go for it on fourth down with the ball on the Dallas 38-yard line. McCarthy directed Aaron Rodgers to use an empty formation with three receivers to the left. Rodgers' go-to guy, Randall Cobb, lined up as a tight slot with Byron Jones lined up a yard off in press coverage. Jones attacked Cobb right off the snap, making him fight to get up the field. Barry Church and Brandon Carr were in great position with their guys as well, but Rodgers wanted to get the ball to Cobb -- who was unable to separate. The ball was a little flat from Rodgers and Jones saw that. With his left hand, he knocked it away to get the defense off the field.
- Aaron Rodgers hit Ty Montgomery with a chunk throw to put the ball on the Dallas two-yard line in the third quarter. Initially, Rod Marinelli and the coaches were caught trying to get the right personnel on the field because the Packers once again went empty in the backfield with five receivers on the field. Sean Lee, Justin Durant and Byron Jones were able to settle things on the matchups to get everyone lined up. Terrell McClain and David Irving lined up in the "A" gaps expecting some type of inside run. At depth, Justin Durant and J.J. Wilcox were preparing for the run as well. At the snap, McClain and Irving twisted with Irving shooting inside and McClain behind him. The movement messed up the Packers' blocking scheme -- leaving Durant, Irving and Wilcox in position to tackle Rodgers. As Rodgers tried to escape to his right, Irving was able to get behind him and punch the ball out with his right hand. Irving, now doing an old fashioned seat roll to his left, spun back on his feet. With the ball on the ground, he had the awareness to dive on top of it for the turnover.