Eatman: Defensive Play Kept This From Being Quite Offensive

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ARLINGTON, Texas – I'm sure the U-word will be used a few times to describe this one.

Frankly, it shouldn't matter. The Cowboys needed a win and they'll take it. If you want to call it an ugly win, so be it.

The Cowboys took an ugly beat-down last week in Seattle. So based on that, ugly wins are accepted around here.

Then again, probably not everyone would describe the Cowboys' 16-10 win over Tampa Bay here Sunday that way. For a guy like Rob Ryan, he likely thinks this is a thing of beauty.

When you consider he was without starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh, and then lost Barry Church in the second quarter to an Achilles injury that will likely keep him out the remainder of the season … throw in defensive end Kenyon Coleman's knee injury, along with Jay Ratliff already being out with a ankle injury, and the defense was shorthanded.

You'd never be able to tell.

Maybe it was a good thing the Cowboys faced Josh Freeman and the Bucs in this one. A vertical passing game was nowhere to be found as Tampa had just 91 total passing yards.

Before I continue here, I have to ask … just how did the Bucs rack up 34 points on the Giants last week? You know, the Giants, the defending champs with JPP and Tuck and Osi? I mean, I know their secondary was beat up, but I can't see these guys from Tampa putting up anything on anyone.

Maybe it goes to show just how talented this Cowboys' secondary can be. Brandon Carr slides over to safety in the nickel to help with Sensabaugh's injury. Really, there is only ONE reason that can happen.

That reason is Mike Jenkins. All summer we heard owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett tell us Jenkins wasn't going anywhere and no one seemed to fully believe them. What they said all along was how important it'd be to have that much depth. Well, it showed on this day with Sensabaugh out and then Church right behind him.

Carr's versatility came up huge, but Jenkins was ready to play as well. Take the two of them, along with Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick in the slot, and the cornerbacks were actually a strength for this team.

"We didn't back down from the challenge," Jenkins said. "We knew it'd be tough against (Vincent) Jackson, but that's what we do. We step up."

Jackson was held without a catch all day until the last Tampa Bay drive when he hauled in a 29-yard reception after being targeted six times earlier.

I know we focus a lot on Carr and Jenkins, but this first-round pick isn't too bad himself. He's kind of quiet and we don't hear much about him, but at his position, that's a great thing. Claiborne has been better than solid so far. Take away a pass interference penalty called on him in the first half, and he played rather well for the third straight game.

A lot of the pressure that Josh Freeman saw in his face was a result of the coverage. Not taking anything away from the pass rush, led by DeMarcus Ware with two more sacks, but some of them were straight coverage sacks where Freeman is standing there with his back to Ware and holding onto the ball too long. You have to put some of the blame on Freeman for being young and inexperienced, but the coverage gets credit, too.

"I thought the DBs did a great job," said Ware, who now has four sacks on the season and his second multi-sack game of the year. "You can tell when you get that extra second or two and we've seen that a lot from them. It's a big help."

To me, what was more impressive about the defensive performance wasn't just how they played, but with who they played.

As I made my way to the sidelines for the final drive, I'm looking out there at the defense and couldn't help but think back to training camp in Oxnard. If someone would've told me the Cowboys would be staving off a late Tampa Bay rally and these guys were out there, it would've created quite a chuckle.

Now this wasn't the whole game, but just for a few plays when the Bucs were marching.

No Ratliff, no Sensabaugh, no Bruce Carter, no Anthony Spencer, no Morris Claiborne, no Barry Church and even no DeMarcus Ware for a couple of plays.

Instead, the Cowboys were trying to hold them off with Mana Silva and Danny McCray at safety. Some guy named LeQuan Lewis was out there making a few plays. Victor Butler was rushing and Tyrone Crawford was providing a push, too.

See, that's how you can win in this league. It's not about avoiding injuries, but managing them. What Green Bay did two years ago to win it all with 17 players on IR is amazing. It speaks volumes to how teams can continue to plug in the right players and not miss a beat.

Sure, this team misses guys like Ratliff and Kenyon Coleman and it'll be interesting to see how they handle the safety position with Church now out. I'm sure someone will be signed this week.

But if Sunday's game told us anything, it's that Rob Ryan's group can pick up the slack when adversity strikes. Or at least they can do it against a struggling Bucs offense.

Call it an ugly offensive win if you must, but it was quite attractive from the other side of the ball. And that's quite a change from seven days earlier.

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