averaging 32.9 points per game, and they haven't ever scored fewer than 24, so the 20 they're giving up is workable.
More to the point, check the Cowboys' week by week NFL rankings on defense this season. Remember, this measures only total yardage, but it's the measurement the league uses.
After two weeks this fall, Dallas was 26th of the 32 NFL teams in total defense.
Three weeks later they were eighth.
They've been up and down a spot or two the last six weeks, but they're currently eighth in total defense, fourth against the run and No. 18 against the pass. They are 13th in scoring defense, and second in scoring to you-know-who. (New England is the Voldemort of the NFL. They-who-must-not-be-named.)
And one could make the argument (we are making it here) that the Green Bay game was the strongest statement yet made by the Dallas defense. Yes, the Cowboys scored on their first five possessions. Yes, the Packers rang up some points and yards. They were also 10-1 going into the game, you may recall. But the Cowboys defenders came out against Brett Favre and made a statement early. They are now making plays when they must be made.
There are three main reasons why this defense does not look like one that will collapse like a year ago, other than the (strength and conditioning coach) Joe Juraszek conditioning program and the Phillips approach to lighter physical workloads.
Reason Number One is that it took some time for the players to completely absorb a new scheme. It may not be rocket science, but steps and gaps and assignments and terminology were all different. It doesn't happen in a training camp. As Ellis said this week, "We couldn't do it all the first day. We have sub packages that have lots of different parts that have to be put in, practiced and THEN implemented in games."
Add to that the key question of health. Ellis and Newman are just hitting their stride. Tank Johnson improves weekly. Perhaps Anthony Henry will return to full health. Meanwhile, what a nice job Jacques Reeves has done at cornerback. "Usually by the end of the year you have guys nicked up," says linebacker Bradie James, who is surprising even his optimistic head coach by playing at a Pro Bowl level. "We're getting guys back, and we have more guys making more plays."
Reason Number Two: As long as it took the players to comprehend the scheme, it took that long for the coaches to completely learn the players. One of the things Phillips' staff has done best is put players in a position to succeed. One example: they figured out that extra defensive back Nate Jones is one of the best blitzers on the team. Favre would agree. "It just took some time for them to figure out who their guys are," says Jones. "New England does it great. They know everybody's strengths. We're doing that."
Reason Number Three: The players know more with each snap about each other. Safety Ken Hamlin played that season opener like his hair was on fire. Since then, he has been one of the unit's leaders. "We feed off each other," he said before practice Wednesday. "We have made ourselves accountable to each other. You see guys flying around. But it takes time. You've got to make adjustments game by game."
Who knows what will happen? No one, and I mean no one, saw 11-1 coming. As improbable as 15-1 sounds, which game are you sure they're going to lose? But one thing we KNOW we know is that the offense will score.
And if we believe what we see, it appears the defense will play well enough to support that group. Well enough to play up to the quality of the opponent. Well enough to make the fourth quarter a strength, instead of a disaster.
Wouldn't that be something? If Mr. Fix-It actually turned out to have fixed it?